A new sports car, late nights at the office or a sudden wardrobe upgrade can be cliche telltale signs that a personal relationship might be on the rocks. Yet when it comes to customer relationships, the signs of discontent aren’t always that obvious.
For example, you might have loads of social media fans who never make a purchase. Or you could have lines out the door but a limited online footprint.
While it may be easy to confuse fans with satisfied customers, the best indicators of customer sentiment may be email and social media engagement. Since they’re permission-based, meaning customers opt-in to receive your messages, subtle changes in online behavior may tell you if customers have one foot out the door.
Here are ways that may help you accurately interpret your customers’ actions, get ahead of potential losses and determine which relationships are worth saving.
Online Disengagement: It’s Not Them, It’s You
Let’s start with your email and social media marketing results. Specifically, you may want to look for changes in email open rates, click through rates and sharing rates. On social media, there are free analytics tools offered by each network to see how often customers engage and at what level.
While dips in engagement may not be sufficient cause to press the panic button, they can be considered warning signs. The most common reasons for a decline in email engagement are likely overly promotional content and sending too many messages. There’s also a chance that your email may be stuck in a spam filter.
Assuming you aren’t sending more than one email per week, you may want to think like a customer and honestly assess whether the majority of your messages are informative versus sales-y. In terms of spam filters, if you’re using your personal email account such as Gmail or Outlook, there may be a higher likelihood that your customers haven’t even seen your email. To avoid that fate, consider using an email service provider.
On social media, a key to successful engagement is to initiate conversations, respond to questions, share, repost and link to relevant news. If you’re following these best practices and are still losing traction, consider that your customers might have moved to the hottest new social network or simply decided to opt out of following you. If it’s the former, gauge how active the majority of your customers are on that new network to determine if you should redirect your efforts there. If it’s the latter, take a closer look at the businesses that are able to successfully engage customers on that platform to learn what works before you go all in.
Online review sites can be highly influential and don't require any back-end analytics to get a sense of what customers think about your business. While there may be lots of tips for addressing bad reviews, the bottom line is, if you see negative reviews about your business, you might consider responding positively online and asking the customer if you can take the issue offline. When it’s resolved, you may want to ask the customer to update their post and add your update as well.
Driving Customers to Your Competition?
Even the cleverest marketing campaigns may not be enough to sustain your business if there are issues with your organizational structure, products or services. Here are three signs that, if not properly addressed, could send your customers right to the competition.
- A spike in product returns. Whether you created the products or are reselling them, your reputation may hinge on your ability to live up to customer expectations. To avoid bad reviews and a steady stream of returns, do what you can to ensure that your employees have a mastery of your products. Also, you might take note of the most common customer issues and try to proactively troubleshoot them in your newsletter and on social media and your website.
- Employee turnover. If resignations are on the rise, find out why and consider investing in incentives that will keep good employees on board. After all, if employees aren’t engaged, you can’t expect customers to be.
- Fast growth. Businesses that take off faster than expected may find themselves compromising the customer experience to keep up with demand. If this is your situation, consider pulling in business advisors to help manage your growth and hiring additional employees to help execute the day-to-day activities. Don’t think of it as an unanticipated expense. View it as an investment that can enable you to quickly reach your business goals.
How to Spot the Keepers
You may know that a small percent of your customers can sometimes drive the highest percent of your business. Yet all too often, business owners can find themselves trying to please those customers who will never be satisfied. Or they may discover that it’s impossible to personally engage everybody who comes through the door or joins the mailing list.
While you don’t want to shoo away business, you likely do want to focus on engaging those customers who will be regulars and refer their friends. Many may be easy to spot based on their frequency of visits, purchases and online engagement. Though you should try not to discount those who are less active, as they might be among your most vocal and enthusiastic supporters.
To build stronger connections with that smaller percent, consider segmenting your contact list based on online engagement, in-person engagement, purchases and referrals to create a private VIP customer list. From there, you can help raise the level of engagement with this audience by:
- Thanking them for their support with a personalized message and token of appreciation.
- Tailoring your content to their interests and needs based on what they’ve responded to in the past.
- Asking them to participate in a survey to gather more feedback so you can continue to improve their experience.
Like a breadcrumb trail in a fairy tale, if you know how to read the subtle cues from your customers, you can possibly continue to lead them right to your door.
Read more articles about customer engagement.
A version of this article was originally published on January 27, 2016.