There are over 28 million local-focused businesses in the United States, creating jobs in their area and serving as a major backbone for the nation’s economy. Plus, 82% of U.S. consumers have said that they used a local business within the last year. The question, though, is whether or not these local businesses are doing what they can to connect with their local audience. There are specific strategies a local business can use to engage with both current customers and potential customers. In order to make the most out of your location, you have to know how to find and interact with your audience.
What customers are looking for from a local business and how you as a local business can fulfill their needs, whilst incorporating this into your local SEO strategy.
Local Business vs. National Chains
Most consumers feel that local businesses are better performance-wise than national chains, specifically when it comes to quality and service. As many as 96% of consumers feel that local businesses are better at offering personalized service than national chains. Additionally, while consumers tend to think that national chains offer better prices, 72% of customers are still willing to pay a bit more in order to get higher quality products or services from a local business. The numbers show that consumers use local businesses more than they use national chains. Over a 12-month period, local businesses made up 56% of total business.
The Power of Customer Reviews
Customers expect for local businesses to have online reviews and many of them say that online reviews give the local business a competitive edge. Furthermore, happy customers are more than willing to write positive reviews for their favorite local businesses. Interestingly, though, while 89% of consumers say they’d be happy to write a review after having a positive experience, only 7% of customers are actually asked by the business to do so. Here are three ways to get more customer reviews:
1. Ask for the review when your customer is happy. In order to make a customer smile, go above and beyond for them. Once you know that the customer appreciates your service, ask for the review.
2. Have your employees request reviews. To help them out in the beginning, give your team a guide on how to ask for reviews depending on the type of interaction they’re having with the customer.
3. Make it easy for the customer to leave a review. Your website should have links to review sites and you can also regularly post links to review sites on your social media.
Have you noticed a bad review about your business? Don’t worry too much. Only 12% of consumers said that a negative review would discourage them from using the business again. Unless you have an overwhelming amount of negative reviews, view the bad ones as a way to provide great service to a customer who you can possibly turn around. Here are three tips for responding to a poor review:
1. Decide whether or not you want to respond. Most of the time, it’s in your best interest to respond to the customer. However, if the customer is unreasonable or seems to only be looking for a fight, you may be better off ignoring the comment. Otherwise, respond to all negative comments.
2. Decide ahead of time what you’re going to say. Keep your reply brief and explain what you’re going to do to solve the problem. Also, don’t forget to apologize. Lastly, you always want to be kind and helpful, even if the customer is being rude.
3. Know when to take the discussion offline. If the person who wrote the review continues to air their problems online, ask them if they’d like to talk about the problem privately, via chat or on the phone. Make sure to suggest this publicly so that others see that you’re not ignoring the customer.
Incentives for Loyal Customers
Over half (57 percent) of consumers say that special offers for returning customers are a huge advantage. Offers for loyal customers are one of the best ways for a local business to differentiate itself from area competitors. Incentives should be personalized so that your more loyal customers get rewarded more. If you offer the same discount to every shopper, there’s nothing special about it. Here are a few ideas for incentives that customers will appreciate:
• Branded swag that the customer will actually use. For example, a warm sweatshirt with your logo, a baseball hat with your business name or a keychain are all things that the consumer will use outside the house. The idea is to get other people to see the swag so that they’re intrigued enough to check out your company online.
• Discounts on future purchases mean that you’ll get the full price for the current order and that the customer will return to use their discount on the next order.
• Free downloads of materials that will improve the customer’s life help the customer view your business as a leader in the industry. Plus, there’s no cost to your business for offering a free digital download and you’ll never run out of downloads no matter how people claim their freebie.
• Offer free shipping on orders over a certain amount of on all orders, regardless of amount, during popular shopping times, like Black Friday or Christmas.
• Samples of new products or beauty products. Giving customers a small sample of the product will instill trust and show the customer that they need to purchase a full size version of the item.
78% of shoppers say that online coupons or promo codes will close a deal for them when they’re undecided
Communicating with Customers
Overall, it seems that consumers want more communication, specifically online communication, with local companies. These communications may include service reminders, appointment confirmations and helpful tips. Local businesses can improve customer satisfaction by offering online services including appointment booking, account management and bill payment. Customers are interesting in receiving more communication from businesses in seven key areas:
1. Service appointments and appointment reminders
2. Advice and helpful tips
3. Business updates and service updates
4. Survey requests for feedback and reviews
5. Personalized communication
6. Event invitations
Additionally, consumers don’t want to be contacted offline, they want to be contacted online, especially via social media or e-mail. As many as 69% of people said that they want to be contacted via e-mail while only 3% said that they want to be contacted via U.S. mail.
Here are a few ways to give your e-mail marketing a boost:
• Keep your contact list up-do-date. Add people to the list as you gather their addresses and clean the list regularly to make sure that only active subscribers are receiving your messages. • Regularly send newsletters with interesting, relevant content. Tips for using your product or intriguing industry news are both good ideas for newsletter content. • Spend extra time crafting a great subject line. Ask your subscribers a question or include a teaser for the content. • Ensure that your e-mails look good on mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets. If your subscribers can’t read the text or play a video on their handheld device, they’re less likely to care about your newsletter. • Make sure that people have an option for unsubscribing from your e-mail list. This isn’t just a courtesy, it’s also a legal requirement.
Website Design for Local Businesses
While most businesses have a website, consumers want to see improvements to those websites. Interestingly, the changes they want to see have more to do with service than pricing, especially self-service options. Consumers want to request appointments or book them themselves, pay online and leave business reviews all from the company website.
Maintaining Your Online Presence
As many as 75% of consumers research a business online before deciding whether or not to become a customer. Even if the consumer first heard about a business offline, they’ll still visit the website to check it out before becoming a customer. Search engines aren’t the only way they’re finding local businesses online – four out of ten consumers use social media or review websites to search for a new business. Ready to give your social media presence a boost? Consumers say that their preferred social media platform for communicating with consumers is Facebook.
The Future of Local Business
Currently, 82% of consumers use local businesses on a regular basis. Within the next year, almost half (48 percent) are planning to increase their local business use; only less than 1% plan to decrease their use. However, there’s a major communication gap at the moment. If local businesses can find a way to engage their customers and close that gap, they’ll see even more success.
Overall, it’s clear that quality matters to consumers more than price. Reliability and trustworthiness are also factors that affect whether or not a customer uses a local business. When appealing to a local market, make sure that you’re reaching them the right ways online, through review sites, self-service options on the business website and intriguing incentives.