Friday, June 3, 2011

Top Online Review Sites to Help Local Businesses

According to the MIT Technology Review, for every one dollar U.S. consumers spend online, another five or six are going to off-line purchases that are influenced by online research. In fact, 97% of Internet users in the U.S. gather shopping information online, and of those consumers 51% explicitly describe their behavior as Shop Online, Purchase Offline. So it’s not hard to understand why businesses win and lose new customers every day, before the potential buyer even walks in the door. You’re dealing with an educated consumer, who does his/her research, and cares deeply about what others have to say. Welcome to the new word-of-mouth marketing!
Last week we discussed the importance of online review sites for local businesses. Here is a follow-up to help zero in on the online marketing revolution, and increase your business presence locally and around the world. Below are six of the major review sites for local businesses. All hold weight with the American public and have a huge online presence even in local markets. Visit the following top sites to register or claim your company profile, post a photo or logo, add your address and contact information, and sign up for review alerts.
You can get your business listed on Google’s map and show up directly on the search results by registering at the Google Local Business Center. Describe your business with location info, services, hours of operation and business website link. After you have a listing, your goal is to get reviews.
See what others are saying about your business and talk back on This community has exploded, almost tripling in traffic from 10-25 million visitors last year alone. Yelp allows business owners to respond. To gain control of your profile you should first see if your business is already listed, then you must “claim” the listing with phone call verification.
Yahoo is one of the top three search engines over the Internet. Yahoo Local Listings can help promote your business to customers looking for information. Yahoo Local is used by many prospective customers looking for products or services locally. Business owners can get reviews, flesh out their profile and add business information.
According to their website, “Citysearch is an essential local guide for living bigger, better and smarter in your city.” They combine in-the-know editorial recommendations, candid user comments and expert advice from local businesses. Citysearch allows you to claim your business listing and gives you access to services to help you get the highest benefit, most of which are free.
Insider Pages was created to help people find the best local businesses through recommendations from their friends and neighbors. Business owners can claim their free business listing on Insider Pages and have the option to respond to reviews, all for free.
MerchantCircle is an online business directory, social business network and marketing platform with 4.3 million visitors per month (according to Wikipedia). Businesses can upload pictures, write blogs, create coupons and send online newsletters through the network. Consumers can leave reviews on business listing pages and business owners can respond.
While you’re here check out your business listing at Under the "Places" tab on the top of the homepage, you can find many business and organization listings in and around Upper Dublin. Patch’s team of researchers spent weeks hitting the streets and visiting our local businesses, schools, parks, libraries, and more so they can provide photos and detailed info about all the local services and organizations. If you own or manage a business or organization in Patch’s directory, visit your listing and claim it. For more information about listings e-mail Upper Dublin Patch Editor Kyle Bagenstose.
Still have questions about registering your business online? Ask me about it! Please feel free to submit your questions or comments below.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Online Reviews Are Here To Stay

  One of the best ways for local businesses to increase customer loyalty is to receive consistently positive reviews from customers. As a local business owner or manager, you need to know about this reality. Like it or not, social media has empowered customers to call it like they see it. So how can a small, local business make the most of these websites and their often passionate community?
  According to a comprehensive post on ReadWriteWeb about getting the most from online review sites, business owners shouldn’t try to influence the reviewer. "Reviews are effective because YOU the business owner do not control them. A customer’s review needs to be about their actual experience with your business. Equally important is that you try not to get ruffled by a negative review." Remember that a moment of magic between you and your customer can often occur after there has been a moment of misery, so look upon a negative review as an opportunity to show your customer your willingness to go above and beyond to provide a great customer experience.
 Check out these fast and easy doable tips to put online reviews to work for your business from amazingserviceguy, Kevin Stirtz, a web marketing consultant who specializes in helping local businesses and nonprofits attract and retain more customers.
  1. Respond to every review. Think of your online reviews as conversation starters. Someone has reached out to you, and when a person speaks to you, it’s bad form to ignore them. By engaging them you are affirming their choice to do business with you and developing a better relationship with them.
  2. Always thank people for their reviews. When a customer takes time to give you a review, they are going out of their way. So thank them for their time and effort (even if the review is negative).
  3. Wait before you respond to a negative review. Let the message of the review simmer in your brain before jumping in with a response. When you come back later you’ll have a much more even response. It will serve you better in the long run.
  4. Never post a fake review. Forged reviews are truly a distraction that will not help your business. Your goal should be to give your customers such a great experience that they generously offer you wonderful reviews that encourage others to do business with you.
  5. Leverage the power of an apology. The fastest road to a resolution is an apology. Your apology shows them you care and it tells them you’re willing to take responsibility for a solution. Most employees and businesses don’t apologize so your apology is bound to stand out.
  6. Never threaten a reviewer online or strike back by posting threatening or even hostile comments. If an online review is so awful it warrants legal action then take your concerns to the website where the review is posted. Also, try to contact the reviewer through the website’s private messaging service, or simply ask (in your online response) that they contact you privately so you might discuss a resolution.
  7. Be consistent. Your business should have a policy and procedure for handling complaints. Whatever you decide, be consistent about it.
  8. Use online reviews to improve your business. The best thing about reviews is they are feedback direct from the people who matter most: your customers. So take their feedback seriously and use it to improve how you do and what you do.
  9. Keep your attitude and message positive at all times. Don’t forget… When you respond to an online review, your purpose is to improve your customer’s experience.
  10. Tell them what to expect. When you tell your customers what to expect then they have a ruler to measure you with. If you make it easy for them to define their customer experience, you’ll make it easy for them to talk about it.
Ultimately, the best way to get a steady flow of positive online reviews from your customers is to give them an experience they’ll want to talk about. The best way to do this is by going beyond what they want and expect from you.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Feel Good Factor: Customer Service Skills To Delight and Satisfy

The most successful businesses are always looking for ways to serve the customer more than they expect. Nothing surprises a consumer more than when the person helping them goes the extra mile on their behalf. Now, more than ever, companies, businesses and retail outlets understand they must deliver the "feel good factor" their customers long to experience.
Late yesterday morning my friend and I stopped for a beverage at the neighborhood Dresher coffee shop. The store was filled with people waiting to give their order to the person behind the counter. We were lucky enough to have arrived before the onslaught and were already waiting for our coffees. I’m willing to guess that not one person in that line wasn’t in a rush! However, it didn't take long before I discovered my friend was about to hold up the line and lengthen our stay with a special request. As an aside, I have always been especially aware of the difficulties service people face when a line of impatient and unhappy people starts to form, having worked in retail as a teen and young adult.
Oblivious to the people waiting, she began to ask the server how he was making her latte. She was prepared to stop at nothing to have it the way she wanted it. What followed shocked and surprised me. The person behind the counter was actually keenly interested in preparing the sort of refreshment she desired and whether or not it was to her liking! “Try this and if it doesn’t taste right, I’ll make you another one.” The server smiled. I glanced nervously at the woman waiting behind us and she also looked amazed. Maybe it was because neither of us ever dreamed of giving instructions to a coffee server on how to make a cup of Joe, or perhaps we were just floored that someone actually cared enough to slow down and listen to a person’s needs. At this point we were enrapt! She tasted her drink, “It needs to be a little thicker, I think.” The person behind the counter seemed to understand exactly what she meant and took to transforming my friend’s pick-me-up into the latte of her dreams.
What happened was delightful, what happened was unexpected, what happened between my friend and the server and anyone else in earshot is one of the most important aspects of customer service, the “feel good factor”. Here the goal is not only to help the customer have a good experience, but to offer them an experience that exceeds their expectations. It makes perfect sense when you realize that only the most delighted customers buy more or become advocates, and only the most disappointed customers leave. Do you remember the last time you were a “most delighted customer” at any one of our local establishments? As they say, there are a “million naked (consumer) stories in this town”, please take a few minutes to tell us one of yours.
Here are the correct answers to last week’s contest to match food markets with their special brand of customer service. No one got it right!!!
Acme Food Market: workers take time to say hello when shoppers enter and make themselves available for questions or help (d).
Genuardi’s:  has remained non-union, despite heavy unionization in their other chains (f).
Giant:  employs nearly 37,000 associates to serve a six state market area (g).
Dreshertown Shop N’ Bag: managers understand that loyal employees make loyal customers. Most of their staff stay on for years (a).
Trader Joe’s:  grocers notify each other via a bell system to communicate with the team rather than an intrusive intercom system that might distract their customers (b).
Whole Foods:  will take food right off the shelf so customers can taste it (c).
Wegman’s:  employees become well-versed in the art of satisfying customers (e).

Friday, May 13, 2011

Food Markets Thrive Even In Tough Times Because We All Have To Eat. How Well Are They Doing?

The average person in the US now has less to spend on the basics such as food, accommodation and health care than they did in 2007. The triple whammy of poor consumer sales, a weak housing market, and high unemployment, along with excessive debt are dragging down the recovery, even in Upper Dublin. Four dollar plus per gallon gas prices aren't helping matters very much either. In a world where people have become extremely value conscious, one of the only ways to compete, outside of price, is with excellent customer service. So how are they doing?

The list below contains statements from each market. See if you can identify each market’s special brand of customer service by matching each market’s customer service facts (right column) with their public statements (left column). Submit your entries below with any comments before midnight on Wednesday, May 18. The first person to correctly match the stores with their customer service facts wins a $10 gift card to Starbucks. I will announce the winner Friday, May 20, 2011. Good luck!

Official Public Statements on Customer Service Philosophy

1.       Acme Food Market – Fairway Shopping Center- Give the customer the merchandise they want, at a price they can afford, complete with lots of tender, loving care. . I promise to work hard every day to make life easier for my customers. All associates are expected to present a neat, well-groomed, appearance.
2.       Genuardi’s - Under Safeway's ownership, Genuardi's remains committed to providing a pleasant shopping experience for all customers. Quality products, freshness, great value, and legendary customer service.
3.       George’s Dreshertown Shop N’ Bag -Service shall be given to every single person that enters in a natural, happy, unconditional, easily accessible manner, and with a ‘family style’ greeting that makes customers feel at home.
4.       Giant - David Javitch built his business on the premise of the “best products at the fairest price”. Their customer pledge is to make a difference in customers’ lives every day with great food, low prices, friendly helpful service.
5.       Trader Joes - Offers value and a dedication to quality service through warm, friendly, committed employees along with a pledge to offer quality products, supports loyalty and customer service through personal contact with the consumer.
6.       Wegman’s - The company has won awards for making the shopping experience better, and for treating customers & employees in an exemplary manner. In 2010, they received more than 3,800 requests from people asking them to open a store in their community.
7.       Whole Foods - We offer value to our customers by providing them with high quality products, extraordinary service and a competitive price. We want our stores to become community meeting places where our customers meet their friends and make new ones.

Customer Service Facts
a)       This union store nurtures their employees and sends them to programs to keep them motivated. Loyal employees make loyal customers. Many may shop other stores for lower prices but they come to the town’s center for quality and service not received elsewhere
b)       Prior retail experience is not necessary but workers must have shining personalities to work at this market and are expected to know their inventory and fully understand their product. Uses bell system to communicate with team rather than an intrusive intercom system.
c)       Offers extensive and on-going training for team members plus a full intro day and a two-day orientation process. The starting salary is above minimum wage. There are daily food samplings and demos for customers. Will take food right off the shelf so customers can taste it.
d)       This union store has recently stepped up its customer service credo in the past year; although this area market just suffered 10 lay-offs. Workers take time to say hello when shoppers enter the market and make themselves easily accessible for any questions or problems.
e)       Rated one of the best companies to work for in America. Salaries to start are slightly-modestly higher than minimum wage. Numerous training opportunities. Employees become well-versed in the art of satisfying customers. The store is spotless.
f)        Has remained non-union, despite heavy unionization in their other chains. Operates on the same basic principles that have been the foundation of the company since its humble beginnings in 1920.
g)       Provides employee training as part of the company's customer service philosophy. When you nurture the employee, you nurture the customer. Pays employees slightly above minimum wage to start. Nearly 37,000 associates serve a six state market area.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Are you a loyal or a satisfied customer? There’s actually a big difference.

It’s another beautiful spring morning in Upper Dublin – that’s my little niche in the world. The freshly cut fragrant grass looks even greener than yesterday, the trees in full bloom stand majestically against the blue sky, the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the constant whirl of cars on the PA Turnpike echo throughout the adjacent neighborhoods. Residents’ multi-task on their way to work; sipping their coffee, talking on cell phones, and watching for traffic changes on their GPS systems. Big yellow buses heading to school with students in tow clog the minor arteries of Limekiln Pike, Virginia Drive and Susquehanna Road.

If you’ve been stuck in traffic during rush hour even once you know there are thousands of people heading to and from Upper Dublin to conduct business in small, medium and large companies. Some are doctors, some are lawyers, some are teachers and professors and administrators, some invest in real estate, and some sell insurance, some toil in gardens, in restaurants and retail, or the family business, and some have businesses of their own. Many wake hours before sunrise to start at 7:00 am or earlier, and many work late into the evening, just to keep their loved ones happy, safe and care-free.
For the many people who work in Upper Dublin their day has just begun and they’ve already been up for hours. They unlock their businesses, greet their staff, and meet with visitors, clients, patients, and customers; they open email, listen to their messages and pick up the phone. Hopefully, the customer on the other end will be satisfied: hopefully the customer will not be irate, hopefully with each phone call or interaction, employees and business owners will be creating what customer service expert Shep Hyken, CSP, and CPAE describes as a “moment of magic” rather than a “moment of misery”.
A moment of magic is any positive impression you make that transforms a satisfied customer into a loyal customer, because loyal customers are what businesses always need more of. Loyal customers will keep your business afloat, loyal customers will do your best advertising and marketing for you, and loyal customers cost far less to maintain than searching for new ones. Are you a loyal customer of a well known or not so well known Upper Dublin outlet? What was your moment of magic? Can you describe it to us? I love a good story with a happy ending!
On the other hand, we all know what a “moment of misery” is, don’t we? Just recalling one could put a knot in your stomach. We’ve all been in that sticky situation from time to time. For me it always starts with “I’m sorry.” Because I am one of those people who thinks that at the bottom of every conflict is a mistake I must have made. According to Hyken, “moments of misery” between the merchant and the customer are merely opportunities, because if you’re smart enough, good enough, and detached enough you can create a moment of magic even from misery. What happened the last time you were caught in a moment of misery? Is there anything you wish you could have done differently in hindsight? Do tell!
The C-S-R Czar will focus on a variety of issues relating to customer service, satisfaction, and loyalty in Upper Dublin Township. Please join the conversation while we examine the industry in our own backyard

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Thank You So Much For Coming

Since becoming a customer service representative I have to perform many things that I have never had to do before. True, I once fitted toe shoes and leotards, and sold pasties and g-strings, but today forty years later, from M-F 9-5 its my pleasure to tidy up a business lounge, fill and empty a dishwasher and perform various other tasks similar to a hotel worker - like move furniture, and unlock doors. I was once pushed as a reminder that I must get up when greeting anyone new. So, when entering the Days Inn this weekend I took note of the people working behind the desk, cleaning my room and shuttling my family back and forth to the area's attraction. I found myself wondering if they were like me. If I were more like them, than I realized. As we were leaving the amusement park Saturday night the elderly woman standing at the gate said, "Goodnight, Thank you so much for coming." And I really got it. I really got it.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Pretty Good Day For A Monday

The CSR Czar was in a great mood this morning in spite of the fact that it was Monday. Her boss had taken the day off and trust me that was enough to make anyone feel cheery. Besides that it had been a great weekend filled with family, fun and food (the Saturday morning wake up call with the hubby wasn't bad either).

Life at the office was starting to fall into place too. Today was officially the Czar's 11th day (but who's counting). There was an all-day meeting in the main board room, which required catering. The boss sternly instructed the receptionist  not to forget to have the frequent club card stamped, of which she promptly forgot to do. "Boss is gonna kill me!" The CSR Czar offered to make the trip to the restaurant to have the card stamped. When she arrived at the restaurant, what happened next surprised and delighted her. When she explained what was needed the manager smiled warmly, "You made the trip all the way over here for this? Next time just give us a call and we'll stamp your card twice the next time." The fine gentleman left with her card only to return with it stamped and had added a few extra for good measure! She stayed to chat a little about the lovely lunch and especially the fantastic cookie tray for a bit and then the Czar was on her way. You see, she thought, as she raced to her car, there is such a thing as awesome customer service and its the backbone of every company.