If you want to attract new customers to your business for free, you need to understand how they think and how they behave. This doesn’t require an advanced degree in market research or brain science.
It just requires a little attention to what your customers do and some information from the people that have the fancy titles and expensive degrees. Let me guide you on my journey of becoming a new customer as an example.
The Journey of Becoming a Customer
It’s Friday afternoon and I am finishing up the last tasks of the day from my home office. I know my girls will be home from school soon and I will stop working to have fun with them for a few hours. That’s when I remember that I have to get a new tire on my car this weekend.
What’s this mean?
Some tire shop is going to get my business. But not just any tire shop. Like most customer I am selective.
I can either pick one of the two places I have had reasonably good experiences with in the past and check to see if they have time, or I can try a new place. For the sake doing the research for this article, I decide to consider a new place. After all, I know what to expect at the previous places and it’s just 'ok' but not great.
Thousands of people are doing the exact same thing and I am this afternoon. They are looking for companies to do business with. All within a few miles of my home.
I bet there’s a large percent of the people near you who are doing the same thing—looking for a place to buy something. And, if you’re a local or small business owner, you are hoping and maybe praying that they choose you.
But, have you prepared for them?
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Most Local, Small Businesses Not Ready to Attract New Customers
Apparently not many tire shops near me really understand how new customers are trying to find them and what is important to these customers.
For starters, tires are essentially a commodity product. Everyone is selling basically the same selection. Now, I could say the same thing about hardware stores, restaurants, medical and dental offices, hotels, etc. One is pretty much the same as another.
So, should I or any other customer shop based only on price just because that is how these local, small businesses are trying to compete?
Maybe. Price is important but availability, wait times, friendliness, expertise, getting what I pay for, doing it right—these are all important for the average customer too.
How does the customer find the right service provider? How do I find a tire shop?
I went online and Googled ‘tire shop.’
Why and How Customer Search for Businesses
What’s interesting is that research shows that the number one reason for doing an online search is to find the location for a ‘known’ business. This means that even if I knew who I wanted to purchase something from, I would still get online to look up the location to find where it is, maybe the hours, etc.
Because I am writing this on my laptop, I am toggling to use my browser rather than picking up my phone to do this search for a tire shop. However, most consumers are now using their mobile device to search for product information or for places to buy a product.
And, if I was not sitting in front of my computer I would be using my phone. Why? Well, it is always with me and if I have a question for the company, I can tap the phone number on screen and call the company using the same device. In fact, 77% of smart phone users contact a business after looking for local information and 59% of mobile users who look for local business information visit the business on the same day.
Back to my search.
Google is very helpful and as I search, it auto suggests what I might be looking for. Apparently I am not the only person who has looked for a tire shop on Google. Cool, I know I am not alone.
I hit enter and continue my search. Up pops the ads. I scroll right past these because I don’t trust the marketing. Like most other consumers I need some social proof. I want to know that the company has done for most customers what the ads claim.
What I see next is a grouping companies near me that have a handful reviews and a map that shows their locations.
Like 92% of consumers, I read online reviews. But, these listings have too few reviews for me to really feel confident in making a decision. Obviously, the owners of these tire shops don’t realize how many potential customers they are missing out on by not being online. If they did understand that 51% of consumers will select a local business if it has positive reviews, they would prioritize their online efforts rather than just relying on news paper ads or drive by shoppers.
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Not being satisfied with these results, I scroll down again to find the next set of search results—websites. About 50% of local or small businesses don’t even have a chance when I get this far, because they don’t have a website. And, for the rest of the local, small businesses that have websites but don’t appear on the first page of results, they are hoping to capture the 2% of shoppers than actually decide to click to the second page of results.
Looking at this list above, which one immediately stands out to you?
I was actually a bit surprised by this, but only one of the websites has its star rating displayed in the search results. If you look closely you’ll see that it is a Facebook page and not really the company's website. That’s okay to me as a shopper because the ratings show that other people trust them.
The funny thing is, that when I looked at the name, I recall exactly where this shop it. I have driven past it hundreds of times but have never considered shopping there when I needed tires in a hurry. This time, they stood out because of the rating which made me look at their name which then triggered the memories of driving past their shop so many times. They might be a good tire shop to consider. Like 68% of consumers, I am more likely to trust them than the other local businesses that appear, because they have positive reviews.
I clicked through the other links, in the interest of research.
- One of the links takes me to a Yelp page where several tire shops are rated and reviewed. We’ll come back to this later.
- Two of the links take me to home pages which are really focused on the company and the products the offer, but do little to answer my current questions.
- If you look closely at other URLs you can see that three of the links are directing me to subpages of their sites so I see a specific store. This is nice because it makes it easier to get relevant information, but when I arrive at each of these pages only one of them shares the ratings other customers gave as well as the other information I am looking for.
This is very important. Apparently it is the only company that understands what I and other tire shoppers are really searching for:
- Reliable service as proven by ratings and reviews of 145 other customers
- Directions and a map help me see where it is located
- Information about hours, what I can do while I wait (i.e. local businesses nearby), and what amenities they have (e.g. wifi, free coffee, TV)
This company is a large chain. They have money to invest in research and they can focus on resolving the real problems that customers have in the moment of searching—the problem is not about finding tires. It is about finding answers to the questions about quality of service, trust worthiness, etc. in a quick and efficient manner without having to make phone calls. The visual representation of the star rating is critically important because research shows that it is the number one factor used by consumers to judge the quality of a business.
Before I Make My Decision
After feeling pretty good about what I see, I decide to visit the Yelp link to see which other tire stores might have a great reputation. I am now comparing them with the national tire chain because they have more than I expect from local, small businesses. The result shows that there are some options. The first one stands out because it has 5-Stars and plenty of reviews. 88% of shoppers actually trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
While having a 5-star ranking looks great, 95% of shoppers suspect censorship or fake reviews when there are no low ratings. The more reviews a company has, the less this matters. However, there is no reason to be concerned of the occasional low review. In fact, 94% of shoppers would still use a business with a 4-Star rating.
How to Attract New Customers For Free
Okay, you might be thinking, “This is interesting information, but how does it help me? I am like 88% of local, small business owners. I do my own marketing. I don’t have the time, money or expertise get a top ranking on Google or even to build a website.”
For starters, you can do most of what I am going to suggest—after the initial setup—in just a few minutes a day, it costs nothing and it takes minimal expertise to really stand out.
Here are the 7 R’s you can use to attract new customers for free.
Use Google and the other major search engines to research the terms your customers would use if they were looking for the products or services you sell. Think from their perspective about the problems they have and the solutions they might be considering. Use the related keywords.
Examine what shows up. If you are not on the first page of search results you should consider your alternatives. Look through the results to see which review sites are on the first page. Depending on your industry it may be Yelp, TripAdvisor, Healthgrades, etc. Explore where you show up in the rankings on these sites and what the customer ratings and the comments are.
If you have not yet “claimed” your business on the review sites, that is the next step. Claiming means that you are indicating that this is your business and you will receive the access required to take action.
Claiming your business is free on most well-known customer review sites including Google My Business, TripAdvisor, Yelp and Facebook. Invest a few minutes to make sure your information is accurate, load some pictures and describe your company. If there are reviews already listed—shoppers can put reviews on these sites even before you claim your business—you’ll want to read them and respond if they are recent (e.g. within the last three months).
Now let’s turn toward caring for your customers. When your customers are in your store, restaurant or hotel, be sure that your team addresses the problem the shopper came there to resolve. Remember, my initial problem was the need to replace a tire, but I also wanted to make sure it would be done right, quickly and I would have access to amenities like WiFi so my time at the tire shop would not be wasted. Doing what customers expect will get you a 3-Star review. To earn the coveted 5-Star rating, you need go above and beyond what is promised in your marketing and what is expected by the customers.
As your customers complete their business with you, be sure to ask them how their visit was. If it was not beyond their expectations, find out how you can make it right before they leave. When their visit is positive or if you were able to 'make it right,' request that they go to the review site that you are focused building your reputation on and leave a review. On the other hand, if you cannot 'make it right,' you have no need to ask them to go to the site. If you notice that you have too many people leaving who are not ready to give you a 5-Star rating, you might need more help in identifying the challenges. You can contact us to see if we have ideas that will help.
As you collect reviews online, you can learn what really drives the 5-Star ratings. This requires that you read the comments and study the patterns. Many of these patterns are hidden in the language so you should plan to read several reviews at a time. It won’t take long but it will take discipline. Look specifically for the emotions and the experiences that your customers are most thrilled about. You can train your entire team to repeatedly deliver these experiences. In time, it will become the DNA of your company and the culture your customers expect.
When you have a negative rating, read these reviews to understand what the customer experienced and what they were expecting. You don't have to change your service if this is a one-time event, but if you see a pattern, you will want to take action.
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Regardless of the rating levels you see in your customer reviews, you should respond to them all. Don’t use a cut-and-paste response. Write a unique response each time. Answer with sincere gratitude for the review. In the response mention the specific experiences they had. This will build greater trust and appreciation. Future customers will see that you care and pay attention to details. This builds trust. You should consider using the share buttons or copying the links of positive reviews to your social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram so other customers can see the good work you are doing.
In the case that you receive a negative review, you must focus on resolving the issue. Reach out to your customer using the tools on the review site. Assure them that you will work to resolve the issue. Ask them to reach out through email or another channel of communication so you can get more information and follow up. Take great care of these customers. I have seen cases where they return to their review and update it to increase the rating and share comments about your efforts to genuinely resolve issues. This makes a significant impact on prospective customers who read the reviews. Never argue or blame a customer if they do have a complaint.
Every local, small business can attract new customers for free. It takes almost no time and will be well-worth the investment. If you think the technology is too challenging, you could find an intern at a local college or reach out to a business club or association you are a member of to get a referral.
Tony Bodoh and Kayla Barrett co-authored and published the #1 best-selling book, "The Complete Experience: Unlocking the secrets of online reviews that drive customer loyalty." Learn more about the coaching, consulting and services they offer at www.TheCompleteExperience.com.