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Geolocation for businesses: How to handle your checked-in customers

4 min read

Brands & Campaigns

Matthew Latkiewicz works as the managing editor for Zengage, Zendesk’s blog about customer service 2.0. Zendesk recently released a version of its help-desk software for the Blackberry.

The etiquette for interacting with a customer who walks through the door of your business is pretty clear. In most cases, you greet them with a warm welcome and ask them what you can help them with.

But what about the times when a customer walks into your business through one of the many new social-network doors? Do you greet them there as well?

More and more smartphone-carrying customers are checking in on social, location-aware services such as Foursquare, Yelp, Gowalla and now Facebook Places. While these services are primarily consumer-focused, room exists for the business owner to step in and engage customers. While you don’t have to use every location-based application out there, it’s important to know what each one offers business owners.

Foursquare — reward loyal customers:
Foursquare offers awards to users who check in frequently to places, in the form of points and badges. The person who checks in most frequently at the local coffee shop, for instance, becomes “The Mayor” of that coffee shop.

As a business owner, you can offer specials to those users: your “Mayor” ought to be recognized — but you might also want to acknowledge first-timers, or people who checked in 25 times. Offer them a discount, a free drink, whatever — it’s up to you. Just like the oft-seen frequent-buyer card, you also reward loyalty.

Yelp — interact with your critics: Yelp recently added the ability for users to check in to all of the businesses listed on its vast review site. As business owners, you can see all the check-ins (at least on the mobile app), yet there is no way to really engage a person who has checked in.

The main way a business owner interacts with their Yelp customers is through the reviews, but cross-referencing the check-ins with the reviews could provide some interesting information.

Gowalla — put yourself in the game:
Similar to Foursquare, Gowalla rewards users with pins — the Gowalla equivalent of Foursquare’s badges — according to how often and where they check-in. Gowalla also adds a geocaching element for users — they can look for, pick up and leave behind virtual items in the places they check-in to.

Business recently got the ability to claim their listing on Gowalla. The business can control the info on their location’ page and configure a welcome message users see when they check-in.

That’s it for now, but Gowalla promises more features are on the horizon. The network is expected to do more with its geocaching capabilities, allowing businesses to offer users custom stamps to collect — a feature that is currently available in San Francisco, New York City and Austin, Texas.

Facebook Places — fish where the fish are:
Facebook Places extends the functionality of Facebook’s “business pages,” where businesses can connect with customers and post information about themselves and events. Like other services on this list, users check-in to your business and the mobile app shows them who else from the Facebook universe is there (or has been there).

Currently, Facebook Places does not offer a way to fully engage with checked-in users — as you can with Foursquare — but Facebook might be waiting for third-party developers to build those kinds of tools on their platform. One such tool, called Context Optional, shows you a leaderboard for all your customers who have checked in the most. It’s a small step towards engagement, but a sign that Facebook Places has potential.

For now, Foursquare is a business owner’s best way to engage customers in the virtual world of geolocation-aware social networks. It offers you a way to reward (and thus acknowledge) those who are showing up and checking in.

Have you had experiences engaging or interacting with customers through these location-aware social networks? Do you think it’s worth a business owner’s time to use them?