Word of mouth marketing, where consumers tell others how much they like or dislike your products and services, is on the rise. In fact, eMarketer reports that 65 million adults in the U.S. are talking about products and services they encounter. What is significant is that 27 million of them are doing it online via forums, blogs, consumer review sites, social media sites and the like. That trend is only going to increase.
I spent all last week visiting amusement parks in the New England area, which not only included riding roller coasters, but interviewing some of the owners and key people responsible for each park’s existence and success. In reality, I am not doing the actual interviews, but rather my friend, Gary Kyriazi, who writes for Park World Magazine is conducting them. I am simply along for the ride. Out of four interviews, one stands out as a great example of how to practice customer relations the right way while another stands out as the wrong way to go about it.
We get a handful of RFPs (request for proposal) each and every week, We actually call them “Request Free Quotes” (RFQs) as they typically come from potential customers submitting a form from our site. Receiving several RFQs each week not only requires a significant amount of time to respond to them in a timely manner, but requires a strategic follow-up plan to ensure that we give ourselves the best opportunity to secure the new business. I thought I’d write up a post on how we initially respond to them and our process of follow-up.
In January, I wrote a post about how I was fed up with the Better Business’s Bureau’s Online Reliability program in which they force an additional fee on already paying members in order fro them to be able to display the BBB logo on their sites. A few weeks later, I received a phone call from one of their representatives congratulating me on my post, stating they also wanted to see the program done away with and that my post was helping to speed up that process.
However, little over three months later I get a renewal bill in which the price has now increased from $135 annually to $177.50. I’m not paying. It is not the money… really it is not. It is the principle.
When talking to a potential customer, I can usually tell in a minute or less if they are going to be problematic. Call it intuition. Call it sixth sense. Or simply chalk it up to over ten years of experience. It usually starts with a gut feeling that tells you, “Don’t take on this new client, it is going to be more trouble than its worth.” It is then up to you to decide whether to listen to that still small voice or go against it and sell out for the money. Everytime I have done the latter, I have lived to regret it. Fortunately the longer I do this, I learn from past mistakes and pay more attention to the voice inside my head.
Establishing trust with consumers is crucial to the success of any online business, especially those who are selling a product or service. This is oftentimes easier to do in the “real world” than it is on the Internet. For example, you as a consumer are in a brick and mortar storefront looking to buy a particular product. You can be comfortable with the atmosphere, enjoy the selection of merchandise they have to offer, and even be assured of their stability as a business because they have been around for some time. The sales person can also put you at ease if they are friendly and helpful to you. Web sites are a bit different in that they are not physical locations. Plus you are dealing with a digital medium as opposed to a real person.
The BBBOnLine Reliability Program has bugged me for some time now. This is a program the Better Business Bureau (BBB) offers its members in which they can place a seal (as shown to the left) on their web site indicating they are a BBB member which then links to the company’s online profile. It requires its own fees in addition to what a company pays to be a BBB member. The program discriminates against businesses who solely conduct business online. This bothers me to no end. Let me tell you why.
I had a horrible customer service experience with a local body shop earlier this year when I took my son’s 1968 Mustang for repair after a collision. I blogged about it and my post ended up positioning in the top three results at Google, Yahoo and MSN when you searched for their business name. In that post, I used the opportunity to examine their customer service and see what we in the search marketing industry could learn by it.
Being consistently active on four different forums, I have enjoyed all the benefits mentioned above one time or another. However, the last benefit – marketing yourself, must be done discreetly. In other words, if one is to market themselves in a forum which is comprised of an active community, marketing one’s self should be subtle. In reality the only true way to market yourself effectively is not to market yourself at all but rather to contribute quality to the forum. When you do that, you market yourself naturally.
A recent Inc. 500 study reveals what many of us business owners already know and that is that word of mouth advertising is still King. What percentage constitutes kingship? How about 82%. The Word of Mouth Marketing Association extracts additional percentages from the survey.