Today, there are more ways than ever to connect with customers. There's email, social media, mobile, meetings, focus groups, trade shows. The list goes on. But which ways are the most effective? CIO.com asked dozens of business owners, managers and customer relationship experts to find out. Following are their top 14 recommendations for how to connect with customers—and what makes those methods effective.
Note: The success of a method depends largely, if not entirely, on the business you are in and who or where your customers are. While social media sites—e.g., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube—may work great for some organizations, they may not be the best option for others. Similarly, while some customers may prefer to be contacted via email, others may want or appreciate a phone call or a face-to face meeting.
So before you invest too much money or time in one particular method of customer outreach, ask your customers how they prefer to be contacted or engaged. As for prospective customers, all the experts we queried suggested organizations try multiple forms of outreach and track which one(s) worked best.
1. Survey your customers. "Surveys allow businesses to identify user needs directly," says Reuben Yonatan, CEO, analyst and editor-in-chief of GetVoIP, which provides guidance and assistance to voice over IP consumers.
"Once customers' needs are known, companies can steer their offerings towards filling these needs," he says. "Surveys are also a good tool to bring in prospective customers who are on the fence about a product/service—i.e. surveys can be used as a platform for prospective customers to voice their wants/needs," Yonatan says
2. Use newsletters. "Send out a newsletter about 10 times per year," says Stan C. Kimer, president, Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer. "It should have a table of contents up front so people will at least take three seconds to scan it, and the five to six articles should be short (two to three sentences) and include links to useful resources."
"We segment our [newsletters] according to business verticals and construct targeted content to those verticals," says Maciej Fita, SEO director, Brandignity, an Internet marketing services company. "Our newsletters are filled with free information," not lots of advertising, he adds. "It is a good way to stay on people's radar screens."
"And don't forget to integrate social media functionality!" adds Keith Trivitt, director of Marketing and Communications, MediaWhiz, a performance marketing agency. Include "share" buttons for Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest, whichever are relevant. "Not only will you increase the social shares of your content but you'll give your customers and prospects an easy way to spread your company's expertise," he says.
3. Blog. "One of the best ways to connect with customers is by blogging," says Deborah Sweeney, CEO, MyCorporation.com, an incorporation and trademarking service. "If you actively keep up a quality blog, not only will your customers read your blog, but they will respond to your blog," she notes. "This creates a positive flow of communication"—and helps build customer loyalty.
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