NB:Â This is a guest article by Susan Ganeshan, chief marketing officer withÂ newBrandAnalytics.
In the old days, it was easy to understand the customer experience. You had your manager or salespeople walk around. You asked or incentivized your customers to complete comment cards or surveys.
Then you added in mystery shopping. All good sources of information about the customer experience.
But that wonâ€™t suffice anymore. Today, as we know, you have to think about your online reputation and what your customers are saying about you in social media.
Here are some datapoints:
- Customer feedback spreads like wildfire: The average online review is read by 150 people. (newBrandAnalytics)
- Comfort with social sites growing: Cumulative reviews on Yelp, for instance, grew 54% year over year to more than 30 million, and average monthly unique visitors grew 52% year over year to more than 78 million.
- Online reviews drive sales: a half-star improvement in online ratings can lead to a 50% increase in the likelihood a restaurant will be fully booked during peak dining times (according to University of California â€“ Berkeley).
The social world is here to stay. And, the best travel brands in the business use social media, or more specifically the customer intelligence gleaned from these online conversations, to optimize their supply chain, tighten service standards, and generally make their customers happy.
Achieving these goals starts with listening to the feedback — really listening like they are wearing a set of high-end earphones and hearing all the instruments in the band.
They decipher the feedback in operational categories for their industry; for example, restaurants would assign feedback to specific categories such as service, food, wait-times, and ambiance.
Then, they improve strategically based on this data and communicate to let consumers know they are a brand that cares.
The results play out in operational improvements that earn customer loyalty and affinity.
Four stages of Social Media Maturity
The effectiveness of using data-driven intelligence to drive business strategy depends on a brandâ€™s social media maturity — the more mature the company, the better they are able to leverage social market intelligence.
We have learned over the years that there are now four stages to Social Media Maturity: Read, Engage, Empower and Optimize.
Stage 1: READ and understand customer sentiment
During the Read stage you will find that you are going to 15-20 review sites, bookmarking them and reading every review. In most organizations with less than 5 locations itâ€™s the owner operator who does this task. Once the business grows to more than 5 locations, this usually becomes the responsibility of the marketing and promotions team.
Some reviews can be lengthy and have lots of location specific data. Some will be mostly positive and others mostly negative, but the majority of the reviews will be nuanced. That is they will contain several insights, some positive, some negative and the corresponding star ratings donâ€™t give you the full picture.
When it comes to reading online reviews, best practices include:
- Hire a full time social media manager, especially if you have more than 5 locations. Minimally, make this the job of your marketing team, as a high priority.
- Ensure the reader is taking notes. Try to categorize the feedback by what matters to your business to restaurants that means categorizing by service, food, pricing and value and ambiance, at the highest level.
- Read everything, donâ€™t skimp. Itâ€™s important to ensure you understand the entire landscape of reviews.
Reading online reviews comes with challenges. You may be challenged handling the volume of reviews, remembering what was said over time, and staying focused on this task.
But if you can overcome those difficulties the results will definitely benefit you as you use the data to make informed intelligent business decisions.
Stage 2: ENGAGE and connect with customers to show them you care
The next stage in social media maturity is to engage with customers and let them know youâ€™re listening. Reaching out can be done for a variety of reasons — to offer an incentive to come back after a bad experience, simply tell them youâ€™re listening, or actually do something about it.
By engaging with customers you can stop negative reviews in their tracks, and you can take neutral and positive reviews and make them more positive. The result is increased customer loyalty and ultimately increased revenue.
Best practice guidelines for connecting with your customers include:
- Reply to all types of reviews, donâ€™t just focus on negative ones.
- If possible, take the conversation private. Some review sites allow this; others do not.
- Avoid the temptation to fix the customer. Rather, you should fix the experience. Treat this even more sensitively than you would an in-person exchange with an angry customer.
When you engage with reviewers, the results are impressive. Ultimately you are working to increase customer loyalty. Loyal customers talk to friends, they bring friends with them, and they increase sales.
In the meantime though, by engaging with customers you can demonstrate to customers that they matter, that you are a brand that cares.
Stage 3: EMPOWER staff to make the right decisions to fix issues before they damage your brand
Brands at this stage empower their general managers, staff, operations team, etc. to use the intelligence gleaned from online reviews to make the right operational changes in order to deliver a consistent high-quality customer experience and earn customer loyalty.
Best practice companies know:
- When empowering your staff let the data inspire you. You know your business better than anyone, but sometimes you need that extra bit of information that only the customer has. Look at the data with that open mind.
- You canâ€™t just do this once. Itâ€™s important to make sure you are keeping track of your operations and the customer experience over time.
- Measuring progress is critical. When you make a change, watch for results.
- Not to react or over react to individuals. You donâ€™t want to experience a yo-yo effect on your decision. Let the volumes of data be your guide.
When you do all this you will deliver on your brand promise, motivate your staff, and ultimately do the one thing that matters most, keep customers coming back and grow your revenues.
Stage 4: OPTIMIZE top of mind customer feedback to drive strategy improvements to your business
This final stage of social media maturity is when you change your business to better serve your customers. Usually, regional managers, owners and CEOs, or VP Operations look at the social intelligence to determine how to optimize the business.
The goal is to drive the strategy, make changes that improve the business, and monitor the results.
To change strategy or drive strategic initiatives based on social reviews:
- Let the data challenge your fundamental beliefs. Sometimes making a change like this can yield dramatic results.
- Keep tabs on the social market data of your competitors. There is a treasure trove of information on your competition online, take time to evaluate it.
- Monitor your progress. Ensure the changes you are making have the desired affect and continuously and dynamically adjust.
Moving through the stages of social media maturity doesnâ€™t have to be difficult. You can start by reading, and step through the other stages of maturity over time as it works for your business.
NB: This is a guest article by Susan Ganeshan, chief marketing officer with newBrandAnalytics.
NB2: Global people image via Shutterstock.