Tap the Power of Your Viral Customers

Viral Customers are Your Brand Ambassadors

Viral Customers are Your Brand Ambassadors Whether you are aware of it or not, customers are talking about you this very minute. They are offering opinions, trading experiences, and influencing other customers about you—your company, products, services, and reputation.

Welcome to the world of the “viral customer,” the turbocharged version of the word-of-mouth customer. If you’re not aware of your company’s viral customers, you need to be. If you haven’t geared your company to their growing influence, you had better start now. These talkative, influential customers will play a critical role in the future of your marketing schemes, loyalty programs, customer service efforts, public relations outreach, brand management, privacy policies, and bottom line.

The Internet has created a generation of so-called “viral customers.” Viral customers can be champions or destroyers. They can talk trash about you or trumpet your worth. Which route they take depends on you.

  • If customers are happy with their encounters with you, they are likely to tell lots of their friends. In essence, they become viral ambassadors who will rave about your company to others to create a gush of goodwill. These ambassadors can be valuable, low-cost avenues for building existing relationships, recruiting new customers and keeping old customers happy for life.
  • But if customers are not satisfied, watch out. So-called “viral rebels” can destroy your products, brands, and reputation as they share negative experiences. Moreover, at the moment of negative feedback, they’re likely to be in a “switch mode,” ready to find someone else to satisfy them in ways that your company hasn’t or won’t.

Are you paying attention to what your own viral customers are saying and doing? We’ve found that some companies and industries are more “viral” than others. Customers are much more likely to pass along opinions to others about insurance firms, health maintenance companies, utilities, banks, long-distance and wireless telephone companies, mail delivery services, Internet service providers and auto manufacturers.

What’s at stake is more than the lifetime value of a single customer. Everyone in the viral rebel’s sphere of influence is also at stake, because even though the original customer may walk away from you, he or she is not necessarily finished. The bad-mouthing continues. Suddenly, one person’s negative encounter becomes everyone’s shared experience, and you’re left to pick up the pieces, re-establish ties, win confidence, and regain long-term loyalty.

Some Brands and Issues are More Viral Than Others

Some Brands and Issues are More Viral Than Others Certain brands elicit highly viral customer buzz. Billing issues typically fly off the virility chart. Other hot-button issues involve safety among automakers, baggage claim among airlines, customer service at e-commerce sites, hygiene at restaurants, and staff attitude at retail stores.

If you listen to your viral customers, you will know whether your marketing budget is based on the correct assumptions. You’ll be able to apply one-to-one marketing principles to customer feedback, making your customer insight even richer and more robust. You will know which brands are working. You’ll know your company customer service record, because you will have real-time feedback from the customers. You will identify trouble spots or opportunities well in advance, enabling you to take advantage of positive feedback or stop negative feedback before it explodes.

As you analyze the customer insight you receive, you become wiser and more adaptable, smarter and better able to react, respond, and retool. You start giving customers what they want—easy and convenient communication. They want to be heard. They want to help others, and they want a forum that fits their propensity to rant or rave.

In a world governed by customer insight, all feedback is gold and every complaint is a gift. Raw data guides us, but insight that has quality and meaning enlightens us. Anticipation beats perspiration, and the only way to know what is around the next bend is to pay attention to the curve as it develops.

Here’s five things you can do to tap the power of viral customers:

  • Identify them. Viral customers communicate with you frequently by e-mail, letter or phone. They send copies to others, are passionate or emotional about their experiences and are among the first to try new products or services.
  • Make communication easy. Offer as many ways as possible for customers to get in touch with you-a toll-free phone number, Web-site e-mail address, third-party feedback service, street address or special mailing address.
  • Respond quickly. Respond quickly and in the same fashion. Be empathetic.
  • Mine the negative comments. Respond decisively so that the customer decides to remain in your camp. Don’t give a reason to bolt to the competition.
  • Build the relationship. Add communicative customers to a preferred-customer list. Extend special offers, ask their input on new products and services, and ask how you can improve the relationship. The more you integrate the relationship, the stronger it will be.
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