Forum Perils for Customer Relationship Management

By: Jeff Walters

In my previous article (Using Forums To Improve Customer Relationship Management) I covered the learning/information aspect of forums, as well as how you can use forums to positively impact your lead generation efforts and customer relationship management initiatives. Unfortunately, forums can also have a dark side - in that they can seriously impact your other forms of marketing if you choose to ignore or abuse them.

The negative impacts forums can have on your marketing efforts are in part, the flip-side of the positive actions I recommended you take:

* Dissatisfied Customers Voice Their Complaints

Aggrieved customers who are web-savvy can damage your reputation with a few postings stating their dissatisfaction.

If these are isolated incidents, your satisfied customers will often come to your defence, which should offset the negative comments, and may even earn you some unexpected positive publicity.

However, if others also start empathising with them, and provide feedback of similar incidents of poor service or product quality, your market reputation will suffer. There's not much point in merely increasing your sales efforts. You need to improve your product quality, and also improve your customer relationship management and service.

* People Recommend Alternative Products To Yours

Questions are sometimes asked in forums regarding which product or service is best for a particular business need. While customers may not be at odds with you, if your product fails to keep abreast with the competition, your customers will not continue to recommend you. In fact, postings about other products could cause a customer retention nightmare.

* You Display Your Lack of Professionalism

The quality of your postings - regular poor spelling, grammar, lousy sentence structure, and posts in poor taste can significantly downgrade readers' impressions of you. Infrequent typos are not a big issue, but business-promoting posts that show a consistent disregard to quality could give your prospects some clue as to how you approach the rest of your business.

* Your Postings Reveal Flaws In Your Personality

Some forum members seem to forget that snide or intolerant postings can be viewed by a large audience in the forum. These postings can also linger for quite some time as well as get unwanted negative publicity in the forums (members use the posting as an example of how not to behave on the forum).

Your testy or ill-conceived comments can often be seen by non-members. If the forum has been spidered by the search engines. web searchers can also stumble across these postings. If they are carrying out market research or due diligence on you and your products, you can probably kiss those prospects goodbye.

A recent incident where my wife Gill asked me to investigate an emailed 'business opportunity' illustrates the negative impact a couple of forum postings can have.

Gill was reluctant to surrender her contact details to get more information without knowing a little more about what the opportunity was all about, so she asked me to see if I could find out more details. The email address gave away the website, which was a mini-site with a compelling sales letter. I did my standard Google trick of 'website name' + 'scam', and found several forum postings. One posting stated interest in the site/opportunity, and what the poster wanted to know was whether it was legitimate, or merely a scam.

The first response was from the website owner. Rather than providing some reassurances, emphasizing guarantees and refund policies, or even testimonials from satisfied customers, he started berating his prospect for not contacting him directly (rather silly, as the enquiry wanted to get impartial feedback, not another sales pitch).

A forum member tried to smooth things over by stating that all the prospect was doing was due diligence - which was his right. The website owner then started attacking this member. At this point several other forum members - several of whom were actually interested in the advertised opportunity - all posted that they had seen enough to decide to have nothing to do with this irritable individual.

Forums can be a useful addition to your marketing toolkit. You do, however, need to avoid some marketing minefields. Used intelligently, they can help with both lead generation and customer relationship management. Abuse them, or use them carelessly, and they will drive away prospects and customers.

© 2005 Intellinova (Pty) Ltd. - All Rights Reserved
This article may be reprinted, provided it is published in its entirety, includes the author bio information, and all links remain active.

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Jeff Walters has transformed data into strategic information in banking, insurance, gambling, medical, government, leading several data-to-information projects: ABC Costing, CRM, datamart development, and Balanced Scorecard. Want to convert your raw data into strategic assets? Contact Jeff via : Customer Relationship Management, or Direct Marketing

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