Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Bringing the customer closer

posted by Andy Leff
Business isn't what it used to be. Past generations of customers didn't have many choices. Shopping was usually done in the town where they lived. So if the shoe store didn't have the color sneakers someone wanted, too bad.

But in today's world, customers have all the power. They can now shop online to find the products they want, and search from Tennessee to Tokyo.

So how do you connect to this new breed of customers across the country and around the world? Businesses used to build reputations through personal contact, but the detached nature of the Internet makes cultivating relationships tricky -- unless you know the tricks of the trade.

Social Computing Magazine tells all with a list of the Top 10 Web 2.0 Technologies for Getting Closer to Your Customers. The takeaway: Communication between companies and patrons has never been easier, even though many customer service departments might never see a customer's face.

I've often discussed the importance of social networking, blogging, and podcasting here , but that's only the tip of the iceberg. As the list shows, there are plenty of methods to try. My recommendations:

* RSS feeds. This keeps customers and partners automatically updated about changes in your company or services.

* Search engine optimization. You can include key copy in your Web site that makes sure search engines send relevant queries right to it.

* Tagging. Customers can rate the usefulness of answers and information provided. And with each rating, merchants gain important feedback they can use to improve customer service and effectiveness.

In the end, personalizing a customer's experience in a largely impersonal technological realm can make a world of difference in repeat business and sales.

The secret is to foster conversation between customer and company, and build a strong user community, in whichever Web 2.0 medium works best for your biz.

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