Though the old adage that the customer is always right isn’t exactly true, listening to feedback from your customers is important for small business success. Feedback isn’t always easy to swallow, but it can be extremely valuable.
Your customers are the ones who regularly use your products or services; their input and suggestions can help you make more sound business decisions. Further, encouraging customer feedback can also lead to better business relationships and stronger customer retention.
Soliciting, accepting and organizing feedback can be a daunting task, however. Comment cards and suggestion boxes leave mountains of paper to sort through, while e-mail forms produce unorganized data that is hard to visualize and difficult to respond to in a formal manner.
The following tools are designed to help your business solicit feedback via the web and connect with your customers in more meaningful ways.
UserVoice creates a simple forum for your users to submit and vote on feedback. Your customers can access the forum via a widget embedded on your website or via a dedicated forum page. Customers submit ideas, issues or suggestions, and other users can vote these ideas up and down. This is helpful because it allows you to gauge which ideas your customers really want implemented and which problems are isolated issues versus widespread situations. UserVoice allows business owners to respond to issues and ideas.
Cost: The app offers plans from free to $289/month and up.
Get Satisfaction is a user support community, and unlike many of the apps and widgets on this list, customers are able to create a page for any company that isn’t already in the system. That means there’s a chance your company might already have a page.
For businesses, the app provides a forum-like help page for users to ask question, submit ideas, gets support and give props. Companies are able to designate multiple employees to provide official answers to customer questions. They also offer a Facebook app, so you can integrate support directly into your Facebook Fan Page.
Cost: Get Satisfaction offers plans ranging from free to $289/month and up.
Note: Mashable has an official support page on Get Satisfaction.
Feedbackify is a website widget that lets business owners ask specific questions of visitors (such as, “Rate our new design on a scale of 1 to 10?), and solicit feedback in customizable categories (such as, ideas, bug reports or general comments). The app is focused strictly on gathering feedback — there’s no way for users to vote up ideas or any way for you to reply to feedback from within the app. You do, however, get plenty of information about the submitter, so you can reply to any feedback on your own time.
Cost: The site has just one plan for $19/month.
SuggestionBox doesn’t bother with bug reports or customer service; it’s focused on soliciting ideas and suggestions from your customers. Like Get Satisfaction, your customers can make a SuggestionBox page for your company without your permission, so one may already exist.
The app is fairly straightforward: users submit ideas, other users can vote them up. Once a business has claimed its SuggestionBox, business owners can respond to suggestions or mark them as “Coming Soon” or “Implemented.”
Cost: SuggestionBox pricing starts at $49.50/month.
Kampyle is a feedback widget that, like Feedbackify, allows business owners to ask pointed questions. Unlike Feedbackify, Kampyle offers utilities to converse with customers from within the app via a built-in response system, as well as an automatic system that sends customers relevant responses based on the type of feedback they leave.
One of Kampyle’s strongest points is its analytics tools. The app integrates with Google Analytics, Omniture and Nedstate, which offers business owners better insight into how customers are interacting with a website. Kampyle also integrates with Salesforce.com for CRM.
Cost: Kampyle offers pricing for websites ranging from free to $499/month.
OpinionLab offers a suite of tools for gathering customer feedback from websites, mobile, social media, e-mail, and even in brick-and-mortar stores (from a store kiosk or mobile comment card app). The app offers a widget that can gather comprehensive feedback — from multiple choice questions to open response areas — and a number of different ways to solicit feedback (from e-mail invitations to opt-in buttons). Information is also gathered about the customers that are leaving feedback (such as their browser, operating system, time on site, referring page, etc.) and once feedback is collected it is algorithmically analyzed and sorted.
OpinionLab also offers solutions for monitoring social media for feedback your customers are leaving via other channels.
Cost: Pricing varies.
In practice, CrowdSound feels a lot like UserVoice. Customers click on your feedback widget where they can make suggestions (which can be bucketed in a category, left anonymously or made private), or they can vote up or down suggestions from other users. Users can also leave comments on feedback (and vote comments up and down).
Site owners can moderate, organize and respond to feedback from CrowdSound’s backend.
Cost: CrowdSound pricing ranges from free to $10/month and up.
IdeaScale offers a service for businesses to create branded customer suggestion communities, such as this one for Avid Pro Tools. These communities work more or less like the other idea-centric tools on this list: users submit an idea, other users can then discuss and vote on the idea (up or down). The most well-liked ideas bubble up to the top and business owners can respond to them or mark them as in review, in progress, or completed.
Cost: IdeaScale is priced from free to $99/month.
UserEcho is another straightforward feedback widget option. The app creates business communities — accessible via an embeddable widget — where customers can leave feedback and comment or vote on ideas or issues. Business owners can categorize feedback by tag, respond to it, or broadcast the status of a suggestion. UserEcho allows multiple staff members to respond to feedback and allows users to log in via accounts they already have, such as Facebook or Twitter.
Cost: UserEcho has plans available running from free to $59/month.
The thinking about social media in corporate marketing departments is rapidly evolving. Initially, social media was seen as yet another broadcast opportunity for pushing messages out into the world, and for many companies that view persists. A social media consultant recently said that even today, when he approaches potential clients for the first time, they typically refer him to their PR agency, because “they handle Facebook for us.”
There’s nothing wrong with using social media as a tool for disseminating marketing messages or trying to establish deeper relationships with current or potential customers. However, there is another use of social media which may prove to be more powerful over the long term: Listening to the voice of the customer by data mining social networks.
Currently, CRM systems create customer profiles to help with marketing decisions using a combination of demographics and prior behavior, primarily historical buying patterns. These systems essentially enable companies to see their customers in the rear view mirror.
The customer data available via online communities like Facebook is both richer and more forward looking. A financial organization with access to such data would not only know that a customer had a checking account, savings account, two CDs and a mortgage, but also that the same customer was interested in golf or gourmet cooking — information that could be useful in planning future marketing initiatives. Every minute of every day, Facebook, Twitter and other online communities generate enormous amounts of this data. If it could be tapped, it could function like a real-time CRM system, continually revealing new trends and opportunities. Here’s how.
Tapping Social Media Data
The good news is that with today’s technology, this data can be tapped. But the process is not without its challenges. The data stream is a prime example of “Big Data.” Dealing with data sets measured in petabytes is a challenge in itself, and there is a serious problem with the signal-to-noise ratio. At my company, we estimate that at best, only 20% of the social media data stream contains relevant information. But before this problem even arises, companies face the issue of identifying their customers among the millions of participants in any given online community.
The Problem of Customer Identity
Most companies approach the problem of finding customers on social sites through the slow, arduous and expensive process of participating themselves. On Facebook, for example, businesses can gain access to the profiles of anyone who clicks the “Like” button on the company’s business site (depending on each customer’s privacy settings). With the right pitch, offer or game, companies can gradually gain an enhanced understanding of a subset of their social customer base.
With new matching technology that’s now available, the process is faster and more comprehensive. For example, matching technology uses artificial intelligence to figure out whether a given “John Smith” in a company’s customer database is the same individual as a particular John Smith on Facebook. The algorithms that accomplish this are extremely sophisticated, and they work. In fact, matching technology has been successfully used by law enforcement agencies to locate criminals.
If a company has one or two key pieces of information about its customers — e-mail address is often the most important — that company can accurately identify them on a social site and extract a substantial amount of data, including both profile data and transactional data that can reveal relationships important for marketing purposes. (Again, the amount of data available for any given customer depends on that customer’s personal privacy settings.)
Putting Data to Work
The second problem with social media is transforming data that is potentially useful into data that is actually useful. Social media data is generated by an entirely different technology stack than the transactional data that typically feeds CRM systems. Accordingly, it is stored in entirely different formats. That data can be transformed into a useful format with Master Data Management (MDM) technology.
MDM is the process of managing business-critical data, also known as master data (about customers, products, employees, suppliers, etc.) on an ongoing basis, creating and maintaining it as the system of record for the enterprise. MDM is implemented in order to ensure that the master data is validated as correct, consistent, and complete.
MDM has been used for more than a decade by companies that want to integrate disparate databases for a 360 degree view of their customers (or product portfolios, for that matter). It is equally effective in integrating social media data into existing CRM systems, and filtering that data for relevance.
What this all means is that companies can achieve important process improvements with bottom-line significance. For example, they can:
- Obtain behavioral data that will allow them to more appropriately target segments for better marketing results.
- Obtain data on personal preferences and interests to move closer to a true one-to-one relationship with their customers.
The disciplined use of demographic and historical customer data has enabled large numbers of companies to substantially increase the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns. Social media data will enable marketers to take targeting to the next level. It’s Big Data, but today’s technology can handle it.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art of optimizing your website so that it takes the highest possible spot on a search engine result page (SERP). So say for example, if you look up “DDA” on Google.ca, you’ll get the “Developmental Disabilities Association” site as the top result on the SERP, and not the Delhi Development Authority or the Danish Design Award websites. Marketers carefully select keywords and optimize their site to receive these top spots on the SERP.
News Feed Optimization (NFO)
Much like SEO, News Feed Optimization (NFO) is an optimization process to get the first spots on a news feed (such as Facebooks, but will undoubtedly expand to other platforms as social media proliferates). Many marketers believe this will replace SEO, as the world wide web, becomes the world wide social web. Developers and businesses are looking of ways to have their content frequently show in their fans’ news feeds, which is completely outside and irrelevant to Google search rankings. It is an effective way to have your fans organically promote and advertise for you instead of constantly having to “push” content yourself.
SEO versus NFO
As more of the web turns from just a web to a social intertwining web, one would believe that NFO becomes more and more important. I agree on that, but some marketers believe it is more important than SEO. Let’s logically think through the process of where SEO and NFO might be used.
Say I’m interested in buying a new computer, what factors would I need to consider in my purchase? Price, brand, speed, all sorts of dimensions. Where would I look to find this computer that fits my requirements? Likely through searching. Would I use Facebook for my computer purchase? Probably not. If somehow some tidbit was optimized on my news feed and immortalized to the time I was about to buy a new computer, that might change things.
Why news feeds lose against SEO
News feeds are dynamic, and can easily be ignored and forgotten. For example, the average amount of unique comments I receive on my Facebook status updates is 6, and I have approximately 600 “Friends”. That’s 1% of all my “Friends” that are engaged in my on-goings on Facebook. That, coupled with the fact that approximately 0.2% of Facebook fans ever do a repeat visit on a page they’ve “liked”, indicates there’s general under-engagement on Facebook news feeds (or maybe just mine).
Why SEO is still relevant
Optimizing your news feed might get you that extra day of recognition, but who will really remember it one week from now? Of course, different industries that require more marketing impressions before a successful conversion is made will value that extra long-forgotten subconscious impression, but in general, don’t spend so much time on NFO when people will be looking for you on search engines instead.
To be honest, there aren’t a whole lot of Facebook commerce success stories — at least not yet. Facebook storefronts are still relatively new, and most people don’t view the social network as a transaction platform, especially since most third-party Facebook storefront software doesn’t actually allow transactions within Facebook. But there are still good reasons to set up shop on your Facebook Page.
Doing so can allow Facebook fans to browse your products before they’ve navigated to your website, help fans spread the word about specific products and direct traffic from Facebook to product pages on your website.
It’s easy to get started with applications like Storefront Social or Payvment, and there’s a chance that your existing e-commerce software offers a Facebook storefront at no extra charge. Here are three small businesses that have successfully integrated stores into their Facebook Pages.
BabyAndMeGifts.com sells gifts for mothers and babies. Owner Jacquelyn Myers uses her Facebook storefront to highlight some of the most popular items for sale on the site, which works well next to the deals and incentives that the company offers on its Facebook Page.
Myers’s Facebook store is powered by BigCommerce, the same software that runs her e-commerce store. She is able to display her inventory on her Facebook Page at no extra cost, and users are directed to her main site to complete their purchases. This differs from some other storefronts that allow users to checkout within Facebook.
“It is an easy way for my customers to begin to shop at BabyAndMeGifts.com,” Myers says. “It gives them a quick overview of what is available to purchase at BabyAndMeGifts.com. They are able to click on a product to learn more about it.”
Myers attributes about 50% of her online sales to her Facebook Page.
“It is a great way to stay in front of customers. I believe it has been as effective as e-mail marketing for BabyAndMeGifts.com,” she says.
When Livescribe released a new version of its audio-recording smart pen in July, the company decided to rebrand its Facebook Page. Part of this effort included adding commerce functionality through the app Storefront Social. As with BabyAndMeGifts.com’s storefront, customers can browse inventory on the page, but they are directed to Livescribe.com’s website in order to make a purchase.
“Our goal was to keep Facebook fans on our Page as long as possible and interacting with the product,” explains Livescribe Senior Marketing Manager Brett Kaufman. “Allowing fans to ‘Like,’ share or tweet their interest in a certain product has helped us distribute our message to even more consumers. Allowing our fans to interact with our products within Facebook before purchasing has made a big impact.”
Kaufman says the company has seen an increase in revenue and customer awareness after the small investment of setting up a Facebook storefront. He suggests that other companies that want to do the same should consider a third-party provider like Storefront Social, integrate an XML feed so their storefronts updated automatically, and seize the opportunity to do in-Facebook transactions if their providers allow it.
Australia-based Ettitude sells environmentally friendly products made from bamboo and organic cotton. The company’s Facebook storefront is powered by BigCommerce, which it also uses for its e-commerce store. Managing Director Phoebe Yu said that while the company has logged sales coming from the Facebook Page, she’s not sure whether to attribute those to the Facebook Page in general, or to the Page’s storefront, as distinguishing between referrals from the two is difficult.
Either way, she says it’s been a good marketing strategy to display Ettitude’s inventory on its social space.
“You can update [the storefront] frequently, and if your content is interesting, people will ‘Like’ it or share it… you can’t send out newsletters that frequently — that will annoy people,” Yu Says.
Positioning, as the word implies, is about where you want your business to be. But positioning isn’t about geography: it’s about where you want to be in the heads and hearts of your customers.
Positioning is a relative concept. It’s about the space your brand occupies relative to other comparable brands. The rule of thumb is that it’s very difficult for two brands to occupy the same ‘position’, which is why successful brands tend to be those which have established highly distinguished positions: different to their competitors.
No brand exists in a vacuum. There are always competitors around somewhere, and one of the mistakes that new entrepreneurs make is to think that they have no competition or that they can succeed just by imitating another successful brand.
The brutal truth is that you cannot be a brand in any sort of useful sense if you claim to be ‘simply the best’, nor if you try to copy another brand’s position.
Positioning is multi faceted: it’s not a simply matter of being cheaper or more expensive than your competitors, nor just about a wide range or more specialist knowledge.
It’s about creating a truly distinctive set of meanings to which your potential customers can relate, and which they will recognise as offering something quite different from the run of the mill.
About the Author
Simon Middleton is an EBA Millionaire Mentor.
Privacy challenges by public interest groups and the FTC are threatening to dismantle or seriously curtail the behavioral targeting model of interactive advertising as it stands today. Fearful of damaging relationships with their readers, many publishers are removing third-party widgets and other technologies when those technologies are found to capture and sell user data without the user’s express permission.
Even Facebook itself has cracked down on unauthorized data scraping. Recent “Do Not Track” efforts are trying to move choices about data sharing from publishers to the people via browser technology. But these are merely symptoms of a larger problem with interactive advertising: a lack of transparency. It’s a problem that new social tools will play a significant role in addressing.
Rather than an endgame where consumers completely block any sort of data sharing, I see a future where marketers take the high road and both sides benefit from better quality data, advertising and content.
The concept of “Permission Marketing” isn’t new; in fact, Seth Godin’s 1999 book about “turning strangers into friends and friends into customers” seems remarkably prescient in today’s age of “Friending,” “Liking,” and “Following.” Godin told the (then e-mail-dominated) interactive industry, “By talking only to volunteers, Permission Marketing guarantees that consumers pay more attention to the marketing message. It serves both customers and marketers in a symbiotic exchange.”
Today, technologies like Facebook Connect and OAuth are helping to redefine the concept of permission marketing. Using these technologies, brands, retailers, publishers and other sites are able to actively establish a permission-based relationship with their users and customers on their own websites. Now websites have the opportunity to embrace transparency, to be upfront with people during the registration process about how their data will be used, as well as how it will benefit both parties.
We have a new generation comfortable using Facebook and other mobile apps and who, according to recent survey data, are quite willing to share personal information with companies and brands in exchange for value provided. They are also relatively unconcerned about the security of data they share on social networks. The bottom line is that this type of authorization-based relationship between brand and user is likely to become the norm.
This Year’s Model
So what exactly is the data and advertising opportunity for sites? The Huffington Post is the poster child for this new social data-based permission marketing approach. Readers register on the site using their existing Facebook, Twitter or other social identity, thereby giving HuffPo access to data with which the site can personalize the user experience.
For readers, this means they can see what their friends are reading and sharing on their site, giving them a powerful social filter for relevant content. It also means The Huffington Post can sell advertising on their own site based on everything they know about the user from a social perspective.
I had a chance to meet Huffington Post CEO Eric Hippeau at last year’s IAB leadership summit, where publishers get together to talk about the future of interactive advertising, and he shared with me that their integration and application of Facebook Connect and similar technologies to create a social news experience has been the key driver of their phenomenal traffic growth over the past year plus. Social advertising is also a key source of their revenue growth. HuffPo considers their site to be in the category of social media, and structures their ad sales team to serve that unique buyer. For publishers and advertisers, this approach has the power of Facebook ads, yet is superior because it combines the best of both worlds –- deep context plus social data.
While Social registration, also known as Social Sign-On, is the foundation for this new relationship-based model, the layers on top of that foundation are the most promising for the future of advertising. In addition to basic demographic targeting, sites could offer advertising based on interest data, targeting movie fans or iPod fans for example. Sites could also sell against social influence and activity — factors such as the number of friends, propensity to share and history of driving referral traffic, or even the number of items “Liked” as an indicator of engagement. Reward programs driven by game mechanics are a key part of the nurturing process in this new model, where a loyal, engaged and most importantly non-anonymous audience is the new currency of advertising.
Sites and brands need to ask themselves: What am I offering people that they will truly value in exchange for permission to talk to them as a friend and not an anonymous user? Badges may not be right for every site experience, but successful apps and other web experiences like those on The Huffington Post prove that it is not an unattainable goal.
As with all new models, there are challenges to address. Sites need a critical mass of users to grant them these permissions in order to sell advertising effectively. Privacy concerns with social network data will evolve over time and regulatory pressure will certainly cause the interactive industry some headaches as we move to a new equilibrium. But it is inevitable that a permission-based model will prevail, and those that are able to rapidly embrace this model and experiment with its possibilities will win higher CPMs, new ways to differentiate against the competition, and a more loyal audience.
About the Author