Word of mouth has been around since the beginning of time. And, it works.
According to Lithium, 92% of consumers believe their friends over advertising and Adage says word of mouth influences up to to 50% of all purchases . Even nameless, faceless strangers influence consumer choice. Just look at all the recommendation sites like Yelp. I have friends who never go to a restaurant without checking Yelp first, despite the fact the reviewers might work for the restaurant.
For those of you old enough to remember Blockbuster stores (real stores, not online), you’ve probably experienced the same thing I have. You’re searching the endless aisle looking for something good to rent when someone comes up behind you and comments on the title you’re considering. You don’t know this person, but you consider their recommendation more than those of the highly paid critics who panned the movie.
Word of mouth is so powerful, it’s included as one of Cialdini’s 6 weapons of influence, called social proof.
Social media owes its effectiveness to word of mouth. Without it, social media would be a business pariah — relegated to just another channel for spewing advertising. While you might think this a good thing, there would be no social networks without the potential for monetization.
OK, enough about why you should do word of mouth, let’s talk about HOW to do it.
How to use word of mouth
First, let’s get this straight. Word of mouth marketing is uncontrollable, unlike traditional advertising where you pay your money and get what you paid for. It’s kinda like viral marketing — you do what you think works and hope for the best. BTW, anyone out there selling you viral marketing is probably growing a long nose right now.
That said, word of mouth relies on 2 simple tasks:
- give folks something to talk about
- spread positive word of mouth
Giving folks something to talk about
Humans are social creatures, like all primates. But, we’re not comfortable spending hours grooming each other like our less evolved cousins, so we talk.
We talk about anything and everything. My sister just talks to hear the sound of her how voice, I’m convinced.
We need something to fill the vacuum, so we talk about anything. Even your brand.
Sure, we don’t set out to recommend your brand. After all, we’re not paid spokespeople, but you come up in conversation. Unfortunately, you’re most likely to come up in conversation if you f#$% up. We call this negative word of mouth and it spreads 5X faster (and farther) than positive word of mouth, because we’re just programmed to talk trash.
Serve a bad meal, provide poor service, or build a product that breaks and we’ll talk about you until the end of time. I still tell the story of buying my first car as an example of truly bad marketing (I’ve probably told 5000 people if you add up all the classes who hear this story).
I was 19 and it was just before the energy crisis hit (you didn’t really think I was going to give an exact year, did you?). I visited the local Datsun dealer (now Nissan Motors). I inquired about the price of a particular vehicle in their showroom and the salesperson said, “It’s right there. On the sticker.” Now, I didn’t just fall off a turnip truck and I knew no one every pays sticker price for a new car, but I figured I’d play along.
So, I asked for a test drive. I don’t remember his exact words, but the implication was that I could have a test drive when I returned with someone who had more testosterone — male. Sure, I recognize this was in the days when men made most car buying decisions, but the guy was an absolute idiot to treat me like a poor defenseless woman who needed a man’s permission to buy a car. I walked right over to Toyota and bought a very nice car and never considered buying a Datsun or Nissan again. Sorry guys. You lost me. And I damaged your reputation every time I told that story — just because one misogynistic sales person wasn’t trained or supervised properly.
Of course, today, I’d just hop on Twitter and tell my many thousands of followers who could easily hit the RT option. Pretty soon you have an avalanche of negative publicity. Just look what happened to Ray Rice after he assaulted his girlfriend (now wife, if you can believe it). His behavior was overlooked to a large extent until TMZ aired the video and social media took over. He’s now indicted and banned from the NFL, possible for life.
So, the first step in using word of mouth effectively is to avoid negative word of mouth.
Provide a great experience
Surprise is the most likely way to generate word of mouth. So, strive to surprise customers by providing a great experience. A great experience isn’t just doing a good job. Great customer experiences comes from going a little farther, such as:
- superior customer service, not just good service
- exceed expectations — in marketing we call this delight because it goes beyond just satisfying customers
- do the unexpected — like the Roto Rooter contest prize above
- give something extra — a small extra service or a little extra product
- provide a personal touch — train employees to treat customers as individuals and celebrate them
- make the shopping experience fun
Hire, train, motivate
You can’t provide a great experience without the right people. So, hiring, training, and motivating your employees is critical for generating positive word of mouth. Conversely, the wrong people generate negative word of mouth more easily than anything else you can do — they’re even responsible for bad products, to a large extent.
Remember all the management stuff you learned (or didn’t learn) — stuff like servant leadership, culture, and organic organizational structures. Use that stuff (or learn it if you never did).
Hire the right people. Then, make sure they understand your first commitment is to your customer and they need to make that their first commitment, too. Not just giving customers what they deserve, but treating them like they matter — because they do. Teach them to go the extra mile to help customers and give them the tools to do that.
I once had a bad experience because the restaurant (Olive Garden — I mean let’s go ahead and name names) didn’t give employees the power to make things right.
I was having dinner with a large group of friends. I ordered my favorite, but when it arrived, it was way too salty to eat. I called over the waiter and explained that my food was inedible. He promised to send over the manager, which is the first mistake. The correct answer is; “I’m sorry to hear that. Can I get you something else?”
Instead, I waited for the manager to arrive. And, I waited. And, I waited. Ultimately, the manager didn’t show up until all my friends were done eating. Then, he simply said; “Yeah. I know there was a problem with that dish tonight. Can I get you something else?”
Of course not! Now, I’ve missed my meal because I’m not going to make all my friends wait while they cook up something and I sit there eating it while they stare at me.
Again, an utter fail, which not only resulted in me never going back to ANY Olive Garden, but now I’m sharing my bad experience with thousands who will read this post.
Hiring the right people, means trusting them to make wise, ethical decisions that fix customer problems before they get out of hand. Marriott gets this. Front desk employees are empowered to do whatever it takes to make things right — from sending nice gift baskets to a guest’s room to comping their stay to buying them dinner. If you can’t trust your employees to handle customer complaints the right way, then you have the wrong employees.
Then, make employees feel like they’re an important part of the team — because they are. That doesn’t mean sharing profits (although that’s a good idea), but creating a corporate culture where everyone is like family — each with an important job that makes everybody happy and productive.
Spreading word of mouth
After doing everything you can to generate positive word of mouth, you’re next task is to spread it.
That means listening. When a customer says something good about you or your brand, thank them. They didn’t have to do it. When you recognize their efforts, you encourage them to do it again — especially in today’s social media world where everyone enjoys being recognized publicly.
I spend time everyday thanking everyone who shared my content on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or LinkedIn. Sure, it’s not much fun, but it’s important to recognize people who help you out. When someone makes a comment about my brand, they deserve my respect and attention. Each and every one of them.
My best compliments end up on my website for everyone to see.
Even something as simple as a Facebook page like gets recognized. If you like my page, you’ll see your profile image on every page of my website.
Not only do these thank you’s and other recognition reward people for their efforts, it offers social proof to others that I have something folks value.
I’d love to hear your experiences with word of mouth marketing. Just pop a line or two in the comments below.
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