Word-of-Mouth: It’s About More Than Your Customers

In a digital world, word-of-mouth advertising is about much more than your customers!

In a digital world, how you and your employees treat (attitudes, words, facial expressions, tones of voice, behaviours) customers, prospective customers and those who have no hope (or interest) of ever being your customer, can have a big impact on how you and your business, are perceived in your market and beyond.

How Important Is Word-Of-Mouth Advertising?

Most of us know that what people say about our business (staff, products, services) to their family and friends (word-of-mouth) is important to our business. We know that spending money on marketing services or products that have a bad reputation with consumers, and not doing anything about it, is similar to burning money. If we’re not delivering on our promises, our marketing efforts will only remind consumers of why they don’t want to deal with us. And, likely, they won’t be shy about telling others about why they don’t like us either.

But if you’re thinking it’s ‘only’ your customers who matter, or those that you or your staff ‘think’ may be potential customers, think again!

Your brand’s reputation is far more fragile and easy to influence than you may think.

A Culture of Respect

In business (and personally), we often make an unconscious split-second decision/judgment when we speak to someone in person, over the phone or by email. That decision and how we behave in any situation can have a profound impact for good or bad on our business. If we haven’t intentionally developed a culture of respect for all people in our business, and personally, regardless of our first impression, we may very well be doing ourselves and our business a huge disservice.

{Read: The Power of First Impressions and Branding}

The person we, or a staff member, dismiss and treat disrespectfully or shortly (consciously or unconsciously) because they are ‘just a …. ‘ (salesperson, cold-caller, janitor, courier, caterer, ‘trying to get my business’ seeker, etc.) may not be someone that we will ever do business with, for a variety of reasons, no matter how nice or good we are to them. The fact is they may never need what we have to offer and/or they may not be able to afford or qualified to use what we are selling.

But don’t let that fool you as to their power to influence others about dealing with us!

The Power to Influence

If you read my recent article “Growing Business: The Value of Existing Customers?” you’ll know that Nielsen’s 2013 Under the Influence: Consumer Trust in Advertising report, based on findings from an online global survey across 58 countries, showed that the most influential form of advertising is “recommendations from people I know.”

According to the report, 84% of those surveyed identified this as the most influential form of advertising. The next closest was “branded websites” at 69% and “consumer opinions posted online” at 68%. That’s a 15 point spread between first and second place! A huge gap that shows just how important ‘recommendations from people I know’ are.

But, what does this have to do with the way we treat people who we’ll “probably never do business with?” PLENTY!!

Do Those Who Will Never Do Business With Us Matter?

You see, I don’t have to be your customer to spread good or bad news about you. I may ‘just’ be a janitor or a plumber or a photocopy repair gal or a water cooler delivery guy or a cold-caller to your office hoping to get some business or the teller where you do your bank deposits or a bicycle delivery person or any other number of people, in your eyes.

But, when I’m treated disrespectfully, ignored, spoken to harshly, treated like I’m inconsequential, I develop an opinion about you and your brand. And as a result, I’m likely to speak about you to others in a less than flattering way. Oh, I may not say “they ignore me” but I may say “the people in that office are so rude” or “every time they phone to have a courier pick up something they’re very demanding (and rude)” and so on.

How we treat people, whether they are business customers or not, may seem unimportant, but it isn’t. They may be the friend or relative of anyone or someone who may never do business with us because ‘our reputation proceeds us’. They are human beings whose voice, especially in our digital age, may travel much farther than we realize.

Customers Aren’t The Only Ones Who Talk

Of course, I’m stretching things a bit here, but I hope you get my point: It’s not only how you treat your customers and those you think may be potential customers that is important. It’s how you treat everyone!

It doesn’t mean you or your staff have to (or even should) enter into long conversations with every person who walks through your door or calls or emails. But it should mean, treating anyone who phones, emails or walks through the door, for whatever reason, respectfully and with dignity. Who knows, it may just result in them saying nice things about us instead of not so nice things about us.

Many many years ago, early in my career as a lender with CIBC bank, I remember a new client coming into the branch dressed rather sloppily. I don’t recall the situation in its entirety but what I do remember is being very thankful that I treated the client with respect …  something I’ve always strived to do regardless of who the customer is or what they may look like.

In the aforementioned situation, we discovered the client, who didn’t look like a millionaire, was a millionaire (think billionaire today!) If I had treated him poorly because of the way he was dressed I’m sure he would have walked out of our door, never to be seen again. He didn’t, largely, I’m pretty sure, because we didn’t judge him by his appearance and then treat him accordingly. We treated him with the same respect we treated every client … and after we discovered who he was, we probably also jumped through a few other hoops for him too!

Treating Every Person With Respect

Consistent, respectful service is even more important in today’s digital world, where word-of-mouth advertising isn’t simply one friend talking to another in person or by phone. Today, word-of-mouth advertising has the potential to be so much bigger than anything we can imagine! (As some businesses have found out to their delight, and others to their chagrin.)

When people hear negative comments from others about our business, whether it’s first-hand, second-hand or third-hand, it may cause them to think twice before they call. Or, it may mean they never call at all. Especially if there are other competitors vying for their business and nothing to contradict the bad word they’ve heard about us.

Who Would You Recommend?

Many of us can probably think of people and businesses we would be unlikely to refer a family member, friend or client of ours to. In fact, we might offer a word of warning or share something negative we’ve heard instead. Often this is due to our own experiences or, just as likely, the experiences of others we know or ones we’ve heard about.

An example of this is an experience I recently had, when a consulting client mentioned she was going to switch over to a particular mobile phone service. My husband and I had been clients of this particular service provider for close to 10 years, and our experience had not been as good as it could have been. That coupled with a a recent bad experience with their customer service department, not to mention weak signal strength on our calls, left us dissatisfied. But really, it was the handling of our concerns by their customer service department and the seemingly uncaring manner we experienced that was the catalyst for our looking for options and making the move to a new service provider.

Of course, when my client mentioned she was planning on moving her mobile business to them and why, I immediately shared our story with her about our experience, and how we had recently moved our mobile business over to Koodo Mobile. I shared we were delighted with the improvement in our signal strength, better pricing, and a few other things. She was grateful I’d shared the information and was going to check out Koodo rather than the original company she had been considering.

Our experience and disappointment with the way we were handled (lack of respect and caring) by our previous provider, led us to make the move, and resulted in them not only losing our business but also new business from my consulting client.

Hiring, Training, Fostering & Modelling To Create A Culture of Respect

Customers will actually put up with a lot, if they are treated right and with respect. That doesn’t guarantee they will stay with us, but we are much more likely to have loyal customers when we treat them well.

Businesses who hire the right people, provide the right training, and who foster and model a culture where all people are respected and valued, will generate an extra level of customer satisfaction and word-of-mouth advertising not available to those businesses who don’t.

Not only will their customers say nice things about them but so will all those who interact with them, no matter what their position or potential value to the business. This, over time, has the potential to create an extra buzz of word-of-mouth advertising that will help build a business.

Your Reputation Is In The Hands Of Everyone

A business’ reputation is not only in the hands of their customers. It’s also in the hands of every person they (owners and other team members) interact or engage with, customers, non-customers, never-will-be customers.

Our split-second judgment about someone is a potential customer or not shouldn’t impact how we treat people. We may be right about the person and wrong about their influence. Or we may be wrong about both. Can we afford to take that chance?

Anyone hoping to build a profitable and well-regarded business can’t!

(Updated from July 2014)