Sunday, February 22, 2009

Word of Mouth in Action

Word of Mouth (WOM) is a very powerful force. It's the kind of force that you want to be your friend, not your enemy.
Think for a moment about the wind. No matter how proficient you are at sailing, without the wind you are not going to move on the surface of the water. But here is the tricky part: assuming the wind is strong, you still need to capture it correctly within the sails to propel the craft forwards. If the force of the wind is not caught properly, chances are you will capsize. So it is with WOM.
It's a fascinating phenomenon to see in action. I recently had the privilege of observing this in a new coffee shop in Sydney. On a daily basis there was a noticeable increase in the amount of patrons coming in to buy coffee. Further confirming my suspicions, customers would frequently be heard commenting:
"My friend told me about this coffee shop and recommended that i check it out."
"I heard you guys make good coffee!"
There was definitely a noticeable buzz happening- and it wasn't just from people drinking too much coffee :) WOM was working powerfully.
But what happens if this process is reversed? Is it true that there is no such thing as bad press? Definitely not. Bad press can capsize a business!
For some reason this is particularly prevalent in the food service industry. You eat fantastic meal, what are you going to do next? Most likely you are going to tell someone. PRobably the next person who asks you something remotely related to "how was your day?"
Naturally the next question is: what happens when you have a bad meal? I didn't even need to say did I? You are going to tell some, aren't you? This is where the snow can turn into an avalanche!
I had been going to a tasty thai restaurant for a number of years (one which will remain nameless). People raved about it. Great food. Great price; and, the service was quick and courteous. But a rumour began to circulate after a health inspection. Quite a hairy rumour in fact. The rumour was that there were frozen cats found in the refrigerator! Needless to say, business did not flourish. Even if this were not true, WOM had inflicted a fatal wound.
In summary, there is such thing as bad press. And bad press is very very bad!
What is to be learned? WOM can be your friend or your enemy. Make sure you nurture that relationship or suffer the inevitable consequences.

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