What Your Competitors Can Teach You Abe Dearmer Nov 01, 2016 ∙ 6 min read Marketing Seeing what your competitors are up to is an important element of market research. It allows you to analyse your position within the market, see what you're doing well, and if there's anything you should be doing differently.But one element of market research that often gets overlooked is to specifically look at customer service within your sector, and who better to look at than your direct competitors. Learning what your rivals do is surprisingly easy if you have a few hours to put your sleuth hat on - and it's what we'll be talking about today.It's important to note that we're not talking about aggressively locking horns with competitors; we're simply looking at and learning from a handful of our competing companies. Rushing to get one over on another organisation is little more than one-upmanship - most unprofessional.It is also not wise to rely on your competition for all your industry information. Keep on top of industry news yourself through other platforms such as industry relevant publications. This way you aren't playing catch up with your competitors - you're acting on knowledge you've gathered yourself. Their Website The first port of call in learning about any organisation is to simply look at their website. A cursory browse of a competitor's website can be a goldmine of information. Go through their site with a fine-tooth comb; pay attention to details like prices, the products and services they offer, and how they deliver their finished product. However, just as telling are those less tangible aspects of a website; the language they use, their brand persona and how they use design and copy to portray themselves.How does your site stack up in comparison? Are they using any inbound marketing methods like blog posts, email signups or lead magnets (requesting your email address in exchange for a free document or resource)? Look at the things your competitors are doing to engage with people through their website and see if there is any way you may be behind the pack. Their Social Presence As with their websites, checking out competitor's social media feeds can also be worthwhile. Not only can you learn about their upcoming offers and news, but also note how they are using social media to engage with customers. Firstly, what social platforms are they using? Do they seem a good fit for these platforms? What sorts of images and text are they posting? How do they use language - are they stuffy and formal or chatty and upbeat? Do they use social media to deal with customer service issues? Do they engage with users through specific features such as paid advertising, polls or groups?The answers to these questions may be enlightening. By looking at how competing organisations use social media whilst also assessing your own social networking skills lets you put an effective and practical picture together of how you could be using social channels. Where Are They Visible? Look at the places your competitors advertise and the methods they use to get their name out there. Do they advertise in any industry magazines; use pay per click advertising or distribute flyers? What sorts of things do they advertise - offers, new lines, or something else entirely? Websites that offer free business listings can also provide a wealth of information - not least because they usually provide a function for customers to leave a review. Look at your competitors' reviews to see what they do well and what they do poorly from a customer's perspective. If they use a third-party review site (such as Reevoo or TrustPilot), that's also well worth a look. Define Their Level of Service Looking at the three previous factors has probably given you a good idea of the competitor's level of service. What extras do they provide as added bonuses to entice people to buy? Do they have manned 24-hour phone lines? Do they provide free no-quibble refunds? A free trial period? Full technical support? Bonus elements like this help to sweeten the deal for potential clients - consider how you can adapt these "sweeteners" to improve your own offering. When They Mess Up... All companies are essentially only human, and things do occasionally go wrong. Have you ever had a client come to you after having a poor experience with a competitor? Chances are that if they are exasperated enough with their experience, they may let loose a few details of how things turned sour. Engaging and empathising with these clients when they make contact can provide insightful information, no matter how vague or seemingly inconsequential. Never push for info - not everyone will want to dish the dirt! When You Mess Up... Unfortunately, things can go wrong your end too. If things go south, a client may mention moving to a competitor. If this happens, always analyse the person's case, pinpoint what went wrong, and learn from any mistakes. If you act fast, you may still be able to make amends with that customer. Listen to Service Users Do clients ever ask if you also provide another complementing product or service that you don't currently offer? Do your competitors offer this service? Research the reasons you aren't offering it, as well as your own ability to provide it and do it justice - is it something you could introduce in future? Do They Use Email Marketing? To market effectively by email you need to be sending campaigns frequently. If they provide an option on their site to sign up for email updates, sign up! Use an anonymous email address if you prefer. Then simply gauge their response - if you don't hear from them in weeks or even months, it's clear they're not using email marketing to its full effect. However, if you do hear back, analyse the things they're promoting and the language they're using as you have been in our previous steps. Analyse Yourself We've spoken a lot about looking at what others are doing and seeing what you can emulate, but at the end of it all you must always remember your own individual strengths. Use surveys, previous feedback and objective thinking to get a real warts-and-all picture of your company. Work with your strengths and weaknesses to provide something that is purely yours. It should go without saying, but never copy outright - after all that company may be doing some things badly compared to you! Good market research is never a one-off deal. Continually evaluate and improve your efforts every so often, and always look at yourselves as well as your competitors. Always be on your guard, looking for ways to improve, whether that's in comparison with others, or in general. All good businesses are constantly on the lookout for improvement, and you should be too!