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    Customer Feedback: here are all the key posts


    An area where companies often voice their concerns as we discuss setting up their own blog is that of negative feedback. They worry that people will use the comments section of their blog to express their dissatisfaction with the company and their products or services. Theyre also keen to understand how best to deal with them.

    From a personal point of view, I totally understand this concern. As a rule, we dislike negative comments being made about us thats just natural – and companies and company bloggers are no different. Theres an instinctive reaction when we receive anything other than glowing praise for something we’ve written: for the individual blogger, there’s personal pride at stake; for businesses, there’s the concern that it will reflect badly on their organisation and alienate customers or prospects who see it.

    So, for some, the gut reaction is to suppress it … moderate it out … pretend it never happened. Better still, don’t allow anyone to comment! That will also take away the guilt factor of knowing that the comment was made but that you haven’t approved it!

    Why this really isn’t an option

    The trouble is that this is the digital equivalent of sticking your head in the sand or perhaps jabbing your fingers in your ears and shouting La la la very loudly. Conjures up a faintly ridiculous image? Well, in social media terms, its equally ridiculous, Im afraid. Why? Because the person who wanted to complain on your blog will still do so, they will just go elsewhere … generally somewhere where you won’t have the chance to respond and engage with them.

    So whats the alternative? Well, instead, give people the chance to raise the issue on your blog let them vent their frustration. And, in the process, you’ll be giving yourself the chance to answer their concerns.

    For me, there are three key reasons why I’d want to do that and they’re nothing to do with blogging and everything to do with business:

    • Firstly, it costs much more, both in terms of time and money, to find new clients than it does to keep your current ones.

    • Secondly, customers with negative experiences are more likely to tell people about them than customers with positive experiences. However, customers who have had a negative experience which has been solved tend to be the most vocal;

    • Thirdly, it costs more to fix a problem than to prevent it in the first place.

    By responding and resolving their issues, we have the chance not only to keep them as a customer but possibly turn them into an advocate for your company again. In any case, by openly allowing the criticisms and answering them, you are more likely to gain respect in the eyes of other readers than lose it.

    Feedback has other benefits

    You may also be receiving valuable feedback which could help improve an aspect of your company’s activities and fix a problem which already exists. Without this feedback, you could remain blissfully unaware of an issue which is costing you clients who have decided not to complain but rather “vote with their feet” and look for another supplier.

    Certainly you need to make sure that the comments comply with any guidelines that you have in place – and in a corporate blog, they should exist – but those should cover areas such as abusive or racist language rather than constructive criticism. So rather than suppressing negative comments, you should encourage comments and feedback of all types. While it might sometimes seem a painful process in the short-term, the long-term benefits will prove far more valuable.

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    How many times have you been in a position where you are looking to buy something and yet are faced with an enormous choice of seemingly similar products. What’s the first thing that you think of doing? If you’re like me, you’ll either do a search on the internet, get someone else’s opinion ... or do both at once.

    If that’s your chosen route to “product enlightenment” then you’re not alone and it seems that the both at once option is becoming ever more common with customers’ opinions on the internet being a key factor in the decision making process. One recent survey targeting Generation Y (also known as the yoof of today in common parlance) reported that some 67% say that they use online reviews as a way of deciding what to buy, with 21% specifically stating that they have used blogs to help them make buying decisions.

    However, this type of reaction is not restricted to the younger generation. We all trust the opinions of others more than we trust the marketing blurb communicated by companies.

    • On Amazon, people look at the reviews to support the selection they have made;

    • On ebay, the customer review section is important to get a feel for the sellers;

    • On Hotels.com, the opinion of others that have stayed there is as important as the hotel information itself.

    All these opinions have a huge influence on our buying decisions and, in each case, effectively what we are looking at is online Word of Mouth.

    Working with your blog is going to give you a real headstart here. It can be a key element in starting up discussions and giving the opportunity for people to air their thoughts and comments on the products. All of this if course, creates extra content about the product on your blog which in turn will help raise your Search Engine profile and attract more visitors a virtuous circle if ever I saw one!

    There are a number of ways in which you can develop it from there perhaps use the blog as a place to highlight the reviews or write posts which link through (sparingly, please) to the products area of your site giving product details, how people use them, where new developments will be etc. You may also find the blog develops a type of community feel for your products and certainly let people review and talk about them openly.

    Remember that personal recommendation together with both peer review and peer pressure are all key factors in our buying decisions, so let your blog help facilitate this and in the process give potential customers a timely nudge in the right direction!

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    Avis Blog: We try Harder - Blog ReviewI mentioned Avis’ new blog in the News items recently and so I was particularly interested to see that e-Consultancy have published an interview today with Xavier Vallee who is Avis’ UK Head of Marketing and presumably the person responsible for the Avis blog.

    I was glad to read that Avis has been adopting the methodology I recommend in the Green Cross Code of Blogging. They have taken the time to examine and listen to the conversations which have been taking place about Avis around the internet / blogosphere before starting their own blog and have clearly thought through their own goals for creating a blog.

    Equally, judging from the interview, Avis have defined what they want to achieve from the blog and presumably the criteria which they intend to use. The aims are quite wide covering “branding, PR, customer service and product development” so keeping track of responses will be important though they appear to be working with Market Sentinel here which is good.

    Critically, they also seem to be doing the right things internally. The queries are streamed to relevant departments to be answered properly and presumably this is then followed up offline where appropriate, as well as on the blog itself. The blog also seems to have the backing at board level which will no doubt help those running it to maintain its impetus and development.

    Avis Blog Review

    The Avis blog has a very clean look, lots of white space (in a good way) and is in line with Avis’ corporate branding from what I can see. The “We Try Harder” domain name and imagery comes from corporate Avis, though it is more apparent on the global site rather than the UK one. It is running on WordPress which gives it excellent functionality and future proofing.

    The “We Try Harder” name is good though the .com version, although owned by Avis, is used for different corporate purposes – it may be appropriate to make sure that there is a link through to the blog area on that page in case of people typing the name directly into their browser and getting the .com rather than the .co.uk

    Writing – the content seems to have consistency and yet is varied enough to hold interest. It does reflect the multiple aims of the blog, covering corporate fundraising activities together with advice and tips when hiring a car as well as comments on motoring in general. I think that, in particular, the posts looking at overseas destinations has the making of a good mini series.

    Navigation and Linking – the main navigation is a little confusing with some links going back to the main site and others linking to static pages on the blog itself. While it might be work in progress, it’s a little disappointing to see the blog homepage and “go to avis.co.uk” links below the main navigation rather than built into it or placed in the sidebar. This may be in the process of being changed though as there is currently duplication of some of the links and one is pointing to the wrong page.

    The sidebar has a relatively standard set-up and could be used more effectively, perhaps by using the prime “real estate” to highlight particular points of interest either within the blog or in terms of what Avis is doing in general. Showing different elements in the sidebar on the single post pages might be positive as well, though they should retain the “Topics” (ie. categories) for the sake of consistency.

    Conversely, is there a link to it from the main Avis UK site? I couldn’t find one. If there isn’t, then that’s a big opportunity missed from a basic marketing perspective.

    Permalinks – currently the permalinks use the default format which is a real pity (though simple to change) – therefore the page and post IDs are currently being used rather than using a customised and “friendly” permalink which would display, for example, the post names. Friendly URLs will be better both for readers and Search Engines alike.

    RSS subscriptionRSS is getting much better known but still a bit of a mystery to many, so therefore with such a prominent placement of the RSS logo and subscription link, I would have included a link to some sort of explanation as to what RSS can offer to encourage users to subscribe. Since the RSS feed is through Feedburner, I would have also incorporated an option to sign up via email using one of the services that Feedburner integrates with. That way, all bases are covered and you are giving your readers the choice.

    Title Tags and Meta Tags – while it may not be seeking out Search Engine rankings as a primary goal, there would be no harm in changing the Title Tags’ format and wording in particular to make them more useful and relevant. I think that I would also include the word “Avis” at the end to help the individual posts.

    Summary – overall, a positive feel to the blog which I have no doubt will develop over time. The branding is consistent without being in your face and the writing so far has variety without veering towards selling which is the portent of doom for any blog. The writers seem to work well together and the writing styles don’t obviously clash.

    I would certainly look at working at the blog based marketing activities which could help enhance the visitor rates and also use the sidebar areas to better effect. However, these will come with time and in the meantime the challenge will remain keeping the posts consistent and interesting.

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    As reported last week, Google has decided that spending $1.65bn would be a good idea to acquire You Tube.

    Clearly, Google thinks this is a good idea, I would imagine that the founders of You Tube would agree and no doubt there are some copyright lawyers rubbing their hands in glee that they have a target with remarkably deep pockets to go after on behalf of all the copyrighted videos that somehow find their way onto the You Tube site.

    But just what makes You Tube so attractive when Google, along with the other major players in the sector, have their own products. Well, clearly the visitor levels to the site are a major part of this together with their spending potential for online advertising which is, let’s face it, Google’s primary source of income. But is that it?

    Personally, I’m tempted by the argument that the major players are showing that they realise that the social communities and social networks on the web are going to be the places which will continue to grow and where people will “congregate”. Where there are people, there is of course also value.

    And this is why I feel that it is particularly worthy of mention here. Blogs can also develop into a type of combined social and business network, albeit on a micro scale. The topics discussed and the type of people attracted will depend on the subject matter of the blog and will therefore be broadly led by the author who also imbues its , but it is the participation of the readers of the blog which really give it its character over time.

    Why are blogs particularly suited to this? Primarily because, when developed well, they embody the ethos of sharing and of community that social networks display. In successful blogs, information is freely shared and linking to other sources is generally done on a merit basis rather than because of a shared desire to belong to a “link farm of two”.

    In doing so, good individual and business blogs put themselves at the heart of a network or a community which forms around a blog. This happens because it attracts and draws together people with similar interests and allows them to communicate with each other. And that of course is great for business too!

    We may not all be able to create a community which we can sell on for a 10 figure sum (!), but in our own ways we are trying to do just the same as You Tube. We are creating an environment where not only the author, but all the participants can share ideas and opinions on a diverse range of subjects and learn from each other.

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    I was interested to read an article entitled “It takes a Web Village” in a recent edition of BusinessWeek that a number of high profile companies such as GSK, Kraft and Hewlett Packard had been turning their attention to the use of online communities when researching the perception of their brands and development of new products.

    In the particular cases mentioned, they used a bespoke private online community by linking up with Communispace to provide an environment in which they can work with a defined set of respondents to help them in evaluating new product ideas and, in the process develop additional thoughts and ideas.

    There are two aspects to this – firstly the general use of an online environment for this type of research and secondly the selection of the right tools to achieve it. The benefits of using online communities in this way seem clear it is an ideal opportunity for companies to get real feedback from the people that matter most. Their customers. However, the price tag of this type of set up is probably out of reach for many of the companies that would most benefit from it.

    So, would a blog be a good substitute to a custom built environment for small and medium sized companies? I believe so.

    A business blog is already an great way to create networks and communities of people interested in a certain topic, market or area. By then managing the development and use of the blog, you can set-up an ideal community environment in which to test ideas, get feedback and encourage open discussion between your customers.

    You can easily set up a closed blog, just as you might do with an internal blog, or alternatively there is of course the option of a closed area within a current blog set-up. There are already examples of closed or semi-closed environments being used for specific purposes; a product development blog is one such example.

    So, how might they be used and what would you expect to gain from them? Well, they could be used:

    • to test discuss ideas for new products and product concepts

    • to test new marketing ideas in terms of promotions, offers, packaging ideas, advertising etc.

    • for surveys which could either be carried out using a threaded discussion and/or a simple tick the box multiple choice

    • to elicit feedback on products by providing an open forum where people can express opinions and discuss specific questions

    • to get an insight as to how you compare with other products on the market

    • debating offers and the appeal of them

    By incorporating images or video into the blog, concept testing and sampling can be done using full mock-ups or demos, and at all times the discussions can be directed if required simply by participating in the conversations as they happen. Feedback will tend to be almost instantaneous and the insights from the consumer-to-consumer conversations will be there without any filtering or “interpretations”. At the end of the process, you will also have the benefit of a community of product champions who will feel part of the development of the product.

    Are there companies who could not benefit from this? Well, you would need to be interested in hearing what your customers have to say, but thats true of any business blog. Soliciting peoples opinion and then totally ignoring it is never going to be a winning strategy to adopt. Other than that, it seems to me that using the key blog elements of communication and interactivity in this highly focused way to gain insight about your customers, products and marketplace can only be positive.

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    I’ve been reading Naked Conversations again this week – such a good read with so many elements in it that are worthy of comment.

    However, my focus this week has been on product based blogs, whether they are focused on the product development phase or the product management and marketing phase. In both cases, the focus remains steadfastly on customers and there was a set of recommendations quoted which had come from Creating Corporate Evangelists which I found to be particularly relevant. These were:

    • continuously gather customer feedback;

    • make it a point to share knowledge freely;

    • expertly build word of mouth networks;

    • encourage communities of customers to meet and share;

    • devise specialised, smaller offerings to get customers to bite;

    • focus on making the world, or your industry, better.

    Although not specifically focused on blogs, if you can follow these recommendations as you develop your product based blog around your product, then you will create something which will foster the idea of ownership and community. This in turn will develop a buzz around your product and, as the title of the book says, create product evangelists who will be out there promoting your product at any opportunity.

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    Transparency has become very important whether it is in terms of accounting requirements following in the wake of scandals such as Enron or, at the other end of the scale, the ability for customers to know what is going on with an enquiry or order.

    Despite all of the press about how we need to do business in a more transparent way, interestingly it is seemingly this fear of transparency that that I often come up against when talking about the use of blogs within a corporate environment, whatever the size of the business.

    Even when considering internally focused blogs, for example for team communications or as an alternative to an intranet, there is sometimes clearly a fear that the open dissemination of information that the blog will provide will somehow weaken a managers position. A throwback to the old version of the mantra that “knowledge is power”.

    However, when we look at the possibility of using a Business Blog to open a company up and make it better able to interact with clients, suppliers and partners, then you can get a real look of panic crossing their faces. In most cases, it is not that they have anything to hide, it is simply the fear of the unknown but that is just the point! If the opinions and requirements of these important groups are unknown, then that is something to be afraid of as you have no chance of knowing what they really want or, by implication, delivering it.

    I tend to compare going through this process to crossing a rope bridge over a ravine:

      - it’s scary to look at before you cross as all the things that you think could go wrong flashes through your mind;

      - it is quite tense as you are crossing as you take every step with care, but you gain confidence as you cross as you realize your worries were unfounded;

      - and, there is a real sense of release and achievement when you get to the other side and you realise what youve achieved.

    Then of course, you wonder why you were worrying about it at all and generally you want to do it again!

    Gaining trust is critical in today’s business environment and being transparent and open with the people that your company is dealing with is a big step towards achieving that.

    The idea of knowledge is power is changing. No longer is it the knowledge and information that you keep to yourself that provides the power, but rather the knowledge that you share. In the same way, as you open yourself up to receive feedback from your marketplace, the information and the knowledge that this provides is also power, the power to provide them with what they really want rather than what you think they want.

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    Earlier in the week, I referred to the results of the UPS Europe Business Monitor survey which showed that a large percentage of executives in Europe were blissfully unaware of blogs and hence the opportunities and changes that were going on around them. Others, it seems, were aware of them but didn’t use them either as a source of information or as a tool for their own companies.

    The obvious question is “why”?

    Have they not yet discovered the business uses of Business Blogs or do they still consider them to be simply online diaries and so ignore them? Or does the reason run deeper and they are actually afraid of what they might do?

    If so, what are they afraid of?

    It could be that companies are still worried about opening a dialogue with their customers, perhaps afraid of what they might hear. They might also feel that they involve giving out information which their competition could use to copy their ideas. Effectively, it seems to be communication that they are resisting. Or is it perhaps the technology which is off putting? It shouldnt be it is important to ignore the technology and concentrate of what you can do with it.

    Perhaps what they should be more afraid of is the advantage that their competition is gaining over them by creating a more open dialogue with customers, suppliers and partners. They might also be a rightly concerned about what is being said about them which they are not monitoring and not being able to respond to.

    Business is all about Communication and so are Business Blogs.
    Business is also all about Relationships and so are Business Blogs.

    There seems to be a perfect match here so it is important to get out there and get involved in the conversations. They present an opportunity and not a threat! If you make sure that you listen to what is being said then you become part that communication loop and have the opportunity to lead what is being said. Customers will talk to each other using the tools that are available so make sure that they hold these conversations on your Business Blog where you can answer their concerns and direct the dialogue.

    Don’t be afraid of Blogs – get involved and use them!

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