What's New in Technology for August 2008

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Technology: Build Reputation, Customer Loyalty With an Online Forum

Looking for ways to stand out from your competitors and build customer ties? An online customer forum may be just what you need. Providing customers with place on your web site to post suggestions and comments can be a useful way to build loyalty. Before you do so here are a few do’s and don’ts.

    1. First, if you have any doubts about the caliber of your customer service, or are sensitive about criticism, don’t pursue this. It is important to be sure that it is the right time for you to invite public comments. Once information hits the worldwide web, it is out there for a long time. This is something you start only from a position of strength.

    1. If you build it…will they come? If you feel that response may be sluggish at first, offer customers rebates or incentives for participating. For instance, participants might accrue rebate dollars based on the number of posts they make.

    1. Do you want to create a forum for your site yourself? If you have the know-how, the software will cost you around $200-$250. If you don’t want to do it yourself, you’ll need to hire someone to tackle the project. Be very specific in your directions regarding the forum’s purpose, main target audience(s) and your goals. There may be features you want to offer forum members. You may decide you want the forum divided into different sectors –perhaps for specific product categories—to make it as user-friendly as possible.

    1. Make sure you, or someone in authority, monitors the forum daily and responds promptly to comments, as needed. Do respond to any complaints as quickly as you can. If it will take some time to research, let the person who posted the criticism know you are taking action, and that you are eager to address the problem as soon as you have the information you need.

    1. Don’t be a heavy-handed censor. State your policies on what’s acceptable and what isn’t, and only remove those postings that don’t follow these guidelines. Your policies should include prompt removal of offensive posts (bad language), attacks on individual members or any type of spam. You might wish to make it clear that members must not use the forum to solicit business or business inquiries from fellow members.

  1. If someone posts compliments about a competitor or rival product, be gracious. It’s OK to respond to such a post, but never deride the competition. State the positives about your firm, your products and your customer service. Match any legitimate price or other incentives, if you are able to do so. Customers will appreciate your confidence in your own products and your integrity if you take the high road.

An active forum can solidify your reputation and strengthen your relationships with clients and prospective customers, too. The reverse is also true. If you have any doubts about the quality of your customer service or any product issues, hold off on this one. It’s a powerful tool, but should only be undertaken if you have no reservations about the type of comments you’ll receive, and if you are able to respond to posts quickly.


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