The Australian Small Business Blog

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Dangers of Passive Word of Mouth Marketing

Word of Mouth marketing is important in almost any business big or small. Every business lives or dies based on their reputation. So why would you risk leaving Word of Mouth to chance?

While positive reports about your service will get out there over time and create new business for you, bad reports travel like a rocket propelled by hard feelings and anger. Most of your clients who have enjoyed your services will mention you to help out friends and colleagues, but they aren’t active unpaid promoters of your business. When, however, you have let someone down, not delivered on your promise, and have not made things right, their only recourse is to damage you as much as they can.

Studies have shown that when you do a great job, people might tell 3 other people. When you don’t, they will tell eleven others that you haven’t, and those eleven will tell three others because people like to spread the bad news as it helps empowers the disempowered and provides a way to strike back at ‘the system’.

What if you let someone down who owns a megaphone? That is what happened to United Airlines when they let down a touring band, Sons of Maxwell, when they damaged a $3500 guitar when it was tossed around by baggage handlers, an act they witnessed while waiting to disembark. United then passed the buck on responsibility, and after wasting many hours chasing their claim, the band gave up on United, but not on getting even.

The wrote a song about their experience and posted it in on YouTube. At the time of posting, this had been viewed over 2 million times!

The claim for repair of the guitar was $1200, but there seems to be a general policy with United, and probably with most airlines, to make it as difficult as possible to claim damages. Consider the damage in reputation that has occurred to United, and the pain is not over yet. The band’s leader, Dave Carroll, has written a second song (currently being videoed) and is writing a third.

Belatedly United are now looking what they can learn from this incident, examining practices that have obviously been entrenched for years. Will anything good come from it? Well this has made the band’s music become far more widely known and has probably been great for business for them. However, for United, my suspicion is that their spokesperson is just in damage control, and as soon as the fuss is over, it will be business as usual. Am I being cynical? Well the comment from United was from a PR flack not the CEO. You be the judge.

The message for business is that when you give poor service, anyone of your customers may own a megaphone. In fact, today everyone has access to this same megaphone, and if the message hits a chord (sorry about the pun), or a stereotype prevalent in your industry, it will spread before you know it and you will be considered guilty until proven innocent while everyone has fun at your expense.

So treat every customer as if they had their own megaphone so that if they decide to use it, they will just be singing your praises.

May Your Business Be - As You Plan It.

Over to You. What do You Think? Post Your Comments Below.

Dr Greg Chapman is the Director of Empower Business Solutions and The Australian Business Coaching Club and is Australia's Leading Advisor on Emerging Businesses and provides Coaching and Consulting advice to Australian Small Business Owners in Marketing & Business Strategies Planning & Systems. He is also the author of The Five Pillars of Guaranteed Business Success.

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David said...

I agree with you Dr. Chapman. We should be very careful in the way we manage our reputation. One small fire can create a bushfire. Our reputation has taken years to be established, it can be taken down by just a flick of a finger. Having an excellent customer service will spare us from being the centre of 'megaphone' publicity.

Brenda Thomson said...

I agree Greg,
Interestingly too - in the unfortunate event that mistakes happens (as they do) rather than hiding ones head under a blanket and ignoring the negative publicity one can also take advantage of the same publicity machine and turn it to advantage. I saw a current affair article last week where a family with a blind child were charged for the child to attend a drive in movie. Not good publicity for the movie owner. He (sort of) turned the publicity around by apologising and giving them a free family pass. If it had been me I would have given them free family passes for the year (or even for life). PLUS promote that children with disabilities are always welcome free at my drivein. Drive in movies are probably one place parents with children that can't easily be left with babysitters can have some sort of night out - why not send a positive message and attract a niche market?

Anonymous said...

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