Monday, May 23, 2005

Word of Mouth Marketing II: Preparing Your Business for a Word of Mouth Marketing Campaign

[Applicable tags: WOM, Local, Marketing, Cheers]

The simple premise for preparing your business for a word of mouth campaign is to turn customers into vocal fans. That’s what word of mouth really is, fans spreading the word to their friends. Start building a fan base!

The second piece of the puzzle is to make your business worth talking about. Your business needs to stand out in some way. You need to provide an experience that is unlike anything else. People don’t talk about things, they talk about experiences, so make sure that you provide a tremendous and unique experience.

1. It All Starts with The Customer’s Experience!
If your customer experience is positive, great, you make the first cut. If you provide a poor customer experience then word of mouth marketing will bury you. The old aphorism hold true: "A happy customer will tell two friends, an unhappy customer will tell ten friends". So get it right or your efforts to stimulate buzz will help those unhappy customers tell a hundred people.

What can be done about the customer experience? The customer experience is built upon these factors:
* Good employees
* Good product/service
* Good atmosphere
* Good results
* Good follow-up (training, support)

Take an honest look at these characteristics of your business and ask yourself whether they are superior to the competition. More importantly, ask your customers.

2. Solicit Opinions, Listen, Act & Thank Them!
It is basic human nature that we want people to listen to us and respect our opinions. Yet it is rare that people actually ask for our opinions and then listen to what we have to say. It is even rarer that they then act upon our feedback.

Solicit the opinions of customers. Ask them how you can make their experience better. Ask former customers why they left and what you could do to earn their business back. Don’t argue with them, don’t try to convince them, just thank them for their insight and do something about it. Once you’ve made the change, point it out and thank them for the feedback.

Let’s say, for example that you solicited feedback, and twenty people told you to make a particular change. You make that change and then call each person individually and thank them for their wonderful suggestion. How does that make each person feel? It makes them feel good that you listened and did something. But more importantly, each of those twenty people now feels that they have an emotional stake in your success. They want you to succeed because they want their feedback to work. As a result, you now have twenty evangelists ready to spread the word for you.

3. Develop Relationships
People are used to being treated like nameless faceless customers. It just seems to be the way most businesses treat us. Now think of places you really love. Odds are they know you, they treat you like an individual, you belong. These are the places you remember and you tell your friends about. It’s like the song from the TV series Cheers " want a place where everybody knows your name."

The best way to develop relationships is to spend time with people, getting to know them and sharing information about yourself. Maintain a log about each customer so that you can ask about their kids, grandkids, pets, work, hobbies, vacations, talk about their favorite sports team, whatever. The more you treat people like special individuals and show them that they are important to you, the more special their experience will be. And the more special their experience is, the more they will morph from customer to fan.

Spend time with your customers getting to know them and helping them get to know you. Each time they visit get personal. For example, if you have a restaurant, start saving dog-safe bones from customer plates and place them in a branded bag. Each time a dog owner comes in, offer them a "bone for skippy". They will start visiting more frequently and they will tell their friends. You are no longer just a local business owner, you’re their friend.

Amazon is the most loved vendor on the Internet. This customer appreciation is what has enabled them to easily transition from Internet bookstore of choice to Internet vendor of choice. And why do we love Amazon? Because they collect a ton of information and feedback from their customers and use this information to make each customer’s experience personalized, fast and easy. Amazon offers 1-click ordering, personalized recommendations, customer reviews and ratings, the personalized greeting and much more. All of this is meant to make you feel like you belong. Like the Cheers theme song, they know your name. Maybe I should write a separate article on Build a Successful Business According to the Lyrics From The Cheers Theme Song...or maybe I just did.

If you can provide a great customer experience, solicit and act on customer feedback and develop friendships with your customers, your business is ready for a full fledged word of mouth campaign. In fact, whether you like it or not, taking these steps will build the buzz about your business. The next step is to implement programs and tools to take that buzz to the next level. I’ll address this in future articles.