Any good sales agent will have a good “feel” for what customers want and need, what they are saying, and even what they are thinking. How sales professionals gain that understanding has changed in two fundamental ways: First, a newer digital environment involving big data and analytics technologies is used to gather more information about clients and potential sales targets, and second, the way sales professionals interact with clients has had to change to accommodate newer expectations of millennials and how they interact with the sales process.
Previous approaches were largely instinctual, with sales managers relying on anecdotal stories relayed back from salespersons in the field, or inefficient customer surveys that attempt to rank the customer experience along a limited “not satisfied to extremely satisfied” scale. Both methods lack the benefit of a real-time view into what customers are really saying at any given point in time.
The millennial factor
The face of the American consumer has changed tremendously over the last two decades. People still expect good customer service and value for their money, but they experience the shopping arena in a whole new way. Where older generations such as Baby Boomers rely more on traditional media, Millennials take to social media to seek advice from their counterparts who have previously tried and trusted a brand.
According to Forbes.com, the 80 million Millennials in the United States wield “$200 billion in annual buying power.” Millennials are more likely than any other demographic to go beyond traditional advertising and instead rely on social media, consumer opinions and reviews. According to a Nielsen study, the three most trusted sources of product information are “recommendations from people I know,” “consumer opinions posted online,” and “editorial content such as newspaper articles.”
The good news for vendors and retailers is that as consumers look to their peers for recommendations, sales managers get a glimpse into those public conversations. By making shared personal experiences of others their preference, research has revealed, “… 33% of Millennials rely mostly on blogs before they make a purchase, compared to fewer than 3% of TV news, magazines and books,” and brands have taken notice.
“The Millennial mindset is such that they check everything, and are conscientious about the power of social media,” said Jeev Trika, CEO of crowdsourced review platform CrowdReviews.com. “Social networking allows consumers to speak freely and seek out opinions from unbiased individuals, and while some vendors may find this challenging, in reality it is giving them an unprecedented opportunity to be a fly on the wall and learn what those consumers are really saying. It’s a learning experience for many, who are now able to use that unstructured information to guide their product development and customer experience strategies.”
What are they saying? The data knows!
Thanks to Big Data analytics, marketers can attract business by learning more about the causes of their (business) failures, create incentives for customers (such as generating coupons based on customer purchasing history) and detect and shut down a potential hazard before it can affect their organization. Big Data is collected and analyzed to find solutions to reduce costs and time, to brainstorm new product developments and to spur smart decision making. As a result, organizations can gather key factors regarding not only Millennials but all consumers.
Reviews are a window into the consumer’s mind
The widespread acceptance of online reviews, and proliferation of online review platforms, gives brands more than just a window into the consumer’s soul, but an opportunity to have meaningful conversations as well. Customers tend to display loyalty to companies who can solve their problems with expediency, or at least acknowledge a consumer’s less-than-perfect experience – and smart brand managers are willing to do so in a public venue. When customer service issues arise, customers, especially Millennials, are not going to be satisfied by making a phone call to a support number – they expect the organizations they patronize to be online, ready to solve their concerns within a short time frame. They will register their complaints on public forums, and they expect brand managers to respond in kind.
Companies should, of course, strive to respond quickly to inquiries, but with good information to receive positive reviews. “Bad reviews, however, will not necessarily hurt your business, at least not with Google rankings,” said Trika. “A mixture of good and bad reviews means a company is not trying to conceal anything, and we often see that a company that takes time to respond to a negative experience in a public venue actually gains more trust in the public’s eye.”
When the good reviews outweigh the bad, reviews can prove to be healthy for improving a company’s conversion rate.
To learn what customers want, have a conversation with them
Sixty-two percent of the Millennial population claim they will become loyal customers if a brand communicates with them on social media. Customer engagement with social media is not always easy. Customers want to be informed and entertained rather than to only be thought of as dollar signs to companies. To get a conversation going, businesses should initiate the talk by posting information that is interesting to their customer base.
Businesses can initiate the online review process by setting up a review function on their websites or linking to a review platform, to make it easy for consumers to leave a review. “Gaining positive reviews, when done in isolation, is an incomplete strategy,” said Trika. “When we use those reviews to gain visibility into our clients’ innermost thoughts, and leverage the platform to have meaningful conversations with them, then you’re able to gain trust, increase conversions and loyalty, and increase your revenues.”
For businesses, this also means adding links to their social networks on their websites and employing personnel to monitor the networks. Although the setup could be a time-consuming process, many companies report the move is worth it to reach their target audiences.
This interaction affords businesses the opportunity to learn what their customers are thinking and verbalizing to others.
How does your company keep track of what customers are saying? Leave a comment and let us know.
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