Psst! Pass it on…

Just how many times have you been told ‘word of mouth’ is the customer’s main motivating factor for their visit. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why. Customers trust those closest to them. And, due to user review sites and social media, they’ve also started to rely on total strangers sharing their experiences of an increasing range of products and services.

At the same time many leisure operators in the UK point to glowing customer satisfaction ratings and ask: if existing customers are so happy, why on earth is the marketing department failing to hit its visitor targets?

Let’s look at some numbers. According to the latest research from WOMMA (Word of Mouth Marketing Association) the driving forces for making a purchasing decision are:

Word of mouth 54%

Information from a website 47%

Email sent by a friend 42%

Online review 31%

So what should you do about it? Providing a great customer experience is pretty mandatory – gone are the days when UK businesses tried and failed to imitate corporate America’s standards of customer service. The disinterested hotel receptionist and slack-jawed ride operator are becoming distant memories. If you’ve done all you can to enhance your product and service you probably figure you might think it’s enough to sit back and accept what business you get. Wrong!

The days of traditional marketing tactics (leaflet, website, TV & radio etc) is no longer enough. You need to convert those great customer satisfaction figures into marketing action. Think of every customer past and present as a potential marketer for your business and give them the tools and motivation to spread the word. If you’re still in business chances are most customers are speaking well of you and want to spread the good news about what you offer. The average online review score is 4.3 stars out of 5. And 68% of word of mouth conversations are ‘mostly positive’ as opposed to 8% which are ‘mostly negative’.

Ten ways to generate word-of-mouth advertising

• Identify the ‘hooks’ (through exit questionnaires) that get your customers excited and therefore more likely to pass on the news to friends and relatives (e.g. unique event, free wifi, behind- the- scenes tour, free child ticket, online game, ‘How to…’ guide etc)
• Provide imaginative (and subtly branded) on site photo opportunities for customers to share with their friends and relatives
• Offer printed incentives (coupons) to customers at the exit to pass on to friends and relatives
• Provide a one click option to forward online news of your great deals to social networking sites and display the respective icons in a prominent position on your website
• Encourage staff at appropriate times during performances and at exits at exits to generate a positive buzz by leading the applause and initiating verbal praise. You’d be amazed how often people don’t know how to react after a performance, exhibition or attraction and will react positively if they feel it is OK to do so
• Don’t be afraid to ask customers to post reviews on the social media sites they regularly use
• Identify and prepare catchy and appropriate messages to send to influential and celebrity bloggers and vloggers, who you should value as you would your key media contacts
• Make your own short video which is at least one of funny, useful or outrageous, post on Youtube, Vimeo, Vine or similar and carry the link in a press release
• Display prominently at your entrance, on leaflets and on your website any positive media reviews and visitor testimonials as customers will be looking for reassurance of their intention or decision to visit
• Distribute free promotional items carrying your branding, such as car stickers and badges, to any visitor completing an exit questionnaire

Bad news travels faster

Of 3,295 US consumers surveyed in 2012 by COLLOQUY, a loyalty marketing company, 26 per cent said they are far more likely to spread the word to family, friends and co-workers about a bad experience with a product or service than a good one. Do not confuse this with their behavior when completing questionnaires or online reviews, where they err on the side of praise rather than criticism. But you knew this already. Every survey on the subject has said much the same.

What has changed dramatically is the speed and extent to which an individual’s comments travels.

Dealing with bad reviews

What you shouldn’t do is lash out at what you regard as unfair criticism. Don’t attempt to ‘seed’ user-generated sites with fake reviews, well, not unless you’re very good at it! First of all, accept that the majority of reviews are genuine attempts to describe the experience of customers using your service. Think of it as free and valuable research data.

Limit your response to an immediate and sincere apology for any legitimate failings on your part thanking the customer for bringing it to your attention. Promise to address the problem and provide compensation where appropriate as a gesture of goodwill. You should point out any factually inaccurate comments included in a review if you believe this will damage your reputation unfairly, but do so with care and sensitivity.

Many customers who start out as angry complainants turn into champions of an organisation if their criticisms are well handled. Turning complaints into compliments should be your strategy.