We all love to talk about our businesses and the products or services we offer. But what happens when we stop talking and start listening? Companies that truly listen to their customers are more likely to build trusted and meaningful relationships with them.

It’s been estimated that a single negative tweet or Facebook post can cost a company upwards of 30 customers. The good news, in a June 2012 survey conducted by Belgium-based InSites Consulting, 61 percent of companies are listening to what is said by consumers about their brand via social media sites and, even better, 54 percent actively participate in online conversations with their consumers.

Today’s online tools help us monitor and leverage conversations like never before. Gather feedback. Crowdsource ideas. Identify top-of-mind concerns. Increase your understanding of what your customers really want, directly from them, unfiltered.

Choose the Right Online Tool

Two of the most popular, effective free listening tools are provided by Google – its Alerts and Analytics. Google scours the web and shoots you an email every time it finds a term you’ve asked it to flag with alerts, and analytics not only measures sales and conversions, but also provides insights into how visitors use your site, how they arrived on your site, and how to keep them coming back. Another free but more advanced option, Social Mention, not only lets you know when you are mentioned, but where, why and what it means. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube also offer free listening tools and analytics.

Free tools, of course, only take you so far. You can start with something like HootSuite, which scans all your social networks, then move into a paid subscription option when you’re ready for expanded services.

Subscription sites such as Radian 6 and Collective Intellect offer far more than just listening tools. They provide tools that track, monitor and allow for direct customer engagement. Additional steps include a full-service CRM (customer relationship management) platform. This gold standard of customer engagement fosters trust and transparency, allowing businesses to have collaborative conversations that provide mutual benefit. The customer owns the conversation, but now you can take part.

Engage and Inform

Knowing who is saying what and where helps you develop strategic, on-point messaging that engages your customer base effectively and appropriately. So when you talk, they have more reason than ever to listen.

*This article originally appeared in the September 13 issue of BlueSky Business Aviation News.