How to use your website to build customer connections

It is no longer enough to simply broadcast information at customers, so how do you create a community that will spread the word of your brand?

It’s a common axiom that word of mouth is the best form of marketing, and nowhere is that more the case than online where a website can provide the perfect platform from which to engage with customers.

So the first thing every company should do if they haven’t done so already is register a domain name (web address) and build a website. 47% of small businesses still don’t have a website according to recent research, yet this is the first port of call for almost every consumer considering purchasing from you.

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Once you have a website, it is no longer enough to simply broadcast information at customers – the most effective businesses seek to create a community of customers who will endorse and spread the word about their brand.

This means creating an environment where customers are encouraged to provide feedback and interact with the brand. But how do you go about doing it?

Invite interaction with customers

Make it clear that your business values the opinions of customers. By showing that you are open to customer feedback, you build trust and credibility. Research by Search Engine Land found that 88% of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations from real people.

Get to know your customers

The more you get to know who your customers are and how they like to communicate, the better you’ll get at keeping them happy and turning them into loyal users of your site.

Website analytics tools enable you to see which pages your users are visiting, how long they’re staying on each page, where they’re coming from, and where they’re going next. From this you are more likely to be able to deduce what they’re looking for on your site, how they tend to navigate, and provide content and customer service tools that give them more of what they want.


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Find a common interest to foster community

Your customers may be interested in your products at certain times, but it pays to keep them engaged with your business even when they are not actively looking to buy. Ride25.com organises cycling holidays and corporate events, and the business looks to engage with customers before, during and after rides. It produces training schedules and links with the Strava exercise app that cyclists use to record and share their efforts.

The company also makes use of traditional interactions such as competitions to win a Ride25 cycling cap or shirt, which inevitably leads to winners posting selfies of themselves wearing the gear. “Nothing makes me prouder than when someone changes their Facebook or LinkedIn profile picture to feature themselves wearing our hat,” says founder John Readman. “We also encourage customers with our Ride25 badges, which are obtained by completing a route, and which really encourage a sense of community.”

Provide a choice of channels for contact

Know what your customer feels comfortable with. While Millennials may be perfectly happy providing customer reviews and sharing socially, your customer base may include those who are not. Despite having built its business on the back of the web, Firebox.com retains the ability to allow consumers contact via the telephone, says the company’s Cara Davies. “There are lots of different ways to listen to customers. We have a broad mix of demographics and you have to cater to all of those. We’re even opening a pop-up store this Christmas for the first time.”

Use existing social platforms and review sites

Go where your customers are. Although you may want to get potential clients directly on to your website to interact with you, that’s not how things work anymore. With the growth of other platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter, there are other spaces where people are already communicating. By establishing a presence in these areas and maintaining a conversation, your brand can stay front of mind and still drive traffic to your website.

Third party review sites are also worth considering. For example, Notonthehighstreet.com uses Feefo, which contacts customers directly and manages feedback.

Be a facilitator for users to reach each other

Customers want to speak to each other as much, if not more, than they want to speak to your business. Helping these interactions take place can make your site the go-to place. Recipe site Whisk.com aims to allow its users to socialise their love of food and recipe sharing.

“Users will be able to connect with those with similar tastes and aims, whether it’s a love of mushrooms, or a desire to save some money, or healthy eating,” says Jennifer Edwards, CMO, Whisk. “The next version of Whisk will allow this element of discovery with functionality such as what’s trending, personalisation and recommendation.”

Make it easy to share views

There are lots of ways of letting your customers voice their opinions about your business and its products. Customer comments and reviews are one way that you can do this. Firebox sends its customers an invitation to review a product that they have bought, and testimonials are listed below the product giving potential buyers a better idea of what the product is like to own.

Not everyone has the time or inclination to write a review or testimonial, so the business also has a simple system of likes where visitors to the site can click on a heart logo next to products to indicate that they love them. They can also share them on social media. The resulting hearts are combined with sales data to produce an ever-changing top 50 of products that give a quick overview of what’s creating a buzz.

Value comment, but don’t over-control

Customer feedback is invaluable for any growing business. Customers can provide insight on many areas from product choice and service levels, to pricing and usability. Don’t ignore it. Obviously this will mean that not every comment is going to be glowing, but negative feedback can be as valuable as positive.

You can opt to moderate comments to prevent spam and abusive messages, but try not to be too heavy-handed. Remember that customer comments are a personal opinion, and that what is right for one person may not be so for another. If somebody does have a grievance, make a point of acknowledging it and take it offline and deal with it there.

Use pictures to speak louder than words

The growth of applications such as Instagram and Vine have taken photographic functionality to a new level. Allowing customers to post pictures and increasingly video to your website or via other feeds is the way ahead.

Don’t stand still; monitor how customers like to interact

As technology changes, the possibilities for greater and more in-depth customer interaction improve. Constantly monitor how your customers are engaging with your brand and find out what they would like next. Options such as webchat are already common and can provide a direct call to action for a browsing customer. If you can answer any queries in real time, it makes it much easier to conclude a sale in a single site visit.

Readman says that a Ride25 app is next on his agenda. “It will send push messaging and link with Strava data. If someone takes a photo in the app you can remind them 12 months later about it, and even send a group message. We could even send birthday and Christmas cards with pictures of customers on a ride. It’s targeted engagement marketing.”

This article is a part of the ‘Getting Online’ series sponsored by Verisign.

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