Word of Mouth: The Conversations Driving 21st-Century Conversion

By Megan Freshley


Are you and your customers playing the telephone game? Businesses know word of mouth is one of the single most important factors in building and maintaining customer loyalty. But without the right tools and strategies, they’re leaving it nearly all up to chance.  

Between the abundance of review-based sites customers use to make purchasing decisions to staying active on social media and spreading the word on brands, customers are more engaged than ever. “The biggest change in retail in the last five years is the consumer is more powerful,” says Zimmerman Advertising CEO Michael Goldberg. Companies who’re paying attention consider customers as playing an active role in the marketing process now, and brands can either get with the times or expect to be phased out by those who prioritize CX.

So how can you harness something as organic and personal as word of mouth?  It’s not about putting the words in your customers’ mouths — they can tell when you’re doing that. Customers can smell false testimonials a mile away, but executives often forget that when it’s their own company being praised. It’s what you do with their conversations and how you make them an integral part of your brand’s interactive narrative that matters.


Review your review approach

Cultivating genuine customer reviews rather than testimonials that ring false is hard. App pop-ups soliciting ratings, offering a special deal to those who rate, and active community management on social media all help build solid reputation for local and global brands alike. Reviews are directly involved in 67.7 percent of online purchases, and a lack of reviews is never a welcome sight for your customer.

Written reviews by strangers have a huge impact on the decision-making process that ultimately boosts or busts your bottom line. But organic conversations between friends, family, and coworkers have an even more potent effect on customer loyalty. People are wired to take their friends’ opinions to heart quicker than those of an anonymous local online.

The problem is, these interactions are much harder for brands to manage. It comes down to the need to create experiences so memorable your customers can’t help but share them at the water cooler, in a Tweet, or at their favorite Sunday brunch spot.

Loyalty works differently now

Of course they’ll share that memorable experience whether it’s good or bad, and people love to tell a good CX horror story. Whether your customer spent two hours listening to your jazzy hold music or tried conversing with a chatbot with the IQ of a toaster, they’ll tell anyone who will listen. Thirteen percent of customers tell 15 or more people about a highly negative experience with a company, while 72 percent share an outstanding experience with six or more other people. So how do you get those brand loyalists to speak up?


Brand loyalty looks different today that it did ten or even two years ago. Whereas Yelp and Google reviews continue to make a huge impact, word of mouth loyalty-building is even more nuanced now. Branded in-person experiences leave a lasting mark, as do unboxing videos, special Snapchat filters, and all the other countless new ways consumers interact with brands in physical and digital spaces. Don’t leave any stone unturned that could lead to positive word of mouth.

Established companies aren’t immune

Many established companies think their audiences don’t need the type of engagement younger companies require. They still see a celebrity endorsement as enough to get consumers excited, and rest on their laurels waiting for sales to spike. However, established companies had better hustle. Their loyal customers might be here to stay. But their long-term strategy must win over new customers too, while generating shareable experiences that appeal to younger demographics and win new loyalty. Just because you’re well known now doesn’t mean you have the staying power to justify lackluster CX.

Consumers are increasingly brand-conscious and more in on the process than ever before. As CRM specialist Paul Greenberg puts it, “Technologies that facilitate the interactions in a useful and valuable way between the companies and the customers” are the ones companies should invest in to make enough of an impression to generate real word-of-mouth magic.

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