Those who are still trying to catch their breath from the last few waves could find this wave breaking all over them - and they will struggle to come back up.
WORLD WIDE TO WEB 2.0Before we talk about the future, let’s talk history. In the beginning there was the World Wide Web. Then there were search engines. Together they were a magical combination for service companies, leveling the playing field and freeing followers from the bondage of the Yellow Pages.
Things began to get more and more complex with search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, link building, multiple directory listings, landing pages, A/B testing, viral marketing, e-mail marketing, and so on.
Web 2.0 - the interactive web - is more about people communicating with people. Consumers are no longer deaf, dumb, and blind. They can see, hear, and talk to each other about what’s going on at your company and among all your competitors. Your customers now have the power to do more good or bad for your reputation than you could ever advertise yourself, no matter how much you spend.
HANDHELD COMPUTERSWeb 2.0 was exploding by the middle of the last decade, but in order to find a good service company, you still had to sit at a desk and thumb through a search engine or two, and browse a bunch of websites in order to make a decision.
Then along came smart phones. With it came the app, a self-contained computer program you could launch with a touch. Apps from websites like Yelp, Superpages, and others allow consumers to connect directly to service directories and present them with ratings and reviews, allowing them to make a call without ever having to navigate a search engine or read a single web page.
Now app-enabled mobile tablet computers, like the iPad, are exploding. You see the trend here? If people can directly access consumer-generated content related to your business, where does that leave your website, blog, landing pages, social media, incoming links, fancy A/B-tested landing pages, and your snazzy new flash header?
INTELLIGENT APPSToday, the power to make or break your company is literally in the hands of the consumer. But it doesn’t end there. The next wave, which I spoke about at the beginning of the article, is intelligent apps. New, advanced apps actually learn from experiences, getting better and better at whatever they are designed to do, as they process more and more data.
Let’s roll forward a few years when review sites, artificial intelligence, and voice recognition will be much more sophisticated. Within two or three years, we’ll be carrying on conversations with our phones and tablets. And, more importantly, they will be better at picking a local service company than any human being.
Say your air conditioner is broken. You say to your iPad, “My air conditioning is not working.” Your iPad might say back to you, “Searching for local HVAC repair services. Checking ratings and reviews. Checking your social network.”
After poring over vast oceans of data stored online in seconds, your iPad might say, “Based on 136 listings on 12 service directories, including 19 recommendations by your Facebook friends, I suggest we call Acme HVAC. They have good ratings, and your sister Jenny’s son works for the company. They also have a promotion this weekend offering a free filter and you are due for a filter change. There is another good company nearby, but their weekend crew has recent complaints. Would you like me to call Acme HVAC and make an appointment?”
Reviewing and rating a service company after the job will become effortless. After the job is done, your app will ask the customer how the service was, make note of comments, and add them to its database, further improving results.
This may sound like science fiction, but trust me, it won’t be long before service directory apps start showing what they can do. At that point people will start to trust their phones to handle these kinds of decisions for them.
Intelligent electronic agents don’t care much about websites or Yellow Pages ads. Consumer-generated information will rule. Your business’ service record will be totally transparent and open for the whole world to see - and for intelligent apps to analyze.
WHAT TO DO NEXTNo Google search? No PPC ads? No websites to read? No blog to write? No ranking system to game? What’s a service company to do? Times are changing fast, but for service companies online, marketing is nearing the pinnacle of its evolution. All of this technology, which has been evolving over the past 20 years, is leading to one place: Excellence in customer service is becoming the new service marketing.
This wave will be breaking sooner than you think. The first shots have been fired. Google recently changed its ranking policy to take ratings into account, lowering rankings for companies with poor ratings. Other directories and apps are sure to follow.
Another reason to accumulate reviews and maintain a good rating is that it actually raises the value of your company. If you’ve got a bad online reputation, you’re going to have a hard time getting top dollar for your business when you go to sell it. Maintaining a great reputation requires a low investment and produces a large return.
A great online reputation also helps you attract and keep the best employees.
After you make customer service, and online reviews and ratings, your top priorities, you can start accumulating good reviews. When you get better at it, it will make a positive difference in your company’s future.
Sidebar: Ways to Prepare1. Make customer service the top priority. That’s not just so customers won’t leave bad reviews and ratings, but because you’re going to ask them to leave good reviews and ratings after you’ve done your service. This is going to be the key to your success.
2. Train your team in manners and job confidence. Make sure your team members are always kind to shoppers and customers alike. Make sure everyone knows how important it is to be on time, have good manners, and clean up.
3. Train your team in handling complaints. You can’t please everyone every time. When you come across a complainer, you’ll need to know how to get back in their good graces. It’s not hard to do, but it takes training.
4. Make reviewing easy for your customers to do. Actively pursue online reviews with a follow-up e-mail or note. Politely remind customers that your company depends on good reviews, and assist them with clear and simple instructions on how to post a review.
5. Make it like a sport; be the champs. Get your people used to the idea of being a team (rather than employees, staff members, and departments). Use the opportunity provided by online ratings and reviews to create competition between crews.
6. Make it clear to customers that their satisfaction is paramount. Take every opportunity to let your customers know that customer service is a top priority, and that you want to know if they are unhappy for any reason, so that you can quickly remedy the situation and prevent it in the future.
7. Distribute reviews and ratings to the team. Collect and distribute all your online reviews and require your team to read them. They’ll learn what customers like and what is important to them, as well as what triggers bad reviews and low ratings.
8. Keep it honest. Artificial intelligence apps are evolving to be better and better at spotting bogus reviews. If someone is posting reviews on behalf of your clients, some day they could count against you. All that work will not just be wasted, but will be detrimental to your business.
Publication date: 03/21/2011