Customer Word of Mouth - Both Good and Bad

Word of mouth has always been a double-edged sword. It can be the lifeblood of any business or the downfall. In today’s tech-savvy world filled with instant feedback on social media, staying in front of negative word of mouth is paramount in ensuring your business’s success.

by Stephanie Morrow
updated May 02, 2022 ·  5min read

The Coca-Cola Company learned a valuable lesson firsthand when it launched its My Coke Rewards program. This customer-appreciation program gave customers the opportunity to enter codes via the Internet to redeem for prizes. The program was initially deemed a marketing campaign to increase sales, however Coca-Cola later stumbled into some unexpected bad publicity via Twitter.

A frustrated customer tweeted the difficulties he was experiencing with the rewards program to his more than 10,000 followers on Twitter. Coca-Cola’s head of social media, Adam Brown, then handled the negative feedback quickly by posting an apology on the customer’s Twitter profile and offering to assist him in retrieving his rightful prize. In return, the customer showed his appreciation for Coke’s quick response by changing his Twitter avatar to a photo of himself enjoying their soda and promoting the company in a positive light.

The lesson? Social media can be a great way to promote your products and services to millions of current and new customers—yet this new medium can also be an outlet for negative feedback.

How does a business counter the negative feedback that can come in the form of a Twitter post, a Facebook status or a Yelp! review? Coca-Cola had the right idea—a quick apology, positive customer service and a free giveaway can work wonders in appeasing a frustrated customer with a complaint and a social media account.

Defending Negative Word of Mouth

Like the Coca-Cola example, businesses need to constantly monitor social media posts and react swiftly to negative word of mouth that may be disseminated virtually from an angry customer. Customers are more connected today than ever and companies are vulnerable to being ambushed via Facebook, Twitter, Yelp!, YouTube and other sites that allow users to complain about products and services they deem unsatisfactory.

According to Opinion Research, 83% of consumers have said online reviews influence their purchasing decisions. Fighting negative word of mouth may seem impossible, but below are four defenses that can be used to protect your business’s reputation.

1. Use Social Media to Build Credibility

Coca-Cola became aware of the frustrated customer’s negative tweet because the company constantly monitors social media and any references made about its products. Follow this example by using social media to your advantage and building your credibility through it before you need to defend yourself against an angry customer.

Identify your virtual advocates, key virtual communities and influencers—then build trust within these same groups. If negative word of mouth is ever disseminated in these communities, your credibility can be used as a defense against the negative feedback, allowing you to stop the negative spread more quickly. In addition, use positive reviews to your advantage by publicizing them through your own social media sites and using them to build credibility in the social media realm.

2. Don’t Deter Feedback, Welcome It

If a frustrated customer has no outlet to vent their concerns, many will turn to social media outlets to ensure their opinions are heard in some manner. Allowing customers to provide feedback on your social media sites, through your website, your own Facebook page or via your blog(s) allows you to react quickly and put the customer’s mind at ease.

If you allow the feedback on your own site, it makes it easier for you to respond since your employees will see the complaint immediately. Customers will complain, but if you react quickly and respectfully, that angry customer may become an advocate for your business in the future.

3. Use Your Advocates

When a Southwest Airlines flight made an emergency landing in Charleston, W.V., the airline team heard mostly positive comments from the scared passengers. Southwest used that information to post tweets that praised the quick action of their crew and the positive attitudes of the airline’s customers—thereby employing their own advocates to spread positive word of mouth via social media.

Monitor where your advocates are communicating, whether it’s through social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+, shopping sites such as Amazon, TripAdvisor or review sites like Yelp! Find your fans and ask them to share their positive opinions about your company. This takes discretion, but having the opportunity to place recommendations where you want them and having your loyal fans fight for you will seem much more credible than having the same message being disseminated by a paid employee.

4. Never Get Caught By Surprise

What would have happened if Coca-Cola did not react to their angry Twitter customer quickly? The customer would have had more than 10,000 individuals in which he could garner negative word of mouth about the soda giant. However, Coca-Cola was not caught by surprise, the company saw the tweet and reacted quickly to a potential publicity nightmare.

When it comes to negative word of mouth, you should never be caught by surprise. There are many different tracking tools available to businesses to monitor what is being said about them, both positively and negatively. All of this should allow you to use positive comments to your advantage and respond quickly to negative comments before they spin out of control.

A Valuable Lesson from United Airlines

When musician Dave Carroll saw his $3,500 guitar tossed about by United Airlines baggage handlers, he immediately tried to alert personnel but was ignored. After confirming the damage to the instrument, Carroll spent nearly a year arguing unsuccessfully with the airline for compensation.

Deciding to use social media to his advantage, Carroll made a YouTube video entitled “United Breaks Guitars.” The video received four million downloads and more than 100,000 comments—an unbearable amount of negative word of mouth. Although United Airlines now uses Carroll’s video as a training device, companies can learn from United’s mistakes. By offering a quick apology, using respectful and positive customer service and compensating an angry customer through monetary means, a company can turn negative word of mouth into a positive advertising resource.

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Stephanie Morrow

About the Author

Stephanie Morrow

Stephanie Morrow has been a contributor to LegalZoom since 2005 and has written about nearly all aspects of law, from ta… Read more

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