Lessons Houston Businesses Can Learn to Maintain Customer Loyalty

are_you_making_the_most_of_your_talents-According to a study conducted by Colloquy, a company that provides education and research to the brand loyalty-marketing industry, 26% of U.S. consumers surveyed are more likely to share news about a bad experience with a brand rather than a good one.  What’s even more surprising is those consumers who are most loyal to a brand are more likely to spread negative news about a bad experience.

In the case of the Carnival Cruise Line ship, Triumph, 100% of the 3,142 passengers will share their recent experience on the stranded ship with family, friends, co-workers and just about every other consumer looking for related content.  Not to mention the crew of just under 1,100 who are also likely to share negative feedback across all forms of news platforms.  And then the consumers who read these reviews and stories will share the second-hand details with other consumers, and so on, and so on.

Unfortunately for Carnival, social and digital media enabled news of the plagued Triumphto reach far beyond the network of the passengers almost immediately.  Consumers couldn’t avoid reading the horrific news story even if they tried.  However, thanks to consumers who double as brand ambassadors, the reviews online aren’t necessarily always negative even during crises like Carnival’s Triumph. Consumer comments on Facebook and Twitter are mixed.

Can Carnival win back the nay-saying consumers?   The answer is, yes.  We live in a “forgive and forget” world. Six months from now, thanks to time and those brand ambassadors willing to give praise to Carnival, consumers will have moved on. But that will not excuse Carnival from building a strategic PR and marketing campaign to win back customer loyalty.  We can expect to see full-scale, aggressive campaigns from Carnival to fill cabins on their ships once again.

Another great example of how consumer loyalty to a brand can combat a negative is the National Hockey League. This $3.3 billion business experienced its fourth season stoppage since 1992.  The recent lockout frustrated loyal consumers, many who spend discretionary income on expensive tickets, jerseys (or sweaters, as they’re called by real hockey fans) and other NHL merchandise.

During this most recent lockout which delayed the NHL season by 119 days, I was asked, “which side are you on”? [Meaning, the players’ side or the administration’s side – the two groups feuding over dollars.] Like most hockey-loving consumers, I didn’t really care who was right or wrong, I wanted to see my favorite team back on the ice.  And now, the NHL is back.

Despite the shortened season schedule and a hike in ticket prices that exceeds most other pro sporting events, consumers have showed loyalty. They are watching games on the NHL network and local television, in addition to purchasing tickets in impressive numbers. And to prove how much a strong brand, with an arsenal of brand-loving consumers, can quickly recover after a potentially-damaging situation, USA Today reported the NHL had 17 home-opener sellouts, and NBC announced the ratings from the opening telecast were the best for a regular-season NHL game in more than a decade.

Ok, so the teams did have to put a little effort into regaining some of the momentum with its loyal consumers who felt gipped for the first half of the 2012/2013 season.  Hence, teams executed “we’re sorry” promotions in each NHL city asking consumers to “forgive and forget.”
Case studies provide great examples of how-tos. But there are other fantastic resources to turn to. If your business has lost customers due to a bad experience, you may also want to check out Fast Up Front’s “Five Steps to Win Back An Unhappy Customer.”

Now, what does this mean to you, the Houston business owner? It means a lot! Your reputation is everything and if your customers air their grievances with your business using social media, review sites and other digital means (in addition to word of mouth) you need to be listening and crafting the appropriate response tactics. Turning your back on what’s being said about your brand could do a tremendous amount of damage to your business. Bad things happen even to smart and savvy businesses and it’s crucial that businesses handle these situations with the tack and diplomacy that these two major brands have used. It’s a cliché but making lemonade out of lemons comes to mind.

Thankfully, genius minds out there have built turn-key solutions and systems to enable businesses to monitor consumer thoughts, behaviors and interactions with a respective brand. Some reputation management solutions take it to another level by offering strategic response strategies and tactics for businesses at odds with negative consumer feedback. They specialize in knowing when and how to position the right response to a harmful message.

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Social Media Best Practices for Your Houston Business

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With the popularity of social networks on the rise, more Houston businesses are turning toward creating their own followings on these sites to market their own businesses. While some small businesses question whether they have the time or resources available for delving into social networks, they stand to gain from turning their marketing into sales by using simple techniques and best practices for social media.

Not only do businesses benefit from highlighting their own products and services, businesses seeking a competitive advantage can incorporate social marketing to stay ahead of the competition. Follow these best practices for social media for small businesses to effectively promote your business:

Engage Frequently with Followers

Even before they sign up, users of social media are drawn to the idea of interacting with other users. As a best practice for social media for Houston small businesses, it is recommended that they have frequent interaction with followers by providing fun and helpful information, without directly pressuring them to buy. Houston businesses can promote what they’re selling by posting “liked” company news on Facebook or micro blogging about new product launches on Twitter.

Connect Social Media and Traditional Marketing

While some Houston businesses prefer traditional marketing over social marketing or vice versa, the two can be used to complement each other. Small businesses can promote the link to their Facebook page on packaging or other printed materials in-stores in order to give customers more options in learning more information.

Promote Participation Using Contests

As a way to directly connect with current and potential customers, another best practice for social media for Houston small businesses is to create contests to increase user participation and raise brand awareness. Companies gain new fans as their followers win items that are either related to their own business or highly sought after like iPads.

Link Social Media to Other Websites

While each social networking site has a distinct persona, small businesses can link their pages together on different sites to boost their social marketing. Houston businesses are able to promote their how to video guides uploaded on YouTube and share them using links on Facebook. When a business links its social media accounts together, this can increase the followings of their social media accounts with weaker numbers as users cross over from one site to the next.

Reward Loyal Followers

To encourage social media users to join their small business fan pages, businesses reward their loyal followers with exclusive information about new features or give them the chance to try out new products. Allowing followers to have new information or promotions first gives them incentive to continue visiting a business’ social marketing pages.

Acknowledge New Fans and Other Businesses

Since engaging with social media users is integral to successful social marketing, encourage new fans and other businesses to learn about your business by following them or liking their pages. Using a career-oriented social site like LinkedIn allows a small business to network with others in its industry and to increase connections with like-minded individuals and businesses.

When strategizing about social media for small businesses, marketers should concentrate on improving user interaction and participation. By engaging with their followers on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and more, businesses can raise awareness of their online presence in order to effectively promote and sell their products and services to targeted customers. After learning about the best practices of social media for small businesses, companies are better capable of growing their business online and off.