Remember the old Breck Shampoo commercials, where a shiny, happy Breck Girl told two friends and they told two friends and so on and so on? The woman’s face and voice multiplied with each telling, resulting in a chorus of “Brady Bunch”-like split screens echoing praise for the product. Call it the original viral marketing, about three decades ahead of its time.
Telling “two friends” about a positive experience mirrors the common adage about a satisfied customer, whereas a dissatisfied customer tells an average of 10 people. More recent studies conducted by the Jay H. Baker Retailing Intiative at Wharton and Toronto consulting firm The Verde Group went a little deeper. Their 2006 research indicated that only 6 percent of shoppers who encountered a problem with a retailer contacted the business directly, but 31 percent told friends, family and colleagues.
What’s interesting is the negativity toward the retailer tends to accelerate with each telling, apparently because of embellishments as the story spreads. For example, 48 percent of those surveyed in the Wharton study reported that they had avoided a store in the past because of someone else’s negative experience, while only 33 percent of those directly experiencing a problem say they would not return. Add to that the fact that bad news stands to spread a lot wider and faster now with the advent of social media. (No pressure.)
The Wharton study recommends being proactive about soliciting feedback, whether that means adding a check box to a credit card slip for a customer to indicate if they had a problem, or simply supplying a phone number or Web address to field complaints. Providing an opportunity to blow off steam before the story gets enhanced diffuses the explosion of negative energy. The study also suggests deliberate recruitment of front-line sales staff who will have the most customer contact. Many retailers foist their least-trained, lowest-paid staff into the most public-facing roles — not necessarily your best foot forward.
A friend of mine recently shared a positive experience from a local lighting retailer. After an unsuccessful attempt to find a replacement part for a fixture at Lowe’s, he visited Idlewood Electric’s Barrington, IL, location and was thrilled that they had it. When he asked how much it was, they said: “Nothing. Next time you need a fixture, buy one from us.” I suspect that part was inexpensive, with a huge payoff in client satisfaction. And he told a friend. And she told 10,000 subscribers. And so on.