Long Term Parking and Word of Mouth

Dosh Dosh had an interesting recent posting (click here) on the importance of “surprise” in word of mouth marketing. A positive customer experience is not always enough. Recovery from a bad experience is not always enough. As in war, with word of mouth, what may be required is the element of surprise.
Car Problems in Public Parking

Car Problems in Public Parking

My family and I experienced this firsthand when we returned from a long vacation trip only to find that our Lexus parked in airport long-term parking wouldn’t move when placed in “drive.” Not good–especially with three tired young kids in the back seat uninterested in dad’s exhortation:  “don’t worry.”  I dutifully called Lexus customer care — fully expecting they would send a tow truck and get me a rental car. Surprise–instead, the service rep walked me thru a 5-step process which solved the problem on the spot and we drove away both surprised and delighted. I’ve told this story to many, many people. 

There are several interesting points here.
  • This positive word of mouth example started out as a negative customer experience. Redesigning your customer experience around problem recovery can drive positive word of mouth–sometimes as or more effectively than a positively expected experience. No business is perfect. To err is human. We can all pursue 6-Sigma quality levels in products and processes but things will still go wrong. The key is to understand which problems are important and then design solutions that surprise customers: “I expected a tow truck but was able to drive home instead.”
  • The second interesting point to this story is that most (this posting excepted) of the positive word of mouth it generated was face to face, not on-line. In fact, research continues to show that for almost all categories, most word of mouth, positive or negative, still happens off-line. While there is no doubt that web based social media are becoming increasingly fast and powerfully connected, it’s still true that most word of mouth happens in day to day off line conversations. I didn’t rush out and post something on line about this experience–it happened over a year ago, but this posting was preceded by multiple in-person storytelling episodes.
  • The last point here is that the most valuable word of mouth talk tends to congregate around needs-based themes. People don’t just talk about random surprises associated with brands. They talk about things they care about. Word of mouth tends not to be about your brand positioning or value proposition–otherwise, there would be no surprise. These themes can be researched. Before developing any word of mouth program, we need to try and understand: “what are people already talking about and why?” and importantly, how do we link these themes back to our brand positioning and value proposition ? This seems counterintuitive, but the key is to link word of mouth conversation back to your value proposition in a way that builds the equity of your brand.
Car problems in long term parking–it’s not just a story. It’s a story about the importance in word of mouth of surprise, off-line communications, and important customer themes. All of these are necessary ingredients to get your word of mouth programs working in your favor–and out of long term parking.

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