Clearly, customer experience has a direct impact on a business’ success. But there is another way that customer experience can help a brand stand out against competitors: by driving word-of-mouth.
If you can surprise and delight customers with an amazing experience, they will tell their friends and make referrals to your company. And the word-of-mouth will contribute to the growth of the company without marketing having to lift a finger.
Here are 4 stories of great customer experience driving word-of-mouth. In each of these cases, the greatest value came from the customers telling the story of their experience, rather than the brand actively building publicity.
Zappos: Providing Incredible Customer Support through Live Chat
Did you hear that story about the shoe company? You know, they ran out of stock and so instead a customer service rep drove to a rival shoe store, bought a pair, and hand-delivered it to a customer.
Or what about that time when a best man had no shoes for a wedding, and so the Zappos rep mailed the shoes overnight at the company’s expense?
Or the time when a drunk customer called Zappos at 2:30 am to order a pizza and got it delivered? Now, to be fair, it was an equally drunk Tony Hsieh, CEO and founder of Zappos, who had encouraged her to call Zappos for pizza. But instead of hanging up, the Zappos rep found five places that were still open and delivering, took the order and credit card information, made the order for them, and even called back to check that the pizza had been delivered.
Each of these small stories of amazing customer experience build up into Zappos’ reputation for customer devotion. And that strong brand association is worth more than million-dollar ad campaigns.
Eight years after the fact, we’re still telling the rival shoe-store story, and all from a single customer interaction on an inbound call.
Zappos is an incredibly successful eCommerce company in its own right, so much so that it was valued at $1.2 billion when they were acquired by Amazon. But while most people have not bought a pair of shoes on Zappos, but they will have heard stories about their legendary customer service - especially from loyal customers who have bought shoes.
Key takeaway: Live chat is incredible for bridging the gap between you and customers. And if you provide amazing service, your customers will talk about you.
Tesla: Generating Word-of-Mouth through Social Sharing
Setting any recent controversies aside, Tesla manages to stay in the spotlight and is a bit of a media darling. But how is this possible with no ad agency, no CMO, and no ad budget?
It is incorrect to say that Tesla doesn’t do publicity - not after you strap a car to a rocket and launch it into space.
Tesla does plenty of publicity and word-of-mouth marketing; they just let other people do most of the talking! At the core of it, they aim to delight and excite customers (and future customers), relying on the power of social sharing and chatter and the news cycle.
Rather than showing you ads explaining why their product is awesome, they let someone else tell you about it;
Hey - did you hear about how the Model S was so safe, it broke the testing equipment?
Hey - did you know you could get a free ‘Founder Series’ Tesla if you referred 10 friends?
Hey - did you read those webcomics about Tesla?
Tesla still maintains a referral program, offering top advocates a VIP invite to attend a future unveiling ceremony. But the original version of Tesla’s referral program was an excellent example of how Tesla leveraged on social sharing and hype to drive interest:
For every referral, both the advocate and customer received a $1,000 discount on their purchase. Not bad, only about 1% off the price of the cheapest Model S in 2015.
At 5 referrals, the advocate would receive an invite to the opening of the Gigafactory. The exclusive experience would be incredibly impressive to anyone, let alone a fan of Tesla.
At 10 referrals, the advocate instead got the opportunity to purchase a Model X Founder Series, not available to the public. This would be enough to send fans of Tesla wild, and make anyone else envious.
To stoke the flames, the first advocate to 10 referrals would get their Founder Series for free.
If a brand boasts about itself, you would be right to be wary. But if there is palpable excitement from customers, the media, and fans - that’s buzz and social validation right there.
Tesla Motors has no advertising, no ad agency, no CMO, no dealer network. And that’s no problem. – AdvertisingAge
Key takeaway: Excite your customers about your products. Then step back, and let them do their marketing for you.
Lululemon: Building a Community that Encourages each other
Some restaurants and hotels set out to feel like home, to help the customer develop a connection with the venue.
But what about retail stores? Can you really feel affection for a place where you buy a pair of shorts -- literally a transactional relationship?
But what if you went there every Thursday after work, with all your friends, to take a yoga class?
Lululemon stores aren’t just stores - they turn into yoga studios, running clinics, meditation workshops, and even a classroom for photography after hours. It meshes perfectly with the brand’s focus on wellness and health, and of course you can wear your cute Lululemon leggings during the class. The retail staff even dress in activewear, like they’re headed to a gym class.
By creating this environment and sense of togetherness, Lululemon turns customers into members of a community that shares an interest in health and trendy activewear apparel. You’re not just here to make a transaction; you’re part of the in-group now.
“It’s really about being a fitness and conversation hub,” explained then-CEO Christine Day.
Over time, as you invest more deeply in your connection with the brand you’ll keep walking back into the store (win), telling people where you’re going for class (win) and even bring new friends into the store (win!).
Key takeaway: If you sell a product; you make a purchase once. If you sell a subscription, you can cancel it. But if you sell an emotion, a feeling, a story, the connection goes beyond and lasts longer.
GoldieBlox: Bringing Customers into your Narrative
Debbie Sterling was an engineer at Stanford when she realised she was one of only two women in her class. She discovered that girls as young as 8 began to lose interest in science and math.
The answer was not pink Legos; in fact, Legos was part of the problem:A seven-year-old girl wrote to Lego about how the gender disparity; not only were barely any ‘Lego girls’, but the ‘boy people’ went on adventures while the girls mostly sat at home.
So, Sterling started GoldieBlox: a brand of construction toys for girls.
Everything about the brand speaks to the Sterling’s original aspiration:
- The GoldieBlox blog offers craft tutorials for kids to build their own toys
- The About page talks about inspiring confidence through making
- Their referral program describes it as ‘giving girls the gift of building’
A pretty cool DIY toy - from the Goldieblox Blog
When a customer shops at GoldieBlox, they aren’t just buying toys; they buy into Goldieblox’s vision, and become part of the narrative of helping girls develop an interest in math and engineering. The narrative combines a personal story (Sterling), something we all see value in and something we can all agree with (more engineers, smarter children).
Key takeaway: With a compelling brand story and message, every aspect of your website/company becomes an opportunity for a customer story.
Customer Experience is about more than just support discussions or live chat. Every aspect of the product, from the branding, the offline store experience and even the content shared with the community can contribute as well.
What would get your customers talking?
Darren works on Growth at ReferralCandy, writing about digital marketing, eCommerce and strategy.
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