Once upon a time, not that long ago, the business world was made up of two distinct ecosystems.
Online and off.
Now, the distinction is a little blurry…
Consumer expectations for response time, availability of information, and immediacy of need satisfaction are growing by the day and it is forcing offline businesses to re-think their approach to customer engagement.
In simple terms: Whether you have a brick-and-mortar jewelry store or a fully-fledged eCommerce business that sells dog toys, your customers expect you to answer their queries within hours, not days.
For many locally based businesses, keeping up with these consumer expectations is hard work. You’re under-resourced as it is and have 101 other priorities on your plate. How can you possibly sit on your laptop all day responding to people’s requests on Facebook?
The gap between intention and reality that is killing local businesses
Your intentions are good, but the reality doesn’t match up. You start by being responsive to online queries, but as other priorities get in the way you slowly take longer and longer to respond. Before long your potential customers are going elsewhere because they never hear back from you!
Even worse, they jump online and review BOTH businesses, letting everyone know about their experience.
It’s a vicious cycle. The next person who is searching for your business online stumbles across this review, and instead of visiting your store they go next door to your competitor.
Unfortunately, once this cycle starts it is extremely hard to stop. It’s not in your hands anymore, but in the fast-moving social networks of your most vocal customers.
You lose control of your reputation, and before long, the effects on your bottom line are significant.
All of this because you were too busy scrambling for air underneath paperwork, staffing headaches, and execution of a business in the “real” world. You didn’t have time to respond to that customer, did you?
How to bridge the gap without working 18-hours a day
If the above scenario sounds familiar, or it freaks you out that it may be a reality in the near future, you have two options…
Option 1: Sit back, accept your fate, and ignore the risks of an online world for local businesses.
Option 2: Take action, create a robust customer engagement and review process, and explore the enormous opportunities that a merging of the online and offline worlds can have for your business.
Which path do you want to take?
If you choose “Option 2” the rest of this article will help you understand the importance of customer engagement for local businesses, identify the steps you need to take to create a process of your own, and give you the tools and technology to make it all happen.
Let’s get started…
Why customer engagement is so critical to local businesses
Customer engagement is about being there at the right time to answer your customer’s questions, deliver an exceptional experience when given the opportunity, and then follow them up at the right time to secure an online review for your business.
In the end, the goal is to get as many qualified and positive reviews as possible, so that future prospects will choose your business over your competitors.
Why do reviews matter? Here are a few key reasons:
- Reviews, along with Relevance and Location, have the greatest impact on local search ranking (where your business shows up in a Google search).
- They act as “Social Proof”, whereby a consumer who is unsure about which product or service to buy assumes that the people around them (other customers) are a trusted source of information about which choice they should make. In fact, 78% of consumers say that positive reviews make them trust a local business more.
- The process of attaining a review reinforces the positive experience of a customer, embeds that experience in their memory, and increases the chance of a repeat purchase or direct referral. Basically, you stay top-of-mind for longer by asking for a review.
But how do you ensure that you get reviews on a consistent basis without spending all of your time doing it or hiring someone to do so?
The answer: Create a repeatable customer engagement process that is supported by technology.
What makes for a good customer engagement process?
A successful customer engagement process will deliver your business consistently high-quality reviews on a regular basis, without any one individual taking on too much manual labor.
Here’s what a good customer engagement process looks like:
- Much like any other business process, your customer engagement process needs to be well-documented so that any new team member can pick up the training material and keep it moving if and when they need to.
- Ideally, your customer engagement process will be powered by automation technology so that it isn’t 100% reliant on human intervention. This could include automated messages triggered by certain customer events combined with smart chatbots for answering common questions.
- Your customer engagement process should be managed from one centralized hub. It’s no good having a disparate group of people, spreadsheets, emails, and other forms of communication all trying to lock down reviews. This approach is not scalable and is likely to fail you at some point.
So how do you create a customer engagement process that is well-documented, delivers you consistent high-quality reviews, is powered by technology, and managed from a centralized hub? Here are some tips…
Tips for building a robust customer engagement process
- Exceed expectations. The best way to get customer engagement and reviews is to continuously deliver an experience for your customers that is so far beyond their expectations that they feel compelled to jump online and tell everyone about it.
- Be timely with your requests after a purchase. The sooner you ask for a review after a customer has purchased your product or service, the more likely you are to receive one. You may even consider asking for a review while the customer is still in your store!
- Make it as easy as possible. If there is any friction between the time you ask for a review and the time a customer writes that review, you increase the chance of it not happening at all. Make the process seamless – preferably one click – so that your customer doesn’t have to do too much work.
- Engage across multiple channels. Emails are a good starting point, but with the inbox overload epidemic affecting just about everyone in the world, your review request could easily go missing. Use multiple channels to secure customer reviews, such as Facebook Messenger, email, retargeting ads, and even SMS. In fact, 90% of text messages are opened within 3 minutes of their receipt! The Podium platform, for example, allows you to send and monitor customer messages across multiple channels and determine if and when that customer has placed a review. It’s also super-easy for the customer to place the review, with Podium integrating with both the Google and Facebook review services.
- Manage everything from one place for simplicity. Technology makes your customer engagement process streamlined and easy to execute. Podium’s messaging platform brings all of your messages from text, Facebook Messenger, and Google Click-to-Message to one inbox where you can respond directly. They also have a range of message templates, automation options, and smart reminders that make the review process easier than ever.
Not convinced that a customer engagement process is what your business needs? Check out these local business case studies…
Prior to implementing a customer engagement process powered by the Podium technology, Wilson Diamonds only collected online reviews organically. When the salespeople remembered to ask, or the customers felt particularly inclined to do so. Since implementing an engagement process they have seen an increase in both the number and frequency of online reviews. Collecting hundreds of new reviews and maintaining an average star rating of 4.9 across numerous platforms.
Ultra Clean Car Wash
For over a decade the team at Ultra Clean Car Wash has been building strong relationships with their loyal customers. But until they implemented an online review strategy, this didn’t result in many reviews and referral business. After implementing Podium and proactively seeking new customer reviews, Ultra Car Wash collected over 500 5-star reviews in the first month! Soon they had Google searchers from out of town turning up out of the blue.
Spencer’s TV & Appliance
Spencer’s TV & Appliance has been in business for over 45 years. Of course, you don’t stay in business for that long if you don’t create an outstanding customer experience. Unfortunately, the online reviews for this business didn’t reflect their tenure. Since implementing a customer engagement process using Podium, Spencer’s shifted their average Google customer review star rating from 3 to 4.7 and attained over 4,000 new customer reviews! That is a huge amount of social proof and search engine authority.