Why you should ask what customers are thinking publicly

Whether you are aware of it or not, people talk about you and your business all the time – at a birthday party, around the coffee machine at work and, of course, on the internet – picking apart or hailing what you do.

It is important to realize that chit-chat, among a few people, can leave an altered impression of you and your business. Especially on social media the amount of silent eavesdroppers can have a significant impact on your reputation. You should see this as an opportunity to get ahead of the competition. Let me explain why.

To be or not to be liked

Obviously, you would prefer your reputation to precede you when it is in your favor. People might say: “Great and reliable service!”

You do not want people to spread their grievances about your business with everyone they know: “I will never go there again, and neither should you!” Or, to be more precise, you would like to know about it when someone is bad-mouthing you publicly, wouldn’t you?

Usually, you will discover that your reputation has been declining – or improving – when word has hit the streets days or weeks ago already, often accelerated by the power of social media. For this reason it is imperative that you frequently stay on top of word-of-mouth and that your business actively joins the public conversation.

There are many ways to listen to and openly interact with your customers. Other articles on this website describe the tools available to you more thoroughly, such as social listening, community building, co-creation and content marketing.

Three reasons to care about the buzz

Stepping up your game in (online) reputation management goes beyond just damage control. On top of diffusing looming reputation risks, you gain three major advantages for your business:

1. You become more approachable

Many businesses still hide behind their company logo when they communicate with the outside world. Such communications include unsolicited email campaigns, generic websites and shouty social media pages. In these cases, communicating is mostly a one-way street. From the standpoint of customers, this impersonal, one-sided approach can easily lead to a perceived authority gap. “Who are the people behind these messages, and do they actually care about me?”

Customers usually appreciate it when you level with them by revealing yourself as an equal, and as an authentic person representing the company. This requires you to tell them your name and to show your face at a public event or on Facebook, for example.

Revealing your identity might make you feel a little vulnerable. But if you want the relationship with your customers to truly grow into something valuable, you cannot afford to shy away from adding a personal touch and stepping onto neutral ground.

As a result of your efforts to take part in open dialogue as one-of-the-bunch, your business will distinguish itself as being more approachable, and more open to feedback and ideas. Some participants of the conversation will even get to know you personally and show their appreciation. At the same time, you will likely leave a favorable impression with dozens of silent bystanders.

2. Customers embrace discussed product changes as their own

Becoming more approachable and relatable is the first step to achieving an engaged customer base. Now, let’s look at turning this engagement into supported changes to your product and services catalog.

When you are designing a new product or introducing new business hours, for instance, the change is most likely to be embraced by your customers if they have been involved in the ideation and decision-making process. As opposed to telling them about a change for the first time when the change has already occurred, like most businesses still do when they launch a product or update their policies.

Collaborating on ideas with a public audience and implementing the outcome, is called co-creation.

Co-creation has multiple benefits. First of all, you achieve practical goals that most customers approve of. Secondly, you show the outside world that you care about people’s opinions and ideas, and collaboration in general, which should reflect on your overall reputation.

3. Increased customer loyalty and word-of-mouth

Once co-creation becomes part of your organization’s DNA, in the long run, you should start to gain some additional benefits.

Customer loyalty should go up exponentially when people learn to rely on your natural reflex to involve them in your company’s issues repeatedly, even if the majority of your audience chooses to just sit and watch, and not participate. It is all about perception and people knowing their voice is, or could be, heard.

This is easier said than done though. High customer loyalty leans heavily on the continuation of all the work that goes into managing the public conversation. So, letting this effort slip would not go unnoticed and could lead to rapid decline of the customers’ willingness to contribute.

Also keep in mind, satisfied customers are more likely to share their positive experiences with peers. Word-of-mouth is probably the most effective kind of advertising. Besides, it’s free – if you don’t count all the effort you put into co-creation up to this point.

You can help your happy customers to amplify their endorsement by putting them in the spotlight. Let them write a blog article on your website or post a shareable video of an event they attended, for example. Celebrating the success of a collaboration through the eyes of participants is an essential step in the co-creation cycle.

Ready to get started?

Your business and your customers have much to gain by starting a continuous open conversation and by building a personal relationship. Increased customer loyalty and a boosted business reputation are the expected outcome – a lasting outcome.

So, you now know the why. I hope this has spurred you on to consider making public interaction with customers a higher priority. If so, then I am sure you would like to learn more about the how.

As mentioned earlier, there are many tools available to you to get started. All you need to know to get started – and plenty more – can be found on Gaining Goodwill, in easy to follow tutorials and inspiring best practices. Why don’t we take it to the next level right away? Or, read more about a specific topic you are interested in: social listening, community building, co-creation or content marketing.