With a myriad of online forums, blogs, social networks, and online news sources, there is a lot of chatter on the web. And in our social society, individuals are willing to share many aspects of their lives, from their current relationship status, favorite brands, latest purchases and, most importantly, what they had for lunch today. This new sense of sharing also means assuming the role of “consumer advocate.” Individuals are using their online platforms to air their grievances – poor customer service, subpar products, or unfavorable outcomes – with the world after interacting with businesses. Perhaps even yours.

Sometimes we get lucky and the individual directs their complaint at us via Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or even commenting on our blog. In those situations, the issue is presented right there in front of you, and you can work to rectify the situation quickly and publicly.

But what happens when the customer instead chooses to complain on one of the million other sites online? How can you (1) see the complaint and work to improve your business processes, if needed, (2) help to rectify the problem for the customer, and (3) defend your business’s reputation against unfair or false complaints? The simple answer is: you have to listen. In this two-part series, we’ll explore how you can mine through the endless chatter online for the information that truly matters to you.

Google Alerts

Google, as of our publish date, is the king of search. Every second of every day, Google is crawling the web and indexing keywords to bring the most relevant search results to its users. Luckily, you can take advantage of the effort by creating a Google Alert. Google Alerts are emails sent to you as Google finds new results that match a specified search term. The emails contain links to the results and are a great way to find out what is being said about your company throughout the web. Even better, setting one up is extremely easy.

Here’s how:

Visit http://www.google.com/alerts.

Once there, you’ll be prompted for the following information.

  • Search Query: I recommend you search by your company name. Once you have set up your first Google Alert, set up others using alternate or shortened versions of your name so that you don’t miss those results.
  • Result Type: Here you can choose between Everything, News, Blogs, Video, Discussions or Books. I recommend going with the Everything option.
  • How Often: Choose between As-It-HappensOnce a Day or Once a Week. Because the point of listening is to be able to react and make changes, I would recommend choosing As-It-Happens or Once a Day.
  • How Many: Your options are Only the best results or All results. This your preference, but I recommend starting with All results. If you are unsatisfied with the quality of results you receive, make the change to Only the best results.
  • Email Address

Once you have entered that information you will begin receiving alerts. Take the time to review each result and determine the appropriate response. Although this takes time, remember that it is much easier to keep a customer than to get a new one. Perhaps you will even gain new customers from those who appreciate responsive companies. Notice any trends or recurring complaints? It might be time to look at how your agency operates and see if there are ways to correct the issues. Lastly, don’t forget to thank the individuals who sing your praises – they appreciate the effort, too.

Next we will explore Part 2 of this series, Social Listening.