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Your Customers Are Talking. Are You Listening?

July 21, 2011

While marketing tools and technologies have evolved, one golden rule of marketing has not: Brand loyalty and reputation are still based on the quality of the customer experience. And there's no better source to tell us how we're doing than the customers themselves.

What has changed are the many ways customers can tell us -- and one another -- what they think of our products and services. Customers who readily use social media -- sometimes called "social consumers" -- are gleefully sharing their experiences and airing their views, louder than ever. They are blunt and up-front, posting raving thumbs-ups and scathing thumbs-downs on multiple channels.

Whether on social media, consumer review sites, directories and retail sites, customers are likely talking (or squawking) somewhere about your business. Are you listening? The following four steps can help you engage your customers more effectively.

1. Learn where you stand.
Gain a sense of what's already being said about your business online now. Start searching.

2. Get people talking.
If there isn't much buzz about your business yet, stir up some. Engage customers in a two-way conversation by asking for their opinion.

Related: Three Ways to Spark Engaging Social Conversations

Remember: Phone and in-person contact still matter. Pay attention to what customers and others tell you when you speak to them by phone, in your store, or at the office and events.

3. Actively monitor and listen.
Entrepreneurs who care what their customers think make listening part of their marketing. Ask for consumer opinion and feedback while also tracking everyday conversations about your business:

4. Respond to feedback.
They've talked. You've listened. Use that customer feedback to take action:

Then be sure to communicate to customers what you're doing with their feedback.

Related: Let Testimonials Do the Talking for You

While you can't control everything consumers say about your business, you can control the quality of your products and services -- and the customer experience. Be open to the comments offered by clients, wherever you engage them. Successful businesses walk the walk and listen to the talk.