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Marketers have saturated consumers with advertising. In a typical day, the average American consumer sees, hears or otherwise experiences somewhere in the neighborhood of between 4,000 to 10,000 ads. That statistic not only represents a massive investment of capital on the part of advertisers, but it also means people are demonstrating an unprecedented level of natural resistance to the ads themselves. Overloaded consumers’ trust in advertising is at historic low levels.
Large corporations continue investing in traditional advertising because they have substantial enough budgets to diversify their efforts. The typical mixture of ads the big brands run includes a growing ratio of digital advertising in addition to all the existing legacy efforts.
But, what about the small to mid-sized companies; where does that leave them? More and more, the answer is: frustrated, overwhelmed and struggling with ineffective online advertising. Worse yet, they are alienating their customer base made up mainly of Millennials and Gen Z’ers. These demographic groups expect companies to anticipate their needs and create personalized customer experiences.
The crisis these smaller businesses are experiencing is rooted in the fact that the old ways of connecting with the market are fading away. A new paradigm is taking over. In the past, a one-way conversation in which the seller told the buyer what to think about the brand, and outside of word of mouth (WOM) the consumer had little or no alternative sources of data or opinions.
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With the digital revolution, however, the monologue has turned into a conversational dialog between the brand and the consumer, and the consumer to consumer, and an empowered shopper is now using multiple digital resources, websites, review sites and more to do their own research and form their own opinions of a brand or product. To be successful, sellers must leverage these digital assets to maximize their digital profile and brand image and reputation to impress clients by building trust first.
This news is not all bad for sellers. Instead, it’s excellent news. If merchants and service providers can latch on to this new way of thinking, they can outpace competitors who have not caught on or are not willing to embrace it. An advantage gained now by learning the new rules of marketplace trust-building could potentially carry a business on a wave of success well into the future. Ignoring the changes and insisting on clinging to the old ways will likely see them suffer a quick decline into obscurity.
Advanced online search algorithms and seamless communications change everything. And because of this seismic change, many consumers expect retailers to treat them with respect by honoring their commitments and delivering on their promises, so customers value companies they know they can trust to deliver.
For sellers, the processes that go into nurturing this new level of brand trust are incremental and ongoing. Tending brand trust requires different tasks during different times of the purchase and retention cycle.
Prepare a Healthy Customer Base
The work, in the beginning, is mostly mental. Rethinking ideas about business and customer relations is hard but taking time to put in some preliminary effort on this front can promise significant returns in the next phase of the process.
Developing empathy for your customers is an important step. To do this, you should put yourself in their shoes, and look for ways to find out what they are experiencing and feeling about your product, service or brand. Finding out what your customers really think about you goes beyond asking them to fill out a satisfaction survey. You should make learning about your customers your first priority in everything you do.
Develop a Culture of Customer Centricity and Building Lifetime Value
It’s been found by many studies that it costs 5-10 times more to acquire a new customer as it does to retain an existing one because new customer acquisition is expensive when you consider all the marketing, advertising, and sales costs. Customer retention and customer loyalty improve Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) which is an important business performance metric, as high churn equals high costs and lower profitability.
Companies struggling with customer loyalty are often at least partially to blame. One of the most important things a business can give a customer is “the benefit of the doubt.” Don’t treat your customers like they are trying to rob you; treat them with respect. Give them that refund and solve their problems with a smile. You will make them happy, and they will repay you many times over with repeat business and referrals.
Excellent service and a liberal refund or return policy have been the secret behind the success of legendary brands like Nordstrom, Zappo’s, Southwest Airlines, and more.
Invest in Providing Great Value
Value is an often-misunderstood term, and it does NOT always mean the lowest price. The best definition of value may be “a good value is when the quality, results or experience received is perceived to be better than the actual price paid.” A poor value, on the other hand, is when the customer feels they paid too much for the product quality, results or experience received, irrespective of the price paid. In other words, if you paid $1.00 for a bag of cold, limp, greasy fries, served by a grumpy server, that’s not a good value. However, if you paid $1.49 for a bag of fresh, hot, crisp and delicious fries served by a friendly server, that you may say is a good value.
Again, value is not always about the price alone, it’s about the entire experience relative to the price paid.
Behavioral economics says that people are naturally wired to maximize their value exchange, so as not to overpay for the end-result. If they feel the value exchange was positive, they have a tendency to be loyal and provide positive reviews and referrals.
Even the best advertising, marketing, and sales tactics cannot compensate for an inferior product or poor service for long. The customer must receive a fair exchange of value (results, benefits, satisfaction) for their dollar, or they will stop buying, and leave poor reviews.
In today’s highly connected social media environment, great marketing can even exacerbate the problem. When a customer believes an ad claim, buys a product or service and discovers it’s shoddy, or an inferior experience, she feels taken advantage of – betrayed. And any chance of developing trust, positive reviews and repeat or referral business dissolves. Social media provides a release valve for the customer to gain back some dignity and sense of restitution by sounding the alarm so others will not fall victim to the same plight.
Get to Know Your Customer Better
By shifting ingrained mindsets and taking small measurable actions, the business owner can start to improve the quality of customer relationships significantly. Understanding customers beyond just their mechanical purchasing habits takes a willingness to exercise empathy. A good question to ask is, “What would it take to make my customers’ day?”
Would a small gesture or bit of improved service on the website surprise and delight them enough to help them connect better with the brand? Brainstorming ideas with the frontline employees help the team come up with ideas to test. When everyone in the organization is fully committed to providing more value to the customer, small adjustments made incrementally will soon add up to significant positive changes.
Discovering and eliminating where customers experience friction points is an example of small changes making a big difference. Closely examining web analytics and customer reviews to understand why customers are abandoning carts, leaving the site quickly or ignoring emails can provide necessary clues on the problems. The next step is to tweak the online purchasing process to make it more customer-centered.
At this phase of the cycle, it is vital to remember to stay true to the brand story. Any hint of inconsistency in terms of company actions or messaging tends to alienate customers. As is the case with most subtle negative signals unintentionally transmitted to the customer, the business owner may never be aware of a problem. The owner should focus on getting and staying in tune with the customers’ reactions to each touchpoint in the buying process, both in-person and online.
Remove the Barriers of Risks and Threats
The fear of being taken advantage of by businesses can often lead customers to keep their guard up and never fully trust a brand. In a similar vein, the prevalent threat of cybercrime can adversely affect the confidence level of the consumer. In one study, 72 percent of consumers expressed the belief that businesses are responsible for cyber security, not the government.
Trust levels concerning site security, handling of private information and business legitimacy must be extremely high before customers are willing to share enough to allow a trust bond to form. Steps the business can take to help overcome these challenges include:
Build Trust from the Beginning
Show Trust-Building Social Proof
Humans need constant feedback that they are making the right buying decisions. The tendency to worry about making a wrong choice persistently nag the psyches of consumers. This innate characteristic of shoppers has led them to turn en masse to online reviews for evidence they need to choose one brand over another. A large portion of shoppers writes reviews of products, paying it forward in effect by helping other people make their own difficult purchasing decisions. Marketers should leverage the power of reviews by following a few cardinal rules concerning them.
Answering a bad review can also serve as an excellent opportunity to clarify company policies and explain the rationale behind them. Negative reviews can act as a great opportunity. Winning over a dissatisfied customer turns him into a loyal fan and shows onlookers that the business is committed to serving its customers’ needs.
Master Search Ratings
Google, the world’s largest search engine, controls much of what businesses must do to coax their customers to trust their brand successfully. Other search engines exist – Amazon, Bing, Yahoo, etc. – that drive a considerable amount of traffic, but sellers have to master the workings of Google if they expect to survive.
For years, Google has structured its service aimed at consumers to remove the extra click required to visit a seller’s page to make a purchase. Instead, Google prefers them to find all the information needed to buy on their search engine results page (SERP) and adjacent ad pages. Driven by advanced algorithms capable of determining with remarkable accuracy what the shopper is trying to locate, the Google search engine is, in reality, a formidable shopping engine.
Business owners who participate in Google’s AdWords program, a pay-per-click (PPC) system, bid on terms that users would type in the search engine to find their products. The top matches are set aside on the results page in a prominent shopping-enabled section from which buyers can make their purchases directly.
To offer marketers who fully engage with both their target customers and with Google’s tools an added competitive advantage, Google created the Seller Star Rating System. This program allows sellers to display the average number of gold review stars received next to the merchant’s Google AdWords ads. This rating system, one of several offered by the search giant, is an incredibly powerful psychological trigger to drive conversion. The stars communicate to shoppers as a direct graphical symbol of the desired social proof that the seller is legitimate.
The stars facilitate an internal nod to an ancestry of hunter tribesmen relying on safety in numbers for survival. They reflect a significant amount of people who have purchased the product and not been sorry about the decision later. A high star rating means the buyer can rest assured that other people view the offering as useful, quality products and services.
Since shoppers so strongly associate a high rating with a trusted brand, merchants can expect to achieve up to a 17 percent increase in their click-through rates attributable to the rating program. This rate is high enough to lower the cost substantially of acquiring new customers.
Businesses have to earn the right to display these validation badges to search engine users. To participate in the Seller Rating Program, sellers must be actively using AdWords and meet requirements that include:
Google maintains these high standards primarily to keep the program fair and to make sure participating helps merchants reach their desired brand loyalty goals.
An Ongoing Cycle
Building brand trust is work that never ends. Constantly shifting customer preferences, updated Google algorithms and changes in Google program rules are enough to keep marketers busy. The struggle to win the trust of customers takes place on many fronts, and the successful seller must commit to touching each one.
The work is always changing. A quiet time of reevaluation and tweaking processes to eliminate purchasing friction points may follow a hectic time of extensive review-gathering campaigns.
So, while there is always work to do, it may not always be clear exactly what work needs doing at the moment. By concentrating on trust-building principles marketers can get out of the mode of constantly having to “put out fires.” If it is made a priority on a day-to-day basis, building brand loyalty becomes a natural mindset over time.
When consumers reach the state of transforming into loyal friends, something magical happens to the buyer-seller relationship. The understood, but unnecessary adversarial component disappears. In its place appears an understanding, a bonding – a flourishing trust factor.
Customers seemingly miraculously begin letting down their shields and opening up to sellers about their needs. Once the trust barriers come down and information can begin flowing freely, businesses have an opportunity to win a customer for life by meeting the expectations the buyer now feels safe enough to reveal.
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