Following a recent event at Warwick Business School – Resilience in Entrepreneurship: The Fear of Failure – I have been thinking a lot lately about what makes businesses successful, and how they can remain successful over time – hence my post the other day on our Ecrubox Digital LinkedIn company page asking if dreams and determination is really enough to make a business successful.

It seems as many previously successful businesses and brands start to see themselves in major financial troubles and on the brink of bankruptcy, there is one thing in common with all of them - they haven’t been able to keep up with the pace of the market around them. As major players in their markets, many of these organisations have lost sight of their customers and of their competitors, and started to pay too much attention to the internal environment, looking at ways to improve processes, cut costs, streamline operations, and keep their share price and dividends high, but not enough to the external environment – how consumer buying behaviours are changing and how new players in their market are performing and what they’re doing that’s different, and better. A concept many of these large market players wouldn’t be able to wrap their heads around after so many years at the top – we’ll call this organisational narcissism.

Don’t get me wrong, improving internal processes, streamlining operations and focusing on your internal culture and environment are extremely important to sustain large organisations and to continuously improve; however, I would argue that more focus should be put on the external environment and that staying focused on your customer and keeping ahead of your competitors through constant innovation and improvement is a better way to maintain your market position and sustain your margins in increasingly competitive marketplaces than looking at ways to cut costs. Many of the large-scale organisations who have found or are finding themselves in this position are likely too late to make the changes necessary to come back from where they’re at now, with cultures too embedded to be able to shift the perspective, but for the majority of businesses it just requires a shift in thinking and a re-adjustment of focus.

My argument here is two sided – first and foremost, it’s about knowing your customer. Not just a general idea of who your customer is, but a detailed understanding of who they are, how their behaviours are changing, and what they want and expect from your business. I believe that the latter can be easily achieved by 1) paying close attention to your reviews (and collecting them in the first place!), 2) social listening and monitoring to ensure the sentiment around your brand is mostly positive – and when it’s not, getting involved in the conversation and taking action to improve, and 3) through paying close attention to your data (all of it!).

The customer point is our focus for this week's blog, so let's get into the nitty gritty...

Reviews - asking, responding and utilising

It always surprises me when I come across very large organisations who aren’t looking at all of the review sites their customers are using to rate their products and services. Even more surprising is when I come across any organisation – especially an ecommerce one – that doesn’t collect or publish any reviews on their own website.

As a consumer, how often do you look up a company or product’s reviews before you make a purchase? Well, with 92% of consumers reading online reviews these days, it’s highly likely that you do as well. And what do you do when you can’t find any reviews? It probably made you think twice about purchasing if you’re anything like the 93% of consumers who responded to The Drum’s survey earlier this year saying that online reviews had a significant impact on their purchasing decision.

So how do I know that a business isn’t paying attention to their reviews? Because they’ll likely have a very low rating on sites like Trust Pilot or their Google Business listing and it will be marked as ‘Unclaimed’! Unclaimed, meaning the business isn’t even aware of the negative feedback they’re receiving, and even worse, they’re unable to respond to those reviews – to tell the customer that they appreciate them taking the time to feedback, that they’re sorry they had a bad experience and that they will improve things.

From the customer’s point of view, it’s highly unlikely they’ll come back to that brand’s site again or transact with them – and they’re also far less likely to recommend that brand or website to any of their friends. However, when a brand responds to a review, they not only increase the chances of that user coming back again, but even more importantly, every new user who looks at that company’s reviews will see how the company dealt with the issue making future customers more likely to purchase from them despite the negative review.

Beyond the obvious benefits of gaining insights into how your company is performing against customer expectations, reviews are also extremely helpful from an SEO point of view as they drive fresh, new content, and can be formatted into rich snippets to increase clickthrough rates (but this is all a completely separate post – so I’ll save this subject for another day!).

Listening - monitoring, tracking and engaging

This one is key – and it is also one that is most often ignored. Social media managers and marketing teams are often so busy coming up with their own content strategies and curating branded content that they forget about monitoring their brand’s mentions and the sentiment around those mentions. Keeping an eye on your brand’s mentions across social media, blogs, forums, websites and print is unbelievably important. Not only will it give you an insight into how people speak about your brand, but it can also give you new opportunities for engagement.

There are hundreds of social monitoring and listening tools available that can make this easy for brands, however, even businesses who have the tools don’t always utilise them to the extent they should be. From products like Hootsuite where you can set up filters to collect and monitor mentions of your brand and your competitors across all key social media networks to more costly products such as Meltwater which not only collects online mentions, but also print, and also assigns a ‘sentiment’ value to each (positive, neutral, negative), there are countless ways to improve your social listening and improve engagement if you use them correctly – or even use them at all!

There are many times when someone will be talking about your brand in a forum or on social media and they won’t directly tag or mention you, which means you’re not going to get a notification. This doesn’t, however, mean that what they’re saying isn’t important or even that they won’t expect a response. If I’m taking the time to rant – or alternatively, praise – a brand or product online, I am going to expect that the brand is going to come across that post and will acknowledge or respond regardless of whether or not I took the time to find their handle and tag them. Imagine the frustration of a customer ranting about a failed delivery or a product fault who is never responded to. Like the unclaimed reviews page, these customers are lost. They’ll feel ignored and like their opinion didn’t matter – like you don’t want their business. Do you want any of your customers to feel this way?

Take it from me, that extra 10 minutes a day it will take someone on your team to pay attention to those mentions you’re collecting and responding to any that require a response – will be well worth it.

Data - Big data, little data and everything in between!

Far too many businesses ignore the rich data they have around them in their business – usually because they have far too many sources of data and far too many data owners. So much data, so little time and ability to organise and analyse it. Your CRM system is an obvious starting places to gain insight into your customers, however, many businesses ignore the data provided by Google Analytics when mapping out their view of the customer – usually because one source is owned by sales whilst the other is owned by marketing – and since many businesses can’t get these units talking let alone working together, the data sits in separate silos meaning the business isn’t gaining a full picture of their customers because no one is joining up the dots.

For those of you reading who aren’t familiar with Google Analytics, this product not only shows you demographic information of a site’s visitors, but also their interests and affinity groups, so you can gain a much clearer understanding of your customers. You can see where your traffic is coming from and which acquisition channels lead to the highest conversions so you can better understand where your customers are most engaged with your brand and adjust your strategy from there. Furthermore, with tools like Google Tag Manager you can track individual clicks and actions and then look at Behavior Flow to see where customers are likely to go next on your site when they visit so you can better understand how they’re navigating your site’s content.

Furthermore, sites like allow you to see how your site’s audience compares with the general internet population – again to learn more about your customers and the types of people who are interested in your brand’s products and/or services. And if you’re a business willing to go the extra mile to learn more about your customer’s behaviours, products like Hubspot or Sitecore, take this even further, allowing you to allocate ‘points’ to actions taken on your website and assign visitors to particular personas so you gain an even more detailed idea of your customers and personalise their experience (both on-site and off-site) so it’s even more relevant to their needs, increasing your conversions even further.

Make it happen

Now that you're armed with what you should be doing - if you're not already, it's time to make it happen. If you want to learn more on the above and explore the many ways that we can help you improve your digital reach and grow your business, please do contact us for a no-obligation consultation and quote. We can help you design a strategy that will ensure you don't lose site of your customers, and more importantly, they don't forget about your business.