Monday, February 15, 2010

Don't skimp on the ketchup! Media Monday: Word of Mouth

Wendy's, I have a beef with you.

Today, I went through the drive-through. I was in a hurry (thus, the drive-through and the fast food indulgence). I ordered chicken nuggets, fries, and a drink. As I am pulling out of the parking lot and into the lane for the expressway, I realize you have neglected to give me ketchup and a straw. Around the block I go, sitting through three traffic lights and pulling back into the very crowded parking lot. I popped out of my car, walked into the store, stood in line, and requested ketchup and a straw. All I got from your clerk was attitude. Sorry, but what exactly did I do wrong? You might note, this is the third time you've skimped me on ketchup.

Here's the thing. Because of several screw-ups on the part of your staff, you have now dented your brand. Maybe, in my case, it is only a slight bruise. But what if I were Kevin Smith, with his 1.6 million Twitter followers? Your brand could be on the national news, in PR crisis mode, defending your customer service policy.

Studies have shown that consumers are more likely to share their negative brand experiences than their positive ones. A 2006 Wharton study found that of 100 consumers who have a bad experience, a company stands to lose 32 - 36 customers. More importantly, 48% of shoppers say they have avoided a store because they learned of another person's poor experience. A third of those who had the negative experience will never return.

Here's why:
Paula Courtney, president of The Verde Group, says the exponential power of negative word-of-mouth lies in the nature of storytelling. "As people tell the story the negativity is embellished and grows," she says. For example, the first time the story is told, it might be about a customer service representative who was rude. By the time the third or fourth person hears the story, the customer service representative becomes verbally abusive. "To make a story worth telling, there has to be some entertainment value, a shock value," says Courtney. "Storytelling hurts retailers and entertains consumers."

Not to mention, storytelling makes for great news stories. And when you provoke a storyteller like Kevin Smith, you're going to get more stories than you really want to deal with.

Online sellers tend to rely on Word of Mouth (WOM) marketing. We actively encourage our customers to re-tweet, share our Facebook updates, and participate in our blog comments. What we can easily forget is that every aspect of our product experience is shared. Cutting corners and taking shortcuts may help your bottom line or make it faster for you to list an item, but eventually those routes will come back to hurt you. A customer may not bother to fill out a negatives seller rating - but they will share that experience with their friends. You'll then have to work twice as hard to correct your brand image.

So remember: don't skimp on the ketchup.

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