How to Attract More Customers with Google My Business

Many small business owners hope Google will bring in more customers.

Some try to advertise using Google Ads. Others wade into the mysterious world of search engine optimization (SEO). The latter often involves hiring an internet marketing wizard who makes strange suggestions for your website.

There's another way Google can help you bring in more customers. It's easy and it's free. Let me show you how this works.

I'll be arriving in Watertown, South Dakota tonight to speak at a Watertown Convention and Visitors Bureau luncheon tomorrow.

Naturally, I need to find a place for dinner, so I Google "restaurant watertown sd." Here are the search results:

watertown.jpg

Get Listed

Wouldn't you like your business to be one of those top choices when a customer searches for something relevant?

Notice Google prioritizes three options. It shows each one on a map. At the bottom is a link labeled "More places" where I can search for additional restaurants. 

All of the additional search results, including TripAdvisor and Yelp's "Best 10" lists appear in the search results below this box. 

morelinks.jpg

That's pretty good visibility to a prospective customer. I'll see even more choices if I click on "More places" or click directly on the map. This also reveals a larger map that shows where each business is located.

restaurants.jpg

The good news is these restaurants did not pay for advertising to get listed there! These search results come from Google My Business.

Companies can claim a free listing by providing some basic information such as your business name, address, phone number, business category (restaurant, etc.), and website. It's also a good idea to include your hours of operation.

One word of caution—make sure you keep this information up-to-date. You want your customers to know if you change your hours of operation, update your restaurant menu, or move to a new location.

 

Add Details

Customers can see more information when you click on an individual business listing. Here's what I see when I click on the listing for Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant.

guadalajara.jpg

Notice the photos at the bottom. You can upload photos of your business to your Google My Business listing and Google will display them alongside photos contributed by customers.

This is an excellent way to visually entice people to pay a visit!

 

Improve Your Ranking

Google uses an algorithm to decide which order to display businesses when customers search for particular terms. There are three primary factors that contribute:

  • Relevance
  • Distance
  • Prominence

Relevance refers to how closely your business matches what a person is searching for. The best way to improve your results is to make sure your Google My Business listing is complete and accurate.

Distance is Google's attempt to provide the closest options to the person who is searching. Not much you can do about that one aside from opening a ton of locations all over the place. That may not be feasible, so...

Prominence is Google's estimate of the business's popularity. There are several factors that contribute to this. A big one is the number and quality of Google reviews.

Reviews, my friend, can be used to your advantage because they are often overlooked by big businesses!

 

Maximizing Review Power

There are two ways to think of reviews. One is how Google uses them and the other is how customers view them. Let's start with Google's own description:

Google review count and score are factored into local search ranking: more reviews and positive ratings will probably improve a business's local ranking.

OK, so it's great to have lots of five-star reviews. No surprise there. 

Some businesses go to great lengths to get good reviews. They provide incentives. Employees are implicitly encouraged to engage in survey begging.

Do yourself a favor and skip those gimmicks. Pressuring customers for good reviews can hurt service quality. There's another way to improve your reputation that customers will appreciate.

Let's look at the first few reviews for Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant in Watertown:

reviews.jpg

This restaurant has a terrific overall rating of 4.4 stars (out of five).

Now, some business owners might freak out because there are a few bad reviews. The first review shown is only three stars and is somewhat critical.

This is actually a plus!

That's because a few negative reviews can make a business more trustworthy. Customers are wary of any business that has all positive reviews since it raises suspicions that the reviews may be fake.

There's another plus here as well. Notice the response from Carlos Vega, the manager. Vega responded quickly, apologized without getting defensive, and invited the customer to return. 

This tells customers that management is listening to feedback. Presumably, the restaurant is using this feedback to continuously improve.

These Google My Business listings are for individual locations. Most large businesses I see fail to respond to customer reviews. That's because social media is typically handled at the corporate level. 

Here's where the personal touch of a small business can really shine.

 

Resources

Here are a few resources to get you started.

  1. Get your Google My Business listing and make sure it's up-to-date.
  2. Learn how Google determines business rankings.

Of course, there are other places a customer like me might search for a business. The big ones are Yelp and TripAdvisor and your business should have a presence there, too. Each offers a free business listing.

My online training course, How to Serve Customers Using Social Media, can help you make sense of them all. You'll need a Lynda.com account to access it, so here's a 30-day trial if you're not already a subscriber.


Three Easy Ways to Engage Your Customers

The Westin Portland was my favorite hotel.

It's slated to leave the Marriott (nee Starwood) family at the end of this month and I'm sad to see it go. I've stayed there many times and have always felt welcome. I even wrote about it in my blog and in my book, Service Failure, where I shared some of their secrets for outstanding service.

One thing The Westin Portland consistently did well was customer engagement.

I was surprised with a Westin Portland coffee mug and a handwritten note on my 10th stay at the hotel. I've stayed at several other hotels 10 or more times, but none of the others ever recognized me like that for my loyalty. 

I still use that mug.

Ali, one of the valet parking attendants, always recognized me when I arrived. At first, he greeted me with "Welcome." Soon, he greeted me with, "Welcome back!" 

During one three month stretch when I stayed there every week, Ali greeted me with, "Welcome home!"

Then, there was this incredible experience that proved small things really do matter. 

What is Customer Engagement?

The typical definition of customer engagement is unsatisfying.

Most of the sources I looked at defined customer engagement as any interaction with a customer. My issue with that is not all interactions are particularly engaging:

  • Transactional interactions are routine and unmemorable.
  • Problem interactions are often frustrating.
  • Marketing interactions often feel forced and too cheesy.

The one type of interaction that truly feels engaging is when customers are interacting with an employee or your brand in some way because they like you. These engagements cement a customer's loyalty and make that customer more eager to recommend your business to others.

Most of all, engagement doesn't feel forced or contrived. It's authentic.

 

Three Ideas You Can Use Right Now

Here are three ways you can engage your customers that cost little to no money and take just a small amount of effort.

 

Acknowledge the Social Love

This has got to be the easiest technique on the list.

All you have to do is acknowledge those moments when a customer professes their love for your brand or service on social media! 

Here's a fun exchange I had with Tesco Mobile. (I'm not even a customer, but they're incredibly engaging on Twitter.)

Of course, it helps to have a presence on social media. Patrick Maguire recently posted this story on his blog where a restaurant missed out on some really nice positive exposure because it lacked a social media presence.

 

Keep an Interest List

It's time to put your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software to good use! Keep a list of special requests, favorite products, and other things your customers are interested in.

A restaurant can seat repeat guests at a favorite table. A dry cleaner can know exactly how much starch a customer likes in his shirts. A plumber can remember the name of the family dog and bring a dog treat on a service call.

You can even use this technique to generate sales.

Years ago, I managed a contact center for a catalog company that sold products imported from countries that made up the former Soviet Union. Most of it was new, but we also had our fair share of antiques and collectibles.

We'd turn to our interest list whenever a new shipment came in and call customers who were interested in particular antiques. These were people who were looking for something specific and rare, so they were actually happy to get our call!

Notice that the secret to making an interest list work is you need to capture your customers' interests. You can use the Five Question Technique to make this happen.

 

Build Relationships

We often have a chance to interact with customers in a way that stretches beyond a simple transaction. 

For example, The Westin Portland hosted weekly happy hours in its lobby. A lot of hotels do this, but what really impressed me is that many members of the hotel's leadership team, including the General Manager, would show up and spend time mingling with guests.

It was a chance to get to know the people who worked there on a much more personal level. I've even stayed in touch with several associates from the hotel over the years.

One of those people was Jeff Igou, who now works at the Westin Book Cadillac in Detroit. My wife and I visited Detroit on our recent baseball stadium tour and you'd better believe I stayed at Jeff's hotel!

Try to get to know repeat customers on a personal level. Make sure they know you, too. My research suggests that customers are 2-3 times more likely to give a business a top score on a customer satisfaction survey when they know an employee by name!

 

Conclusion

Engaging your customers can improve loyalty, referrals, and ultimately lead to more revenue.

The best part is it doesn't have to cost a lot of money. Just a little bit of effort and creativity can go a long way!


Do you really care how your customer is today?

For many customer service professionals, “How are you today?” is really just another way of saying, “Hello.” It’s a rote question where the expected response is “I’m fine” and the person asking is totally unprepared for anything different.

You can miss out on some pretty big opportunities when you ask a question like this without caring whether or not you get an answer.

Last week, I saw firsthand how powerful it can be when someone actually listens to how their customer responds. I was checking in to the Westin Portland where Liza greeted me at the reception desk. She recognized me from many past visits and said, “Welcome back!” in her usual cheerful way.

She then asked the question as she started the check-in process. “How are you today?”

The truth is I wasn’t fine. The tragic bombings at the Boston Marathon earlier that day had left me feeling sad for the city and enraged at whoever did it. I spent several years living in Boston, including two years just a few blocks from where the bombings occurred, so the scene felt particularly vivid. I was also worried because I hadn’t yet heard from all my family members and friends who live in the area or were there for the marathon.

I deviated from the script and told Liza the truth. “I’m sad.”

Liza asked me why and I told her I was thinking about Boston. We proceeded to have a very nice conversation where Liza’s empathy and attentive listening were comforting. It’s amazing how simple human interaction can lift our spirits. 

I went up to my room and dropped my bags before heading right back out for dinner. When I got back from dinner later that night I was surprised to find this waiting in my room:

The card contained a handwritten note from Liza letting me know that she hoped all of my family and friends in Boston were okay. It was an amazingly thoughtful and kind gesture and yet another reason why the Westin Portland is my favorite hotel.

Liza’s warmth and caring provide a great reminder that we should care about the answer if we’re going to ask a question like, "How are you today?" 

Social media experiment: the #1 way to engage customers

I ran a fun experiment throughout the month of March to test how well companies that I do business with can engage me through social media.  I gained a lot of insights along the way, but here’s the number 1:

If you want to engage your customers through social media, you have to communicate with them, not just at them.

There it is.  Stop reading if you want.  Profound, right?  No, not really, but sometimes we need a Blinding Flash of the Obvious to help us out. 

Below are the rest of my major discoveries from the experiment.  You may want to first read about the experiment itself, or check out an overview of the four strategies I discovered.  I’ll be releasing a ‘how to’ white paper in the next week or so that goes into even more detail.  The white paper will be announced via this blog, Twitter, or you can send me an old-fashioned email and I’ll send it to you directly.

Am I more or less engaged?

The ultimate question is whether I was more or less engaged with these companies now than when the experiment started.  Since I was already a customer, I wanted the answer to be “more” for all 12 companies in the test.  The actual results were disappointing. Here are the companies in the test along with how they did:

  • More engaged.  These companies responded to me quickly and directly.
  • Neutral.  Office Depot is neutral simply because I didn’t have much interaction with them.
  • Less engaged.  These companies ignored me on Facebook, Twitter, or both.

5 Questions Answered

I started my experiment with three questions.  Two of my colleagues, John Curran and Grace Judson, suggested two more.  Here are the answers to all five:

#1 Engagement: Does the business proactively try to engage me as a customer when I connect with them on Facebook and Twitter?

The answer is “no” for all twelve.  I didn’t expect any “welcome to Facebook” messages or “Thanks for the follow!” Tweets, but I know some companies that do it so I thought I’d check.  This didn’t affect my engagement since I didn’t expect any proactive response.

#2 Interaction:  Does the business respond when I reach out to them via Facebook and Twitter?

The table below shows the results.  A “N/A” means I didn’t try to contact them this way. (I tried to contact companies via Facebook or Twitter only when I had a legitimate reason to do so.)

#3: Social, Media, or both?  Does the business focus on the social element, the media element, or both?

The graphic below represents my general observations of how much “social” and how much “media” the companies used.

#4 Does company size matter? (Thanks, Grace!) 

No, size did not correlate at all with my level of engagement.  Best Buy, one of the biggest companies in the group, does an amazing job of connecting with customers via social media.  Their blueprint is one that large and small companies alike should follow.

  1. Monitor frequently and respond quickly.  Best Buy accomplishes this by dedicating several employees to social media.  Small business owners need to make this a priority, trust an assistant, or get out of social media. Your customers really won’t care if you are ‘too busy to respond’.  One business day is a good rule of thumb.
  2. Personalize it.  Coral is a ‘Community Connector’ at Best Buy.  She responded directly to me via Facebook and Twitter, and was always friendly, enthusiastic, and helpful.  Communicating with Coral was much more enjoyable than communicating with a nameless, faceless “Best Buy”.
  3. Help in public, resolve in private.  Coral and her co-workers make helpful information to customer questions available to all who are on their Facebook page or following them on Twitter.  Have a gripe?  Coral or one of her colleagues will politely request that you send them more details in private (via email or Twitter direct message) so they can help you out. 

#5 Do companies have service level agreements? (Thanks, John)

I was surprised to learn that most companies don’t make it clear what their customers should expect.  Only two companies (Studio Diner and Best Buy) provided information on why you should connect with them via Facebook.  And, just two companies (Best Buy and Ultra Star Cinemas) described why you should follow them on Twitter.

A best practice would be to clearly identify what customers should expect from you on each social media outlet you choose to use. You can see more here.

What's next?

I’m recruiting a few companies to implement some of the best practices identified in this experiment to see if they really do work with other customers.  Stay tuned for more details.  In the meantime, please post your questions, comments, and ideas. 

Social media strategies (4 of 4): Engage

This post highlights the fourth of four social media strategies I uncovered in my experiment to learn how companies use this medium to engage their customers. I highlighted the first two strategies, the Placeholder and the Sell and Tell, last week. Yesterday, I highlighted the Forum. Today's strategy is called "Engage", as in "I'm using social media to engage my customers".  The funny thing is very few companies in my experiment used this strategy. 

 

Engage

This strategy is characterized by high levels of social interaction and high media. The catch is your media piece has to be interesting to your customers to entice them to socialize with your company.

When to use it

This strategy isn't right for every company because it can take a lot of time and effort, but there are a few situations where it can be tremendous.

  1. Your products or services require some education. The Cuvaison winery is a great example here. They post YouTube videos of their latest wine releases to their Facebook page. If you are a wine club member, you can watch the short video and then wait for your latest shipment to arrive a couple days later. Comment on how you liked it and someone from the winery will reply!
  2. Your brand truly inspires passion, and your customers want to interact with your company and with each other. Unfortunately, I didn't find any good examples here, even though I consider(ed?) myself a fan of these organizations.

How to use it

I guess I'm a bit lost here! The point of the experiment was to observe from a customer's perspective rather than simply repeat what so many social media gurus have explained much better than I can. However, I can offer two tips from my observations:

  1. Respond! You risk alientating customers if you don't respond to comments or participate in conversations, especially the conversations you initiate!
  2. Provide meaningful media. Give us something interesting to start the conversation. The Home Depot recently posted a video to their Facebook page that explained how to start a container garden and then asked, "What's the most unusual container you've used as part of a container garden?" They got some interesting responses and I found it helpful because it's something I'm looking into.

Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion. One preview - 7 of the 12 companies in my experiment hurt their image in my eyes. Tomorrow I'll reveal all and tell you why I think a lot of companies have a long way to go.

 

Social media strategies: the Placeholder

All ideas are subject to revision when better ones come along, right? Last week, I discussed three social media strategies I had observed companies using when trying to engage their customers. This week, I offer a small modification that yields four strategies along with a description of the first one: the 'Placeholder'. Tomorrow, I'll discuss the "Sell and Tell" and next week I'll discuss the last two and reveal all the companies in my experiment.
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