Imagine this, your bathtub develops a flooding problem after your nighttime bubble soak, but it’s not enough to constitute an emergency. You also know you have to leave early tomorrow for a meeting and won’t have time to call in for service.
You want to make an appointment that evening. Often times, however, this isn’t a possibility with specialized local services. The missing connecting link with many local companies is that you can’t make an appointment online or find the right information you need quickly.
It is supremely useful to be able to pick up your smart phone, go to PlumbingtheDepths.com (made up company) and make an appointment instantaneously. And as a customer, you remember this easy ability to connect the next time you have a leak. Increasingly, those who don’t have that functionality online miss out on business opportunities.
This one aspect to customer service opens up so many doors, and it needn’t take a whole lot of coding and planning. In fact, the smaller the company and number of employees, the less scheduling there is and the easier it should be to get done. Appointment software can be integrated into your website without too much fuss.
Just dipping your toe in that little bit can make a big difference.
Just the Tip of the Iceberg
This “Ten-Mile Range” infographic from MILO, a company focused on local shopping and services, among other things shows that the majority of people will only shop within 10 miles of their starting point and only 19% of people will travel further than 15 minutes to buy anything. This same graphic shows that larger brands are making moves to be seen in local search.
Most often when people talk about buying local they’re talking about food. But one area that’s cornered the “local” market for decades is the service and repair industry – air conditioning, car detailers, carpet cleaners, plumbers, groundskeepers and housekeepers. These are the businesses who put the function back in your day.
The sheer volume of hidden benefits for smaller, local companies like these who take advantage of the Internet can often obscure the basic and obvious. People do have an inbuilt desire to buy local while also saving time and money. Increasingly, time is more valuable than anything and that’s where local businesses should really be pushing their advantage.
People actually want the web to be useful to them; nothing is more useful then fixing a problem or helping someone find out how to fix a problem. This has been true as far back as 2000, yet so many companies seem surprised. There are ways to promote local; and more than promote, there are ways to make your neighborhood all that potential customers, see or need online.
By the way, the fact that more and more businesses have a Facebook presence doesn’t mean it’s easy to find them or that they are there for much more than branding. A search for Seattle plumbers in the Facebook search field gives you Web results, with a focus on Bing results, so who needs Facebook for this? Even when there is a Facebook page, it’s rarely optimized to be a direct help to customers. When you want something, but don’t exactly know the right company, Facebook search just isn’t that useful. That’s the reality right now, though I’m sure the plan is to get better.
Working with Yelp and Yelpers definitely helps your business, especially if you’re service-oriented. Doing it wrong doesn’t help, but rather, it can end up hurting you.
There’s not much of a secret here; make whatever you do intentional and useful for customers. Take the time to engage people who may have commented about your business; make things right if you’ve clearly messed up. Before you “go live” with engaging with customers through Yelp, read a few responses you would make to someone who can tell you whether the tone is right. Check out Yelp’s advice on the subject, as well. Once you’re comfortable with this, promote your Yelp presence inside your restaurant or store – and through your other social media outlets wholeheartedly and with gusto. Showing you’re not afraid of people talking about you pushes you to do better, and gives people confidence that you’re good at what you do.
Think also about hosting an event; maybe with competitors in your area who you are nevertheless very friendly with. Even if your plumber’s office decor doesn’t offer a lot for people to be excited about, host a Q & A about plumbing with free quality catering. Or give answers about how to use your air conditioning efficiently in the summer. Or car or computer repair. You may not give attendees a free meal as restaurants can to gain customers, but you’ve opened up an environment where you are giving advice freely.
Though this would cater to a niche, done right with a “there’s no stupid question” attitude, no one can help but feel good after being welcomed with open arms and an open mind. For those watching the books, overhead is relatively low with something like this. Maybe even add this out-the-door perk: Give a few meaningful discount coupons for attendees, who will, after all, be spreading the good news.
Post event, take these questions you hear and make video and blog posts out of it for your website. Follow up with the people who attend and make sure they are included on informative email updates and company news.
The push to buy local, of course, isn’t exactly new. The ability to do it, however, has grown astronomically, via the web. More and more people look to the web to make their decisions. Over the last five years or so, Google has been right in the thick of local business promotion in literally putting your business on the map. Bing Maps isn’t worth considering, yet.
Charlene Kingston, owner of Social Media DIY Workshop, breaks down complex issues that businesses face. Her seven steps for adding your business to Google Maps couldn’t be simpler, starting with Google Places for business. You do have to have a Google e-mail address. You can also claim your business if it already appears on Google Maps but you didn’t put it there. This is not a maybe – this needs to be done. People who don’t own the business can edit information, though Google does review what is submitted. As an owner, once you’re validated when first entering your business, then your edits will appear instantly.
Once you’ve added your business to Google Maps, the real work begins. Though Google then takes some of the burden of getting found, you’ll still have to work on SEO extensively to optimize your own website for what people are looking for. This starts with the meta description on your website but goes much deeper – and requires a separate blog post on the topic. So if you specialize in garden sprinkler repair, add that, because it’s a specialized keyword that people may be looking for.
As your hours, your location, your phone number or anything critical changes, you’ll want to update to give potential customers the best information possible.
With Street View and a smooth, accurate map phone app, Google has only been getting better at providing better local search. Google Maps earlier this year underwent a significant change to heavily integrate Google+ friends and interests more in the results and to offer people a better way to digitally roam their neighborhood to find out what they might be missing. Yes, that means revamping your Google+ business profile just got more important than you might have ever imagined. Now when you click “more info” on a business tag on the map, it goes to a business profile whether you’ve created one or not. Then you can go back to Kingston’s steps.
Marketing yourself isn’t always easy. It takes time and energy. But it does start with getting the fundamentals down and building from there. Don’t be afraid of opening the floodgates to self-promotion. After all, you can always find that plumber nearby to help you plug any leaks that get out of control.