Until now, the primary form of communication between businesses and their customers was through advertising and marketing materials. This doesn't offer much opportunity for interaction or feedback. The World Wide Web changed all that, effectively opening the door to ongoing, two-way communication. With the type of fast-paced interaction made possible via the Web, people rightfully expect to be able to engage in immediate “conversation” with a company, especially about its products and services.
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Ongoing interaction with customers and potential customers helps improve your product and the way you communicate product benefits, gather customer endorsements, and provide customer service. Many organizations are surprised by the volume and frequency of feedback they receive from customers.
Although this poses challenges for many companies, it also offers an unprecedented opportunity to collect important consumer information, as well as immediate feedback regarding products and marketing efforts. If you are prepared to collect and analyze the information (and you should be), you can have the equivalent of an ongoing focus group at your fingertips. Not only are these people already interested in your company (after all, they found their way to your website), but they also will tell you directly what they think. Indirectly, you can glean a lot from their digital trail through the pages of your site.
There are at least five ways you can use the web to communicate with your customers: email, forms, comments, chat, social media.
E-mail is an easy way to get feedback from visitors. A simple “mail-to” link automatically opens an e-mail box with the reader's address and yours already filled in. You can also create a more complex e-mail form if you want to collect additional information as part of the feedback process.
E-mail is not a one-way street, however. You must be willing to respond if you want to maintain a relationship with your customers or potential customers. They will not be happy with an answer that arrives a week later. If they have taken the time to visit your site and offer feedback, they expect you to value their input and respond promptly.
One way to manage the influx of new e-mail is to create separate links for different departments (e.g., sales, service, and administration) so that e-mail automatically goes to the people who can answer it promptly. Whenever possible, set up automatic response forms, known as autoresponders. When readers send messages they get an immediate confirmation that it was received and a staff member will answer as soon as possible.
Forms allow you to gather user feedback in a more organized and targeted way than with e-mail. You can use forms to conduct mini-surveys or extensive ones. If you opt for the latter, be sure to offer the reader something in return.
If you take a survey of your visitors, post the results. People like to feel that their opinions count, and they like to see where they fit into the mix.
If your website includes a blog, reading through reader comments on your blog can provide valuable insight into how your website visitors perceive your website, your company, and the content of your blog.
Many websites offer live chat with sales and support staff. While this technology was technically challenging to implement in the past, modern content management systems and web servers mean that any website can be set up with live chat capabilities. The key here is to have personnel available to engage customers. If customers consistently find the chat channel unmanned, it won't take long for the live chat feature to become a source of frustration rather than a source of valuable feedback.
It's free to set up a page on Twitter or Facebook, and many customers use social media to engage with customers and to provide customers with a convenient way to reach out to the company.