Does Your Brand Engender Word of Mouth That’s Complimentary or Cutting?

If word of mouth (WOM) is technically a form of marketing, and customer experience is a driver of WOM—positive and negative—then brands that prefer positive WOM should do everything possible to ensure that their customer experience is worth talking about; that is, it’s outstanding, unique, even extraordinary.

Conversely, if a brand’s customer experience is poor or frustratingly inconsistent, it’s likely that customers will criticize the brand to anyone who will listen. Not only is that bad WOM, but it also devalues the brand’s actual marketing investments.

Here, a tale of two customer experiences that have led to WOM—good and bad. Tell me: Which company are you more likely to want to buy from?

Fresh Direct:

It’s no secret that I love this online grocery service. Why? Everything about its customer experience is superlative—from its products to its marketing to its service. Its fish, meat, and produce are excellent. I like to joke that Fresh Direct has mutant produce because everything is huge. I received a bushel of kale last week that was so large I had to cut it to fit it in my fridge.

Its Web experience and mobile app are easy to navigate and use. They feature such data-driven personalization as calling out “Your Fave” from previous purchases and making recommendations not only on likely combinations (would you like milk with that cereal), but also on customers’ purchase patterns.

The personality and messaging on Fresh Direct’s website are consistent with its pithy advertising—everything from subway ads and email communications to the messaging on its trucks and boxes. The company continuously responds to customer input by adding new products, brands, and services.

In fact, the kicker for me, what sets Fresh Direct apart in terms of customer experience, is its responsiveness to customers. Last week, for instance, after placing an order I emailed a suggestion to add a “back to top” button on its site. Within an hour I received a response thanking me for my input, and telling me that while my recommendation might not come to fruition it certainly will be considered. To me, that straightforward approach is an ideal way to handle feedback.

Manzella:

The manufacturer of cold weather gear doesn’t “own” all aspects of its customer experience, so the elements that it does own become that much more important. Product, packaging, and service are among them.

My hands are hyper-sensitive to the cold, so warm gloves are especially important to me.  Every winter I hunt to see if there’s some newer, better gloves than the previous winter. During my search this year I came across Manzella, which cleverly marks its gloves “warm,” “warmer,” and “warmest.” This is an especially useful aspect of its customer experience.

I was thrilled to discover that “warmest” is “for stationary activity levels or extreme conditions.” When I take my dog to the park on winter mornings, she does all the fetching and I do all the standing around freezing. So, I excitedly purchased a pair of “warmest” Manzella gloves—only to have frosty fingers within 30 minutes the following morning. It was disheartening that I had wasted $50 on gloves that weren’t the “warmest,” after all.

So, I email the company. I didn’t ask for or expect a refund or exchange—especially since I purchased the gloves at a retailer. I just wanted to vent my disappointment. I was hoping for a simple response: perhaps an apology, an explanation of what its “warmest” term actually means, and a recommendation for gloves that might meet my needs.

Unlike the ultra-responsive service team at Fresh Direct, the folks at Manzella never replied at all. My feedback went into the stereotypical black hole. Perhaps if Manzella knew that I actually own a box of gloves that I look to restock every year (thus have the potential to be a high-value customer), its team would have replied. But I doubt it. Its customer experience excellence stops at its presentation. Its product didn’t deliver, nor did its service team. And now, not only has it lost a potential future high-value customer (I might actually have purchased a different pair if the company had bothered to reply), but it’s also suffering this negative word of mouth. Is the few cents it saved by not taking the time to reply really worth the opportunity cost? I don’t think so.

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