The great thing for most business owners is that customer service is relatively cheap, especially compared to the benefits that having a reputation for outstanding customer service will bring you. One of the easiest ways to attract new customers is to find someone who is mad at your competitor, apologize, and then offer them an incentivized alternative.
Aside from great customer service, there are an overwhelming amount of things your business could be doing. So, how do you narrow down the options to those that are legitimately useful?
In general, the main constraint on small businesses isn't the availability of useful resources, it's a constraint of time and the ability to seek out those resources and implement their recommendations. So, let me help point you toward some free, easy to use resources that will provide you with indispensable information on the health of your internet-based business.
While Google Analytics is an amazing and powerful source of information about the performance of your business, it sometimes can be a little overwhelming. Especially for the non-techie business owner, Google just provides too many options that aren't intuitively named.
Alexa provides a simple, bare bones analytical tool that allows you to see the most important information and compare that with some of your competition. I've been using Alexa for years to get a good sense of the overall health for an industry and to see if there are any trends that the major players haven't yet spotted. Understanding the average time a visitor spends on your site as well as the "bounce rate," i.e. the likelihood that the user will quickly leave your site, is obligatory information every business owner needs to know.
2. Google Keyword Trends
One of my favorite things Google does is provide historical information on the popularity of certain search terms. If you're trying to figure out how to optimize your website for search engines, what words potential customers are using to find information and overall linguistic trends that you might not be aware of, there's no better tool than Google Trends.
If you have an interest in startups, check out how interest in startups has waned over time. It's starting to increase again, but not at the rate you'd expect with all of the recent hoopla over IPOs from WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and AirBnb. A word you may (or may not!) know, bootstrap, can be used as a synonym with many types of startups. If you look at the trending of "bootstrap" I think you will be pleasantly surprised. You'll probably start calling your startup a bootstrap, and hey, I think that actually might be a smart choice.
As any marketing pundit can tell you, speaking the same language as your customers is critical to your success. The value of checking in on Google trends, especially if you're an internet-based business, cannot be overestimated.
First off, if you don't use Twitter you need to start immediately. In the next 24 months, I sincerely believe that Twitter will be THE major marketing and direct sales channel.
If you do use Twitter and you don't use NeedTagger, you should really look into this free service. NeedTagger allows you to create one "stream" and monitor it for mentions (they make you pay for more streams). In plain English, NeedTagger allows you to monitor conversations and complaints from people on Twitter--you can then interact with them, provide them with useful advice, grow your brand authority and hopefully convert a few of them into paying customers.
If this didn't blow your mind, consider this: imagine if during the gold rush there was a free tool that allowed you to monitor every mine and stream for gold, then reported it to you in a timely and easy to read format. If you were using this tool, do you think you'd be more or less likely to find a decent supply of gold than if you were just panning for gold?
Briefly revisiting Google trends, I do not understand "wonk," its popularity, or that it's generally considered to be a positive word. It sounds like a straight up insult to me.
Even though this isn't as revelatory as some of the other recommendations I've made in this blog post, Entrepreneur Magazine is worth your time. One of the primary benefits of Entrepreneur.com is that websites aren't saturated with its content. Compared to BuzzFeed, Jezebel, Forbes, HuffPost or any of the major publications Entrepreneur is relatively unknown. The content is outstanding for sharing with followers when you don't have time to create original material. Nuff said.
All of these tools provide you with lots and lots of information, which is great. However, beyond having and understanding the information you need to do something.
Customer service and brand reputation are what all of these tools are about. Many sites will tell you they can increase the effectiveness of your sales and marketing but ultimately what matters is the relationships you build with your customers. All of these tools are amazing resources, but the best thing you can do for your business is to concentrate all of your efforts on brand advocacy. High growth companies create cult followings by combining two elements: branding design and product performance. If you can combine both of these elements and then support them, let's say your branding is built upon superior products (i.e. Apple), you have a much greater chance of success.