The Australian Small Business Blog

Sunday, May 17, 2020

When Word of Mouth goes out of Your Control




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, and damaged a $3500 guitar when it was literally 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.

They wrote a song about their experience and posted it in on YouTube. When I originally wrote about this, ten years ago, this had been viewed over 2 million times. Today, it’s over 20 million!




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, wrote two further songs just to rub it in.

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.

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

Postscript: United offered, belatedly, when they saw how bad this publicity was getting, to give Dave Carroll compensation for the cost of the repair of his guitar. He said he didn’t want the money any more, and to just give it to a charity. Probably a lot cheaper for United to admit the gross negligence and correct the problem, than have 20 million potential customers see this video.

May Your Business Be –As You Plan it!


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Dr Greg Chapman is the Director of Empower Business Solutions 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 and Price: How You Can Charge More Without Losing Sales.

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