Working Word Of Mouth

Once you realize what a word-of-mouth campaign is and how they work, you can ultimately control, to some measure, the message of the campaign.

“It’s okay to buy a bike there, but I wouldn’t dare take it there for service!” This quote comes from a dealer we recently interviewed who heard this line directly from a customer’s mouth — about his very own dealership!

The dealer was out riding and stopped at a gas station to fill up when this guy pulled up on a new bike (a model that the dealer sells) but it was obviously not one of his customers. So as not to tip his hand, the dealer asked where the guy bought his bike. His reply confirmed the dealer’s fears; he’d bought it at the competition. “Probably for more than he may have had to pay buying from me,” the dealer noted when he shared his story with us. So the dealer asked, “Why didn’t you buy it at XYZ Powersports?” That’s when he got smacked in the mouth with the truth.

The dealer was the direct beneficiary of a highly effective word-of-mouth advertising campaign. Like it or not, we all most likely have at least one viral word-of-mouth campaign circulating about our dealership.

But what is word-of-mouth anyway? I believe that word-of-mouth is nothing more than people talking about an experience that didn’t match their expectations. When an experience matches our expectations, if we get what we figured we’d get, then what reason would we have to talk about it? If only we could control what people say about us — but are we sure we can’t? I believe that once you realize what a word-of-mouth campaign is and how they work, you can ultimately control, to some measure, the message of the campaign.

If someone expected something to be done right and it wasn’t, you’ve got a negative campaign on your hands, and we know that these campaigns can spread like wildfire. Likewise, if someone expects something to be done right and the service experience was downright amazing, they’ll talk about that too. Both scenarios will produce what I call “accidental” word-of-mouth campaigns, and like most, they have a life of their own.

Let’s say that a customer doesn’t expect too much, as might be the case if the quoted rider had brought his bike to the dealer I interviewed for service, and the dealer “let him down” by not doing a very good job. He may over promise and under deliver by not having the bike done when promised or the bill might estimate — you know the nightmares. That guy probably wouldn’t talk about it because he got what he expected — not much.

That won’t start a word-of-mouth campaign. Nope, a word-of-mouth campaign starts when someone is passionate about sharing an unexpected experience — one that didn’t match expectations.

So how do we control a word-of-mouth campaign? I have a client that created his own, and we’re expecting it to produce some pretty amazing results. He acquired a dealership with a horrible service reputation. His service department budget has only enough room to pay one service manager and one service advisor. He has to pay more than most for a service advisor because he’s in a large metro area. So what does he do? He plans to hire two service advisors! One to focus on the shop productivity, you know, the traditional stuff. Then he’ll hire another one to focus purely on customer relationships.

That second service advisor will do call backs, send cards, ask for referrals, etc. You mean all the stuff you’re supposed to do, Otis? Yeah, all the stuff that slips through the cracks when your overworked service advisor is putting all the energy he can muster into getting that last unit out while dealing with the parts guy holding an order and a customer who’s getting angry because he can’t have his bike for the weekend. Remember, that customer will talk about you all week if you fail to deliver.

After he fully cooked the idea, he planned on presenting it to his 20-Group. I don’t have to tell you that when he attended his 20-Group meeting, his peers beat the snot out of him for being so far over budget. So he asked the members of his group how much they’d pay in advertising and/or PR to get the same effect, and if they thought a PR firm would approach customer service with the same high level of personal touch that a bona fide service advisor would. Their silence made his case.

How will this turn out? I don’t know, but I do know his commitment to having the best service department in the area based on its reputation can only help him generate a positive word-of-mouth campaign. Going above and beyond to continue to control expectations and then exceed them will give this dealer much more control than an average dealership.

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