Whether you're just launching or in your third year of business, you won't succeed without loyal customers and brand ambassadors. Customer relationships and feedback are essential, but you need to understand how to toe the line between respectfully receiving feedback and giving in to every request. The customer might always be right, but as Steve Jobs is notorious for saying, customers don't know what they want until they see it.
This is where customer relationship management (CRM) comes in, and your success here can make all the difference. It's a balancing act, sure, and it may at first seem like a curse. Users will be blunt. They will be honest. They may hit your idea where it hurts. But they (usually) aren't trolls. CRM will help you develop personal relationships with customers — a huge advantage over big businesses — who will get everyone they know to shop with you if you simply give them the time of day and let them know you care about their experience.
Here are five tips that will help you manage the balancing act, put smiles on customers' faces and lead your business to growth.
1. Foster Word of Mouth Conversations
The developed world may be spending more and more time at their computers, on tablets and looking at their smartphones than physically interacting with one another, but when it comes to what to do, what to buy and where to spend their time, word of mouth is, like it has always been, the best way to acquire loyal users.
Word of mouth is the most effective route to market for digital companies" says Brett Hagler, cofounder of Hucksley, a discovery ecommerce platform with social good roots. "It carries the highest amount of trust to consumers while still maintaining a very non-pressured approach. From an internal budget perspective, there is clearly no other marketing tactic with the same amount of return on investment."
In a connected world, word of mouth often means online reviews and recommendations, of which there are many forms. Onsite reviews that translate to qualitative stars like you see on Amazon or Yelp are one way to get customer feedback from those already using your site, but for objective information from newcomers, social media is your best bet.
"Word of mouth is integral," says David Parker, cofounder of Vowch, a recommendation-based curation app. "Social media doesn't undermine the importance of word of mouth — social media amplifies it and makes it more important."
2. Take Care of Frustrated Customers, Use Their Feedback to Improve UX
Picture this: Your product is in beta or your restaurant is about to open, and you're psyched that this pie-in-the-sky idea is coming to fruition. But before you open the floodgates, you want feedback from early users, so you let them in for an early test-drive. Whether it's opening day or four years in, you need to realize that not all feedback is going to be nice, but that doesn't mean it's not important.
"With early iterations of our site, we heard loud and clear that our messaging was too complex and confusing for our developer partners," says Rob Grossberg, CEO of TreSensa, a cross-platform game and distribution company. "We were trying to say too much and our core message was getting lost in the process.
We used that customer feedback in a site overhaul to strip out unnecessary elements of our messaging and clarify our story."
In fact, responding to negative feedback in a positive — albeit honest — way can turn annoyed users into loyal fans and brand ambassadors.
"A few weeks ago we had an incredibly talented visual artist join Vowch," says Parker. "He was frustrated that he didn't have a verified account on our platform because others often try to impersonate him — and he rightfully wanted to ensure that his fans knew his account was official. We quickly saw his tweet, confirmed that he was the actual artist, and tweeted back 'done!' He has since become one of our best users and a great evangelist."
3. Be Honest
No matter what happens with your CRM — and a lot can go wrong — honesty is by far the best policy. Small business sets itself apart from big business partly because it is easy for consumers to get in touch with a real person. That means less wait time for a response, a lot more truth behind a flaw in your business and, perhaps most importantly, a human touch. It's a lot easier to get mad at a recording than another human being. This is a huge advantage for small businesses, and capitalizing on it will increase loyalty.
"Overall, we believe the key to managing a customer relationship is to be straight up and honest with your customers about what to expect from your product out of the gate and not to set unachievable expectations," says Grossberg. "Customers understand they are working with a startup and that things won't be perfect at the start, or that it will take time for the benefits to kick in. You would be amazed at how forgiving these customers can be if you are honest with them from the start. The companies that get burned are the ones who over-promise and under-deliver.
You do not get any second chances in earning that customer’s trust
And even if you're customer is truly in the wrong, being open-minded, kind and responsive is the only way to ensure that your customer feedback loop is effective for you and your users.
"The customer feedback loop is imperative to keeping our products relevant and useful, and not wasting time in areas that don’t matter," says Jerry Jao, CEO of Retention Science, a customer retention and marketing automation software company. "In building a software, or any product for that matter, listening to your customers and being open-minded to their feedback is the only way to achieve true product-market fit."
4. Keep Track of Your Customers
It's one thing to have a positive customer experience, but it's another to keep track of your ongoing customer relationships, following up on recent experiences with your business or even just sending a "Happy Birthday" card. Using tools like Salesforce, Microsoft Dynamics, Kovida.is, Close.io, Sugar or even an Excel doc (if you're really bootstrapping) will help you stay on top of communications with customers and ensure you're being proactive in maintaining relationships, not just responding when something goes awry. And while it's important to address negative feedback, you should also reach out to people who have left a 5-star review of you or tweeted about you, and make a note. These are the customers who will help your business grow.
Your CRM will be taken to the next level when combined with marketing automation. Since small business owners typically have dozens of tasks per day, wouldn't it be nice if your CRM system automatically sent emails — follow-up or otherwise — to your customers, requiring no effort on your part?
"A major challenge for small business owners is staying organized and following up with their prospects and customers," says Jonathan Herrick, chief sales and marketing officer at CRM company Hatchbuck. "Small businesses are much more efficient with their CRM software is more than just a storage bin for contacts — it should help build better relationships with prospects and customers to ultimately help grow a business."