From the days of early man, communication has evolved in ways that our cave-dwelling ancestors could never have imagined – petroglyphs to smoke signals, carrier pigeons to semaphore, Morse code to hand-written letters. But for all the ways that society has changed since the invention of the telephone in 1876, it now seems that we’re more interested in how we can avoid conversation, and less interested in actually speaking with one another. How are you supposed to increase your bottom line and reel in customers if no one picks up the phone when your sales team is at its finest? The key is as simple as it is complex. The Internet. How your business is represented online is what will send people your way, send them running for the hills, or ensure that they never hear about you in the first place. Let’s take a look at 3 online marketing tools that can magnify your small business mojo to generate a steady stream of inbound calls, and how answering services can help.
Digital marketing across social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Instagram is not only a great way to spread the word about your products and services, but in most cases, it’s free. That being said, it isn’t enough to just have accounts on various sites. You need to proactively update your feed, add engaging content, and ensure that what you present is continuously relevant to your audience. Consider including creative and colorful infographics, uploading video testimonials, polling followers to get their opinions on new products in the pipeline, or anything that would highlight your industry. If you don’t have an in-house blogger, you can easily find freelance writers via CrowdSource. Social media is also perfect for running promotions, offering incentives such as refer-a-friend bonuses, or partnering with other merchants to create win-win deals (think Groupon).
In tandem, it’s absolutely essential that you promptly respond to comments or questions from followers. Sites like Hootsuite give you the ability to track all of your social media outlets in one place, which is not only a timesaver, but it will give you a leg up on competitors who may not be as technologically savvy. When you’re trying to establish yourself in the marketplace, the more that you can show current and prospective customers that you’re truly paying attention to their needs, the faster you’ll build brand loyalty. And those loyal to a brand are more likely to rave about it to their friends and family. According to a survey of 7,500 small businesses, a whopping 85% of new local business came from referrals. Need we say more?
ANSWERING SERVICE INSIDER TIP: Whether you run seasonal, monthly, or weekly promotions, be prepared for an influx of inquiries from people who have viewed your ad and want in on the action. If you don’t have the manpower to field a high volume of calls, the right answering service can offer around-the-clock support, order entry, event booking, appointment setting, and more. Comprehensive call center services will often train agents to have a more in-depth understanding of your business over the typical message taker, and that may even eliminate the need for you to place return calls. With software integrations, shared calendar access, and PCI DSS compliance, think of the ideal call center as one-stop shopping for all of your customers’ needs.
Before you jump into search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising campaigns, take stock of your website. Is it user-friendly and easy to navigate? Is it fun? Does the design give you that “must read” vibe? If the answer to any of those questions is no, then look into hiring a web design firm to transform your site from dull to dramatic, or utilize platforms such as Weebly, Wix, or WordPress to work your own magic. Once that piece of the puzzle is in place, you can get crackin’ on boosting your web traffic.
For the small business owner, SEO is a decidedly dependable option. Sure, it’s time consuming, and it doesn’t produce instant results; but then again, it’s free. And over time, your website can work its way up to the top of the search engine food chain. The hallmarks of SEO are tweaking your site so that it is easily understood by search engines such as Google or Yahoo, and it is chock full of keywords that people look for the most. You’ll want a straightforward menu with quick links to areas of your site, descriptive content that is HTML-based, keyword-rich titles and tags, narrow search terms, and alt text for any images that you use, which will make them searchable. Since there’s so much to learn about SEO, and not enough room in this blog to get into the nitty gritty, we recommend doing your own research. Here’s a good place to start.
If you have the budget for pay-per-click advertising through programs such as Google AdWords or Bing, then your ad will show up in the “sponsored” search results section of a search engine. It will move people to your site more rapidly than SEO, but keep in mind that each time someone clicks on your ad, you pay a fee. That fee can also be higher or lower depending on which keywords lead to your PPC ad. So, you’ll need to really do your research, and enlist the help of a strong internet marketing professional if you aren’t exactly sure how to steer the PPC ship. After your ads are in place, keep tabs on the number of people who actually land on your site as a result of the ad so that you can determine whether or not it’s providing a solid return on your investment. Alternatively, if your budget is limited but you are looking to initially drive web traffic as quickly as possible, then consider PPC for a short period of time, but continue with SEO behind the scenes. In conjunction, PPC and SEO can do a world of good for your online presence.
ANSWERING SERVICE INSIDER TIP: Pay-per-click’s first cousin, click-to-call, is catching on as a popular way of pushing prospects in your direction, and it works by taking advantage of every consumers’ need for instant gratification. Instead of launching a particular landing page for your website, click-to-call enables consumers to immediately dial up your business, which results in more conversions, and ultimately, more money in your pocket. If you plan to invest in a CTC campaign, set yourself up for success by enlisting virtual receptionists to capture each call and qualify leads for you. While call centers are customer support experts, working with a dedicated virtual receptionist pool gives consumers that personal touch that sets the groundwork for turning a possible sale into a lifelong customer.
How often do you go online to review a retailer, restaurant, hair salon, doctor, or any other establishment that you shop at or visit? If you’re like most people, you are only inspired to provide your two cents when you’re dissatisfied with a customer service interaction. And, also like most people, you rely on reviews from sites such as Yelp, Google+, Facebook, or the Better Business Bureau to help you decide which company is worthy of your hard-earned cash. In fact, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, 82% of adults say that they sometimes or always read online reviews.
As a business owner, you can bet that online reviews will either be a gigantic boon to your reputation, or they will sully your good name faster than you can spell it. That is why it is in your best interests to track online reviews, expediently address negative comments, apologize, and make things right with the customer if you or your employees were in the wrong. In contrast, if you’ve received an unwarranted poor review on the Better Business Bureau or any other site, you’ll definitely want to craft a professionally-worded response including relevant information that explains what occurred and why. According to a survey conducted by BrightLocal, 30% of consumers judge a business by review responses. And with 97% of consumers surveyed searching for businesses on the web, how you respond to both positive and negative reviews can turn into a make it or break it scenario.
As your business grows and a number of sites catalog your reviews, invest in tools that will log the data in a central location, such as Review Trackers or Sprout Social. Google Alerts can also notify you each time your business name is mentioned on websites, in blogs, in news articles, etc. Whether you choose to manage reviews on your own or using a service, this is one area that it would be a mistake to neglect.
ANSWERING SERVICE INSIDER TIP: When things go really wrong, disgruntled customers will do more than write a scathing online review. They’ll pick up the phone, clamoring for the opportunity to present their case to your support team, sales department, supervisors, business partners, and generally anyone who will listen. And when that happens, you’re going to want a middle man – someone who can calmly document their disgust without taking what they say personally. That’s where a complaint hotline comes in. Operators who routinely take complaint calls know what they’re dealing with, and they know how to communicate with even the most irrational caller. Depending on the nature of your business, you may only want a text or email with the details; however, consider the impact of warm transferring upset callers directly to your office line or cell phone. They will feel validated in being able to air their grievances, and you’ll have a chance to win them back by proving that they are more than just a sale. It’s a win-win.
If you’re looking for a reason to swear off outbound telemarketing forever, the tips above will give your dialing fingers a much needed rest—but they won’t do a thing for your ears when your phone starts blowing up! With a stellar online presence, your popularity will soar. Isn’t that the goal, after all? So, when business takes off, make sure that your sales professionals are pitching their A-game. They’ll need to be energized, knowledgeable, and on point for effortless lead qualification. And it goes without saying that 24-hour availability will keep prospective customers from slipping through the cracks. Whether you love talking on the phone, or you’re about as good a conversationalist as a tree stump, giving your online presence an overhaul is just the strategy that your bottom line has been waiting for.