word of mouth marketing

The Power of a Positive Customer Experience: The Quick & Easy Shopping Experience

We’ve all heard the adage of “receive good service and you’ll tell one person, but receive bad service and you’ll tell ten,” but do companies heed this advice?  Not all.  If you’ve ever visited yelp.com, you’ll see loads of exactly what customers think about businesses.  Granted, everyone and every business can have a bad day, but if there are repeated negative comments about a product or service, it may be wise to fix the problem lest you risk losing your customers to another business.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that customers don’t want to be bogged down by excess information and aren’t concerned with what will make things run more smoothly for your company; they are interested in a fast, easy transaction, satisfying product/service and minimal disruption to their daily life.  If you want happy customers and repeat business, you must cater to their needs.  The easier and more positive you make their experience, the better results you will yield.

Take for example two grocery store chains.  One is a super mega store with additional household products and generally lower prices, the other is a regular grocery store with a savings club card.

Mega store is appealing because you can find just about whatever you’re looking for there and the prices really can’t be beat.  Sure, the store isn’t as clean and the employees don’t necessarily help you very efficiently, but you can usually find your way around the store easily and the savings mean you can buy more for less.

Then consider regular store.  The store is clean, well-stocked, the employees are friendly and helpful and there are often great deals on products you need.  The prices are a bit higher, but you get that extra bit of service and the confidence of a clean store which increases the value of your experience.

Now flash forward to the end of your shopping trip: you’ve loaded everything you need into your cart, spent a good hour at the store, are hungry, maybe you spent all day at work and you’ve got a ton of things to do at home.  In other words, it’s time to get out and move on with your busy day.

Now mega store has 30 check stands, which looks promising, but only 3 of them are open and each has at least 10 people waiting.  If each transaction takes 3 minutes, that means you’ll be waiting in line for 30 minutes!  What about your frozen and refrigerated foods?  They’ve already been in your cart for at least 15 minutes and will be in your car on the ride home for another 15 minutes (because most mega stores aren’t right in your neighborhood) so your cold food will have been out for at least an hour by the time you get it home.  Maybe it’s not a big deal, but knowing that, if your milk tastes a little funny in the next day or two, it will surely cross your mind that perhaps your food could have gotten out of the “safe” temperature range while waiting at the grocery store.  You spite the fact that you spent so much time at this store but tell yourself it was worth it because you saved some money.

Regular store has about a dozen check stands and at least half are attended.  The lines have maybe two or three people in each and occasionally, you are the lucky one who gets called to go to a newly opened register to expedite your checkout process.  You spend maybe 5 minutes in the checkout and another 5 minutes driving home because regular grocery stores are usually much closer to neighborhoods.  Your cold food has been out of the cold for approximately 25 minutes and you arrive home 35 minutes faster than you would have, had you gone to mega store, plus you don’t feel rushed due to being forced to wait to pay for your purchase.  You realize you may have spent a bit more money than you would have at mega store, but you saved time and frustration so you don’t mind spending a little more.

These two scenarios are very real customer experiences existing today.  One of a customer’s final impressions of a shopping experience is checking out, when they are paying a company so it can stay in business.  How do you want to than your customer for keeping you in business?  By providing sub-par customer service then making them wait in line half an hour so they can pay you for it?

Eventually, this kind of treatment starts to grate on customers and they decide it’s not worth the savings to put up with the hassle involved.  This is when the regular stores can step in and win over these frustrated customers with exceptional customer service and quick check out.

But it’s not limited to just grocery stores or even retail stores for that matter; this situation goes for any business with customers.  While it can be tempting to undercut the competition in price, it’s important to focus on making the customer experience as positive as possible, even if it costs a little more.

Another example is an auto insurance company that takes an hour-long phone call during business hours and multiple call transfers to handle a policy change that another company lets its customers manage online at any time of day in minutes.  Or how about a cable service provider who arrives at the end of a 4 hour window, causing you to miss a day of work versus another company that can schedule a 2 hour window on a weekend?

It is the ease of transaction, the satisfying product and/or service and the minimal disruption of daily life that create positive customer experiences and can land you life-long customers.

What examples of positive or negative customer experiences have you encountered?


Word of Mouth Marketing: Natural vs. Enhanced Marketing

Two types of word of mouth marketing that occur are natural and enhanced.  Natural word of mouth marketing occurs when consumers take it upon themselves to spread information about your product or service out of experience and enhanced is when your company interacts to influence or create word of mouth marketing.  Enhanced word of mouth marketing occurs when steps are taken to enhance existing marketing efforts or to create new marketing efforts.

Natural word of mouth marketing can be viewed as reactive, for example if someone receives excellent service or is satisfied with a product they purchased and leave a positive review of it online.  It is a natural reaction and many online vendors request buyers to share their experiences for the benefit of other consumers.

Enhanced word of mouth marketing can be viewed as proactive.  This includes creating mediums where consumers can comment on products or services or finding other ways to start conversations about your company.

Now, if you are starting communication about your company, it is wise to always give a positive twist on it.  Instead of asking “what do you think about this product?” try asking “what do you like best about this product?”  By starting on a positive note, you are more likely to reap positive results.  And positive results are what you are seeking in the first place, correct?

If you encounter negative natural word of mouth marketing, don’t be afraid to confront it.  Negativity attracts more negativity, but if you can incorporate positivity, you can control your image.  This brings to mind a local bar that hosts BINGO night.  When we first started playing BINGO there, when someone won, everyone else would groan.  We decided to put a twist on this and applaud every winner.  The applauding caught on and with very little encouragement, those who used to groan at the winners now applaud.

This same methodology can be brought to your company.  If we can convince BINGO losers to applaud those who beat them at the game, surely a company can convince their customers to applaud their product or service even when not always 100% what they wanted.  Perhaps an item is on backorder.  How about suggesting a complementary item at a discount?  Perhaps your customer’s tee shirts are slightly delayed.  Why not suggest branded logo drawstring bags or water bottles at a discount.  Find ways to put a positive spin on negative times so you will receive naturally positive word of mouth marketing.

What are ways your company can use enhanced marketing to influence your natural word of mouth marketing?

Word of Mouth Marketing: What NOT to Do

In a virtual world of online polls, reviews, shopping and marketplaces, it can be tempting to fake positivity toward your company.  Even in an anonymous online world, people are by nature somewhat suspicious, especially if a reviewer sounds a little too knowledgable about a product or company.

In order to be effective, word of mouth marketing MUST be genuine.

Here are some examples of word of mouth marketing that may seem to be a good idea at the time but will ultimately work negatively against your efforts:

Fake reviews: people are getting increaingly better at spotting fake reviewers.  There are actually lots of sites explaining how to find fake reviewers (presumptually from the company that is producing the product or service, thus negatively impacting your company even more than actual negative feedback from an actual customer)

Paid reviewers: have you ever seen a commercial with a disclaimer that the person speaking is a paid actor.  It doesn’t do that great of a job convincing you the person is actually that enthusiastic about the product. However, if your parents, friend or sibling told you the same thing, you would be much more likely to believe them.  Paying someone to promote your product can negatively impact your company unless they are convincing enough. Even if the promoter is truly your biggest fan, consumers will question how genuine the promoter is if they are getting paid.

Email Spam:it seems like no matter how hard I try, I still end up getting inundated with unwanted communication from companies I have never solicited.  Not only is this illegal, it can greatly negatively impact your company.  Keep in mind, even if you require your customers to opt in to your email list, they will not take the action to actually opt in.  But when you solicit consumers without their permission and bombard them with unwanted information, they will have a negative reaction.  Make sure if you contact your customers with a bulk email, that they have clear ways to change their subscription or unsubscribe and also that you have a clear message about  why you have contacted them.

Comment Spam:there are programs or bots that will post comments unrelated to the topic or item listed and promote your company.  While you may initially see an increase in your audience, it won’t be long before these bot comments are marked as spam and your message gets lost as an annoyance rather than an effective marketing message.

Deception:people don’t like to feel like they’ve been deceived so offering a deceptive marketing device should be an obvious no-no.  However, that doesn’t stop companies from spreading false or misleading information about their company to try to gain fans.  Sure, it’s exciting to think you can lose 20 pounds overnight, but in most cases, this is not a typical result and will lead to consumers dismissing your message before they’ve even considered your product or service.  By being up-front and honest, you will gain many more supporters than by being deceptive.

You should always strive to keep your company in a positive light.  Being deceptive will only get you ahead for a very short period of time then negatively impact you for much longer and with much more expensive and long-term repurcussions.

Practicing ethical business marketing methods will prove positive results over time and you will reap the benefits long-term.  Reputation is everything and it only takes a few moments to damage it.

Word of Mouth Marketing: Understanding and Empowering Your Market

We’ve all heard the adage that if someone gets good service, they’ll tell one person, but if they get bad service, they’ll tell ten people.  Spreading information is a part of human nature, so why not harness it and use it to your advantage?

In an age where product reviews can be posted instantly and are easily accessible, the best thing a company can do is get positive ratings to increase sales of their product.  Realistically, not all reviews will be positive.  Sometimes a product will be made faulty, sometimes it is user error and sometimes people just are impossible to satisfy.  Either way, reviews are incredibly important and are more often than not instrumental to purchase decision making.

So what steps can a company take to improve public image of their products or services?

    1. Identify your market to understand your product or service demographics
    2. Be vigilant about the what-when-where-who-why-how is being said about your products and services (Google alerts is excellent for this)
    3. Pay attention to what is being said so you can determine whether something needs to be improved or if there is a misunderstanding about how to use the item; focus on continual improvement
    4. Educate your consumers about your products or services so they can intelligently spread information
    5. Enable your market to easily share information, i.e. through an online customer comment form or blog comments

By allowing your market to have a voice and give feedbck, you are empowering them and showing them that their input is valuable and adding continual improvement to your products or services.  The plus side is that if they have a negative experience for whatever reason, if they know you will acknowledge their feedback and work to make improvements, the positivity of that empowerment is much more powerful than the negative experience they had and they will be much more forgiving in most cases.

Have you ever had a really negative experience with a company?  Perhaps you purchased a faulty product and were unable to return it or received bad service with no remorse?  What did you do?  Did you locate a similar company to use instead?  Did you tell people how awful your experience was?  Did you go online to a site like yelp.com to broadcast your negative experience to the world wide web?

Those are all natural reactions to negative experiences and they are all reactions to can negatively impact your business.  If you get enough negative feedback online, you may see a significant drop in your sales and find your customers to be less forgiving of any error that may occur.

Any time a customer has a negative experience and brings it to your attention either in person, by email or by posting a negative review, you also have the opportunity to redeem yourself.  Even if the customer is in the wrong, it is important to acknowledge that happy customers are one of your biggest marketing assets.  If you take the time to listen to your customer and empathize with what they are saying, that same customer who had a bad experience and told ten people about it can now turn around and tell them how well you in turn handled the situation and even if they are not 100% satisfied, you have now turned a negative experience into a positive one.

If a customer posts a negative review about your company, product or service, it is completely acceptable to reply to their review and that shows that you care about your company’s image as well as your customer experience.  This can be a very tough thing to do, however, because online, people are anonymous and less forgiving than in person.  In situations where customers post negative feedback, a good way to handle it is to apologize for their negative experience and offer redemption.

For example, writing “I’m sorry you had a bad experience with our company.  We are looking into the issue to ensure this sort of situation does not happen again and we would like to hear more about your experience so we have all the information.  Please call me directly at ….. at your convenience.  We value your opinion and your business.”  This message not only appeals to the complainer, but it shows everyone else who reads the negative review that you care about what your customers think and have an interest in making their experience positive.

In the end, image is huge and if your consumers are spreading negative information about your product or services, your customer base will decrease.  Customer loyalty should be rewarded, if nothing else but in a positive experience in all transactions.  Customer experience speaks volumes about your product or service so if your customers can spread how amazing your company is and you can prove that you hold those standards, you will see continued success.  Listening to and valuing your customers’ feedback is one of the most valuable things you can do for your image.