Consumer affairs strategy should include word of mouth

tldr - Customer service drives lots of word of mouth, by influential people. It can absolutely be very positive, and word of mouth plays a huge role in purchase decisions. Factor this in to your plans to contribute to your business!


If your business is driven largely by marketing the question of ‘reach’ matters quite a bit. In a prior blog post we covered how to position the reach of your consumer affairs work. However, there is another factor that should be considered when looking at both how many people you touch through consumer care and how you may be influencing their behavior – the word of mouth effect.

The idea that people tell others about things they like or dislike, which then influences their attitudes and behaviors is not a new one. That idea and the ability to 'see it happen' online certainly played a key role in the allocation of marketing funds to social media in recent years.

At a recent Wilke Global event we were lucky enough to have Brad Fay join us from Engagement Labs to talk about word of mouth and customer service. If you haven’t clicked on the link to Brad’s bio I will simply say that with over a decade of experience doing awesome research on offline and online word of mouth, Brad has a truly unique vantage point. I wanted to share a few takeaways from his talk that are very relevant to consumer relations leaders.

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First, we started this post talking about ‘reach,’ the common denominator of the marketing mix in most CPG companies is ‘impressions’ – which can be thought of as the number of times a piece of content (ie an ad, a brand name) could be seen. Impressions is a function of reach (the total number of individuals with an opportunity to be exposed) multiplied by frequency (how many times each person might have seen it). We will talk more about impressions in another post, but for now the most important bit is that it cuts across all media channels. What you should know is that Engagement Labs has found that customer service accounts for over 1.5 billion brand impressions per month, more than half as many as social media! And importantly, 96% of those conversations about customer service do not take place online. People talk about your service face to face, on the phone, and via email.


Secondly, not only is customer service talked often, but the people who talk about it tend to be more influential, implying that the commentary on a given brand may be more likely to lead to action.


Finally, the media generally picks up stories about customer service ‘going viral’ when the story is either very negative or an example of ‘above and beyond’ service so far beyond the norm that it almost seems irrelevant. The good news from Engagement Labs? Conversations about customer service are 5X as likely to be positive as negative! Your quality work day in and day out is likely to be recognized and shared by your customers.


So, it seems that we have data supporting three conclusions:

  • Customer service generates a huge number of ‘earned’ impressions and mentions
  • The people who share customer service stories are influential
  • Service can generate very positive mentions

It is also relevant to consider what may be obvious - does word of mouth impact purchase behavior? Yes it does! A study done under the umbrella of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association involving several large consumer brands conducted by leading analytics and research providers found that word of mouth drives 13% of consumer purchases, about half as many as paid marketing!

If you are working to establish your consumer care work as a revenue driver (and importantly have it recognized as one) – don’t forget word of mouth. Your work creates word of mouth today; what could you do to further amplify the positive WOM you create? How might you prove them further? (And - if you want to explore the value of your consumers please take a look at our whitepaper on using marketing data to get at the value of your consumer engagement).

Answering questions like this is how we can drive growth in consumer care, the foundational work done by Engagement Labs and WOMMA should give us a solid foundation to make that case.

Pete Blackshaw (then with Nielsen, now with Nestle) and I led a session on Consumer Relations and Word of Mouth at WOMMA's 'School of WOM' way back in 2010. The first and last of our final suggestions to marketers bear repeating:

  • "If you want to master WOM, first look in your backyard - you likely have a WOM program [consumer affairs] under your nose" - if your brands are working on 'earned' or 'word of mouth' they should be talking to you!
  • "Understand and embrace the organizational challenges" - help marketers understand the differences in expectations and rewards you operate with so they can help you raise your contribution!


Topics: insights, research, strategy, social media