Train Your Customers to Talk Back

For a long time, I’ve been a big fan of the fact that when people buy online, they have a voice. People really can send feedback to the companies they deal with online. They can say how they feel, make complaints, and praise good things.

This is great because in the offline world, you really can’t. Well, you can, but when you do, the experience is usually so frustrating, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Who wants to talk back to a company when you have to wait on hold for half an hour before you get to speak to a real person?

Who wants to take the time to write a letter when the chances of it reaching the right individual and being read are extremely remote?

Besides which, in the offline world, companies have made absolutely no effort to solicit the views of their customers. They couldn’t care less. They have neither the will nor the mechanisms by which to solicit, analyze, and respond to more than a trickle of customer feedback. And trickles can be safely ignored.

But online, all that can change. Should change. Suddenly, it’s really simple to ask your customers to share their views and experiences. By chat, by email, through onsite forms and discussion areas. The means are there.

Do online companies take advantage of the fact and encourage customer feedback? Not really. Not in any meaningful way.

Yes, sites have feedback buttons. Yes, customers are asked to complete surveys and questionnaires. But for the most part, this is about the collection of customer data, not customer opinions. For customers to find a welcoming ear for their complaints and opinions they go to other sites, aggregators of opinion like BizRate.com, PlanetFeedback.com, Epinions.com, eComplaints.com, and the like.

But any company that sees its products or services mentioned at one of these aggregators should smell a lost opportunity. The loss is that a customer who could be talking to you is actually talking to someone else.

“Hey, my wife doesn’t understand me.”

Wouldn’t it be better for your company if those customers spoke with you directly? Why leave them to talk behind your back when you could be starting a conversation?

There are two reasons for the poor communication between e-businesses and their customers.

First, online companies are slow to change from their traditional views and have yet to develop the will and the tools to really listen.

Second, customers have decades of experience that has taught them that companies are terrible listeners. While online customers are starting to realize that they do have a voice, they’re not talking directly to the companies. Old habits die hard. Once bitten, etc. “They won’t take any notice of what I say anyway. So what’s the point?”

As a result, your online business has to do two things. First, learn to listen, and make it a big priority — now. Second, earn your customers’ trust, and take the time and make the effort to encourage them to talk with you directly. And not with third parties.

Court them. Woo them. Earn their trust.

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