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One of my favorite pieces of advice from Return of the Customer by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers is; “Without customers, you don’t have a business. You have a hobby.”

In today’s customer-centric and highly competitive world, that statement has become truer than ever. For a business to succeed, they must listen to the wants and needs of their customers before anything else. If you are not really listening, you can be 100% sure that those customers will feel it and know it and will jump ship to another company that actually does care.

While learning how to listen to your customers takes time and training, it’s an essential task for business owners to undergo regardless of their industry and size. And, if you follow these 12 techniques, you’ll never miss what customers are saying about your company.

1. Review website analytics.

Google Analytics provides a plethora of data outside of pageviews, bounce rates and conversions. Everything from how your visitors navigate through your site to which devices they prefer to use can be identified by this free tool. Additionally, you can use this tool to discover basic demographic information like gender and age, as well as their interests and shopping habits.

While Google Analytics is the top dog when it comes to analytics, it’s definitely not the only option out there. Clicky is a web analytics tool that provides real-time data (Google Analytics is a day behind) involving your customers and website traffic.

If you have a physical location, then you may want to checkout Foursquare for Business. There’s an analytics dashboard that shares information like how many people have checked in at each of your locations, and what time of day you have the most check-ins. You can also discover the customer profiles of those who have visited your business so that you can find out what their interests are.

2. Monitor your social media accounts.

Social media monitoring involves listening to what others are saying about your brand – even if it’s a customer complaining about your customer service.

Despite its name, this involves not just social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter. It could also include review sites and other publications that mention your business by name.

Thankfully, there are a number of excellent tools available that can do this task for you. These include;

Hootsuite and Buffer can schedule social media updates, along with providing analytics like share, likes, and your most popular post. Hootsuite can even record customer resolution times.
Mention monitors billions of online sources and notifies you whenever your brand gets, well, mentioned. This allows you to join the conversation.
Brand24 and Social Mention can be used to track real-time conversions.
Reputology pays attention to what customers are saying about you on the review sites.

3. Launch a chat service.

There are tools, such as Olark, that allow you to place a chat service directly onto your website so that you can answer any questions that your customers may have. It’s easy to integrate and costs just $17 per month per operator.

4. Read blog, social media, online forum comments.

Arguably the best place to listen to your customers online is through the comments that they leave on your website. Instead of ignoring them, or getting defensive when the comment not what you want or think you deserve, or maybe it is completely negative – respond to each comment graciously and positivity.

Edwin Huertas writes in Social Media Today that, “Comments help ‘uncover’ your audience.” He adds, “Each comment is like a doorway that opens up tremendous engagement opportunities for you into your targets and prospects. Legitimate comments reveal people’s sentiments and allow them to share their ideas with you. This is priceless interaction!”

Outside of your blog, don’t neglect the comments that have been left on your social media channels and online forums and communities like Reddit and Facebook and LinkedIn Groups.

5. Use heatmaps.

Heatmaps are handy tool since they can track the movement of your visitors eyes, where they click, and how they scroll through your site. Even though you’re not directly talking to your customers heatmaps, you can clue yourself in on how to properly design your website based on your customer’s preferences. Crazy Egg is one of the more popular heatmaps available.

6. Research keywords.

Keyword research starts with a list of words related to your industry. If you had a clothing eCommerce site, then relevant keywords could be “fashion,” “vintage fashion,” “womens shoes,” or “fashion accessories.” Of course, that depends on your specific business. If you didn’t sell shoes or footwear, then you wouldn’t be concerned with that keyword.

The reason keywords are important, besides assisting in your SEO and content marketing efforts, is that they can provide insights like;

– The exact words or phrases that are used to describe your products or services.
– The products or services that your audience are specifically searching for.
– The problems that they’re looking to resolve.
– The products from your competitors that they’ve searched for.

Ubersuggest and WordStream are just two tools that you can use conducting keyword research.

7. Ask random customers.

That’s right. Just talk to people randomly. If you have their email address or phone number contact them and ask them if they wouldn’t mind if you asked them some question, such as what they like or dislike about your business and what changes could be made in order to help them.

Some customers may get ticked that you called them, but a lot of times they’re more than willing to share feedback with you.

If you don’t like going down that road, then just talk to strangers whenever you’re out and about. Even if they aren’t customers of yours, you still should be able to gain customer insights.

It was a tactic that Sam Walton used to do when he stood in the parking of his Wal-Marts and asked people what they thought or wished was different in the store. Apparently, the tactic worked since Wal-Mart has become a juggernaut in the world of retail.

8. Send out surveys or questionnaires.

If cold-calling or using a call center script doesn’t feel natural for you, then send out surveys or questionnaires to your email list subscribers.

What’s great about this technique is that customers can complete them anonymously, so they’re likely to be more honest.

When preparing a survey or questionnaire, explain the reasoning to your customers. For example, if you just launched a new shopping cart and want to know how easy it was for customers to navigate and complete the checkout process, then make that clear when constructing the questions.

Additionally, make sure that you;

– Offer an incentive for answering the questions.
– Send out the survey or questionnaire immediately following a purchase.
– Include a progress bar. SurveyMonkey found that bars placed at the bottom of the page increase completions.

9. Conduct an A/B test.

“A critical tool in understanding what is resonating with your customers is A/B testing,” says Ali Tajsekander, CEO of Wishpond. “By presenting multiple landing pages and tracking what is generating the most interest and lead generation, you can gain greater insight into what your customers are actively interested in.”

Tajsekander concludes, “One important aspect of A/B testing to remember is that it is just as important to track what isn’t working as what is, giving your company an opportunity to pivot where need be.”

10. Watch usability testing videos.

You can pay for a service like UserTesting that allows you to actually film your customers using your product or service – instead of thinking about, or wondering about how they use your product or service. Having this kind of insights directly with your customers gives you the opportunity to fine-tune your website, app, or prototype based on how they used these items.

11. Listen to customer complaints.

In the words of Bill Gates, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”
When a customer complains, they’re not doing so because they have nothing better to do. They want their voice to be heard so that the problem or issue gets resolved.

Whether it’s through an email, social media, your blog, review site, phone call, online community, or your sales reps, don’t ignore customer complaints. They provide valuable information on areas that need improvement.

12. Spy on your competitors.

“If your customers aren’t converting with your company, they are likely finding what they want with your competitors,” says Tajsekander. “There are a number of free and completely ethical tools available that will help better understand exactly what’s gone wrong. From tracking competitor keywords, monitoring social and marketing technique, to analyzing the strength of their website, better understanding your competition will help you make improvements in your customer service.”

SEMrush is one of the most popular tools marketers use to spy on their competitors.

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