News flash: Customers are busy. While you're thinking about them all the time, they aren't thinking about your business every minute of the day. That's why customer engagement is so important. If you want your customers to come back again and again, you may want to have a relationship.
When you are a business, it helps to have that personal touch. (As you've probably noticed, companies tend to get creamed on social media when they forget that and treat customers like a number instead of a name.)
Do you feel like your company is falling short in customer engagement? Consider these tips that can help you remind your customers there are actual people behind your business.
1. Practice customer engagement by actually staying in touch.
Staying in touch with your customers is important to customer engagement, says Ximena Hartsock, president and co-founder of Phone2Action, a website that helps organizations connect their supporters to elected officials.
"If a couple of months go by after the sale and the customer does not know how to use a product, then the return of investment for that client is zero," she says.
And that customer may remember that the next time they need your business and may go elsewhere.
"Companies must realize that the sales cycle never really ends," Hartsock says.
2. Embrace negative feedback.
You don't have to be excited that a customer thinks your business is blah, but you probably shouldn't ignore the feedback, Hartsock warns.
"Treat the customer with empathy, listen to and validate their concerns and take specific steps to address issues," she says. "This sounds obvious, but few companies actually do it. Some of our most loyal customers were unsatisfied at some point, but in the process of addressing their concerns we grew closer and they became big ambassadors of our brand. The worst interaction is no interaction."
3. Be charitable.
“Every small business needs to build into their plans—and then do it all year long—a give-back-to-their-community program," says Marc Joseph, CEO and president of Scottsdale, Arizona-based online wholesaler and closeout company DollarDays International. "When your customers know you're engaged with helping their community, they become more loyal and in some cases feel the obligation to give back themselves, which is a win-win for you, your customers and your community.
DollarDays has had numerous sweepstakes for its customers, where the prize winners are nonprofits. For instance, one month Joseph's business might ask their customers to nominate an animal shelter for a $2,000 shopping spree. Last December they asked for nominations for a lucky nonprofit to win up to 300 pairs of socks. By the time the sweepstakes are over, Joseph's clients can feel good about themselves for nominating a worthy charity—and feel warm and fuzzy about DollarDays for giving to back to the community.
“We believe that giving back is a win for us in creating a loyal following while at the same time helping to support their causes," Joseph says.
Still, you are a business and not a nonprofit, so try to make sure that any community outreach is in line with your business's skill sets. You may also want to make sure that the public has at least some awareness of what you're doing. If you owned a car wash, you'd probably want to give away free car washes to a local charity that donates cars rather than have your business anonymously send money every month to a random charity. That isn't being selfish—it's a way to help you stay in business.
4. Offer your customers advice without charging them.
In the old days, gas stations often gave away free air for tires. No plunking a coin in a machine—you just got the air for free, and gas station owners hoped you'd remember them when you did need gas. You can take that same principle and apply it to virtually any business.
Darren Slaughter runs a boutique marketing agency that solely caters to home improvement contractors.
“We are always looking for new clients as we provide a service to help contractors manage their online marketing," Slaughter says.
He says his number one way he engages with customers, and finds new ones, is by blogging. He has over 1,500 blog posts on his site about construction marketing that helps contractors do their own marketing.
“Once they run into a pickle or just don't want to bother, they contact us," Slaughter says. "The conversation is always about how to help them, not what we need to do to convince them [to hire us]. That's what blogging does: It creates expert status, reduces sales cycles and keeps your margins in place because people expect to pay for experts."
Carrie Wood, the chief marketing officer at Lease Ref, a Toronto-based online company that reviews commercial real estate leases, did something similar (although it may make you feel better to know that she didn't write over 1,500 blog posts).
“We decided to get more business from dentists. So we wrote a blog post on the common mistakes that dentists make with their lease renewals," Wood says. “Since dentists have unique space needs—lots of equipment, chairs and plumbing—they need to receive very specific advice. We then ran a Facebook ad targeting specifically dentists and drove them to that blog post which was helpful, not just some generic real estate advice blog post."
Wood says that the blog post wound up getting a lot of online traffic from dentists with a lot of them becoming customers.
5. Speak up.
If you love public speaking, you may love this suggestion: Talk in public.
“Speaking engagements are more impactful than ever, especially given the fact that we have less and less direct contact with each other," says Steven Dubin, president of public relations and advertising company PR Works in Plymouth, Massachusetts. (Given that you may be reading this on your smartphone, well, you can see what he means.)
If you find an audience full of potential customers—like at a trade show, a chamber of commerce meeting or a Lions club—and you're a good speaker, you may be able to engage with your customers, according to Dubin.
“Getting in front of a targeted audience as the expert is a powerful dynamic. Sharing objective, insightful information often attracts new customers who buttonhole you before you even leave the room," Dubin says.
6. Speak your customers' language.
As noted, when Wood put up her dentist-centric blog post, it actually was aimed at dentists instead of just any business owner. If you're selling to teenagers, you probably have to market at their favorite social media haunts, like Snapchat or Tumblr.
When Craig Bloem, Boston-based founder and CEO of logo design company FreeLogoServices.com, decided he wanted to reach out to an international audience, he knew that he couldn't do all of his marketing in English.
“To bring in these new customers meant we needed a global customer acquisition strategy. This required recruiting a strong team of translators and multilingual marketers," Bloem says.
Bloem used a combination of Upwork, LinkedIn, Gengo and other contractor sites to find his team—and vetted his resources before hiring them. After all, you don't want to hire someone to write ad copy in Portuguese if they're actually fluent in Italian.
“We had to adapt our content—both website and email—for new audiences, so we translated all content into our nine target languages," he says. “To drive traffic to our translated sites, we needed to understand and implement international SEM and SEO strategies. This required additional keyword research through tools like Ahrefs and Google Adwords."
None of this was easy, he says. “We learned that translating keywords doesn't work—we had to adjust our plans for different search trends and behaviors," he says. “In addition to keyword research, our multilingual resources rewrote ad copy that would be relevant for different markets."
But it worked. "Our non-English markets now account for over 60 percent of our users," Bloem says.
In fact, he now has 35 million customers in 120 countries, instead of 7 million in North America and a few other English-speaking markets.
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