Today, your digital reputation, just like your character, is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. A customer sharing their experience with others is worth ten times that which you write or say about yourself.
Sales are driven by great customer experience. When shopping and researching their purchase, new customers look for evidence of others’ experiences. Shoppers get a feel for things on your website, they absorb blog content, examine social media profiles, look for causes you support and they judge you by your online reviews.
The lines are blurred now (and getting blurrier) between online and offline experience. When the two are congruent, it solidifies a brand’s digital reputation.
Many people believe or act as though a customer’s intention to refer is entirely out of the company’s control. To the contrary, the data shows that consumers and business buyers alike can’t help recommending products and services to their friends. It’s an instinct wired deep in our brains. Companies who wish to strengthen their digital reputation tap into that hardwired desire.
It’s not exactly controversial to suggest that referrals influence customer buying decisions.
A recent study from Nielsen on referral marketing (word-of-mouth) found that:
- The vast majority (more than 80%) of Americans seek recommendations when making a purchase of any kind.
- When someone shares or talks about a brand on social media, there’s a significant correlation to purchasing behavior.
- Incentive structure plays a big role in increasing and scaling referral activity.
Digital reputation is generated through digital referrals.
Online reviews are digital referrals.
Even though users may not know each other personally, digital referrals are full of trustworthy information about customer experiences that help others in their quest to make the best decisions.
10 Step Plan to Strengthen Your Digital Reputation
The secret to digital referrals lies in understanding how customers refer and leveraging ways to tap into that process with specific, proven practices.
Step 1: Set Yourself Up for Success
Your company and its products cannot possibly be all things to all people. If you believe that, you’ve just defined a commodity. Commodities compete on price and price alone.
Set yourself up for success by identifying who you are as a brand and how you want to be recognized.
- Define your core values.
- Determine what you do better than anyone else.
- Identify and explain in detail your chief competitive advantage.
- If you get stuck, ask customers why they choose you.
You’ll also need to identify your target customers. Until you accept the notion that you must keep your market focus tight, you’ll constrict the company’s ability to grow. Knowing who your ideal customers are keeps your messaging clear and meaningful.
We’ve all had great customers. You know the type I’m talking about – they buy and buy and then sing your praises. Identifying them is part of an overall strategy to determine an ideal customer base from which to build your digital reputation.
Pro Tip: Look for events that cause you to say “If we had ten more customers just like this, life would be great!” Those are your target customers.
Step 2: Become a Resource for Valuable Information
Here’s the harsh truth about strengthening your digital reputation: there’s no magic switch you can flip to turn it “on” and make it work immediately.
Content marketing (becoming a trusted resource) is no exception to this rule. Results happen slowly, and they happen over time.
If you do it right, you’ll create content that continues to send you new prospects and customers for many years after you created it.
If you do it right is the operative phrase here.
The most powerful way to be a resource for valuable info is to demonstrate your authority with your content rather than simply claim to be an expert. Trust works the same way.
Building trust through quality content is key to strengthening your digital reputation.
Step 3: Be The Change You Wish to See in Customer Experience
When does customer experience actually begin? Certainly, it’s in full force during the purchase transaction, but what many companies don’t realize is that customer experience begins in the weeks or months leading up to the first time a customer comes in contact with you.
The economics of loyalty are a cornerstone to strengthening your digital reputation. Your most loyal customers (your Raving Fans)…
- Are less price sensitive
- Will pay a premium for a better experience
- Stay longer, spend more, churn less
- Expand their purchases/relationships to other/new products or services you offer
- May overlook product shortcomings
- Are more likely to forgive occasional/infrequent service shortcomings (just make it right, though!)
- Cost less (in marketing, advertising, promotions)
- Have fewer complaints
- Provide feedback and want to help you improve and succeed
- Become technical support for you by helping other customers (answer questions, solve problems)
- Will evangelize the brand for you
All of this adds up to a strong case for focusing on customer experience as part of your culture. It’s key to cultivating your digital reputation, upon which many buying decisions are made.
Step 4: Believe That You Deserve Referrals
The referral mindset must pervade an entire organization. Everyone must accept that they’re committing a disservice by NOT providing an easy path to bring the tremendous value of your products and services to those who need it.
As an individual, if you find yourself constantly trying to prove you’re deserving of a referral, you’ve forgotten your value.
Pro Tip: Don’t let anyone ever dull your sparkle.
Step 5: Expect Referrals
Your actions tell clients how you expect to be treated. If you don’t expect referrals from your clients you’re inferring that you don’t believe you deserve them.
There’s a widely accepted principle of human behavior that goes something like this. “Your actions tell the world how you expect to be treated.” Look all around you and you’ll find that the truth of this statement is as evident as the clothes you wear.
Pro Tip: Present the next client you land with the fact that part of their responsibility in the relationship is to provide you with 3 referrals in the next 90 days.
“Ms. Client, we intend to make you so outrageously happy with our service and the results we provide that we know that at the end of 90 days you will want to refer 3 more people just like yourself.”
Guess what your clients will say? “Well, sure, okay” Of course they will agree, what else are they going to say?
But here’s the real beauty of this statement and strategy. Look at what your actions are saying.
- We know you’re going to be thrilled.
- We know we deserve referrals.
- We sure as heck plan on delivering the goods.
Step 6: Ask for Referrals
Your number of reviews and average rating correlates closely with conversion to purchase. 96% of shoppers say that online reviews influence their purchase decision. However, very few companies (or their salespeople) have a process to ask for referrals.
Sitting around and waiting for referrals isn’t much of a plan.
What’s the #1 reason people don’t ask for referrals? Fear.
If you hate asking for referrals, feel stuck knowing what to say, or keep getting the wrong kinds of people referred to you and can’t figure out how to fix it, then I have good news for you: You don’t need therapy. You need a system.
Pro Tip: The very best time to ask for a referral is when you realize and acknowledge a job well done. We’ve all had those times where we’ve hit it out of the park with customer experience. When you hold a mindset of asking for referrals, “remembering” isn’t required.
I have found this phrase to be very productive when asking for digital referrals: “My business is based on referrals and I’d really appreciate you taking a moment to share your experience with others. Here’s how to do it…”
Step 7: Relentlessly Work Your System
What you focus on and pay attention to transforms your business. Invoking a system helps keep the focus on what’s important.
- Create a review conversion funnel.
- Automatically ask, remind and guide customers through the funnel.
- Recover unhappy customers before they vent online.
- Look for ways to improve.
- If you’re the boss, engage employees in the review process.
Pro Tip: Provide a written policy and train employees how to work their referral system. Reviews equate to online authority. When employees are mentioned, it increases their value to the customer and the company. Knowledgeable, trustworthy employees add extra shine to the company’s digital reputation.
Step 8: Ask for Customer Feedback
Just like asking for referrals, get comfortable with asking for customer feedback either in person or in survey form.
Make it easy and comfortable for your current customers to share what they liked and what they didn’t like about their experience. Take nothing personal. Be genuinely interested in what they have to share because there’s much to be learned, especially the “negative” feedback.
Pro Tip: Survey Monkey is a great, low-cost platform to use for customer feedback. Keep the survey simple and offer an incentive in exchange for their feedback because the information you’ll receive is like gold.
Step 9: Don’t Forget Social Media Crisis Management
Every time I present about digital reputation, someone (or more) asks about what to do when a “hater” comes knocking. It’s never an easy subject to cover because every business and every situation is different.
My first piece of advice is to institute a solid “best practices” procedure for you and your employees.
Social Media crisis management is part of an overall social media strategy and you MUST have a process in place for when disaster strikes. Don’t pretend it will never happen because it always does at some point, on some level.
Pro Tip: Negative comments and reviews happen. In some cases, you can just let the haters be haters. If you’re doing everything right, the “crowd” will either come to your defense or determine their rant is unfounded.
But when there’s an heat-filled issue that needs to be addressed (and this will happen), you’ll be glad you had a Social Media Crisis Plan in place to get you through the storm.
Step 10: Analyze Results Daily for Actionable Insights to Improve Your Strategy
There’s great value in knowing what’s being said about you in real time. Each review gives insight into your customer’s perceptions and an opportunity to improve. Take advantage of the benefits in monitoring software to automate tasks.
Kruse Control clients often call me with questions about how to respond to reviews. Responding to online reviews is an art form.
First, make sure you respond to every review honestly, openly and with enthusiasm.
Positive reviews deserve acknowledgement. Respond to each one with a sincere note of thanks. If you’re familiar with the transaction or can do some behind-the-scenes research, mention a detail that the customer will remember. Everyone likes to feel important.
When someone says something negative about your business, it’s easy to become reactionary. Cooler heads always prevail so stand back, take a deep breath and give yourself time to regroup. Be open, honest and conciliatory. Be humble and offer to do whatever it takes to solve the problem.
Digital reputation is an valuable asset.
Treat your digital reputation as you would any other company asset (like cash or furniture and fixtures). If you’re lacking a formula to strengthen your digital reputation, take the necessary steps now to shore up your process.
This 10 step plan will provide traction and hopefully alleviate some apprehension. When you’re ready to solidify efforts company-wide with a proven system, process and policies, reach out to us with a call or email–> here.