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

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

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.


Our marketing efforts will only remind consumers of the problems and why they don’t want to deal with us.

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 (individual and business) 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 in an 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.

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!!

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 who 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 when I worked 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 this 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!

This type of 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. It has the potential to be so much bigger than that!

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 cause them to not call at all. Especially if there are other competitors vying for their business.

Many of us can probably think of people and businesses we would be unlikely to refer a client to, or might say a negative word about, or might offer a word-of-caution to another who is thinking about doing business with these individuals or companies. Often this is due to our own experiences or, just as likely, the experiences of others we know or ones we’ve heard about.

To be honest, I’ve had a few business customers over the years – very few, thankfully – who I would never recommend to a client or anyone else for that matter. It’s not that the product or service they sell isn’t good, but having dealt with them, and experienced the way they deal with people first hand, I wouldn’t have confidence, nor would I want, to refer business their way. Sad but true.

The reverse of this bad scenario is also true.

Businesses who hire the right people, provide the right training, foster and model a culture where all people are respected and valued, will generate an extra level of 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 about a business that will help build the business.

Hiring, Training & Culture

The people we hire, the training we provide, the values we encourage and instil, foster a culture that builds a reputation for our business that helps build our business or tear it down.

Our company’s reputation is not only in the hands of our customers. It’s also in the hands of every person we, and every member of our team, interact or engage with.

Our split-second judgment 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!