In the movie the Wizard of Oz, the titular character ruled over the Land of Oz with an aura of great power and mystery. So much so that Dorothy and her ragtag band of misfits thought he was the only person who could solve their problems. But that aura was greatly diminished when it was revealed that the man behind the curtain was nothing more than a bumbling con man.

Much like Oz the Great and Powerful, business owners used to be able to rule over their customers with an air of mystery and power. The only information customers had access to about your business was the information you decided to give them. But that all changed with the rise of social media and the proliferation of review sites. Consumers have now had a peek behind the curtain and realize that the power doesn’t lie with the business, but rather with them.

And that power is derived from the new-found voice given to them by the internet. Traditionally, if a customer had a bad experience they would share it with friends and family, but it probably wouldn’t travel much further than that. Now with a few key strokes and the push of a button that bad experience can be blasted to anyone with an internet connection and a desire to know how you treat your customers.

That’s why it is important for businesses to take a proactive approach to managing their online reputation. This can be accomplished by not only listening to what your customers have to say but taking action on their feedback. This will go a long way toward building trust and loyalty with your customers.

Why you should listen

The fastest and easiest way to know what your customers want and how they feel about your product or service is to listen to what they have to say about you online. Today’s consumer isn’t shy about how they feel, so making a proactive effort to collect and manage online reviews for your business will give you a treasure trove of information on how to improve your business, including:

  • Employee performance: which employees are succeeding and which ones need a little coaching
  • Operational efficiencies: Know what process are working and which ones need tweaking
  • Customer sentiment: Are your customers generally satisfied or unhappy with your business?

But you shouldn’t just be listening to what consumers are saying about your business. You should also be tracking what they are saying about the competition. This will give you an idea of how your customer experience stacks up, and will give you another data point for what is resonating with customers.

Finally, while your business should be focused on delivering a top-notch experience today, you should also have an eye looking toward the future. And listening to consumers and watching out for new trends will help you plan for what’s coming next so you can stay ahead of the competition.

The value of customer feedback

In today’s fast moving business world, if you’re not moving forward you’re being left behind. But knowing you’re making the right decisions can be hard. That’s why you need to take advantage of every bit of data and information you have at your fingertips.

One very valuable set of data is the feedback you’re accumulating across social media and online review sites. But how do you go about corralling all of that information spread across numerous sites? One way to do this is by implementing an online review management platform that will consolidate all of your online review data into a single dashboard.

Being able to see what your customers are saying about you in real-time can be invaluable. It lets you see almost in an instant how your business is performing and what you need to do to improve. Richard Branson, entrepreneur and founder of the Virgin Group, put it this way in a recent blog post, “You can never have enough feedback and you can never stop learning.”

How to respond to criticism

Having access to all of this customer feedback can be a blessing and a curse. Even though negative feedback is inevitable, I’m not aware of anyone who likes to receive it. But not responding to a negative review or comment on social media, especially if the criticism is warranted, could be more disastrous than the actual comment itself.

Taking the time to respond to negative feedback will help build trust with your customers and potential customers. This action shows that you not only listening to feedback but that you care enough to respond and are trying to rectify the situation. Engaging with your customers and monitoring what they have to say might seem like a costly time-consuming endeavor, but you should look at it as an investment.

Which is exactly how Lili Balfour, founder of Atelier Advisors described it in a column on Fox Business. She said, “The time and money you spend communicating with your target audience and cultivating support is an investment in future sales. Customers are the best source of capital. Spend time responding to blog posts, answering emails, and meeting your customers face-to-face.”

Doing so will not only give you the insights to improve your business, but the tools needed to build a loyal base of advocates.