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If managers haven’t intentionally developed a culture of respect, they may well be doing the business a huge disservice
If managers haven’t intentionally developed a culture of respect, they may well be doing the business a huge disservice

Word-of-mouth isn’t what it used to be

In an ever-evolving retail landscape, businesses need to re-think how their reputations are formed. SUE COCKBURN discusses why word-of-mouth promotion is changing and the importance for retailers to adapt.

A business’ reputation is far more fragile and easy to influence than some people might think.

In this digital age, word-of-mouth advertising doesn’t just involve customers.

Most business owners and managers already know what people say about their businesses, their staff, their products and their services.

Likewise, they know that spending money on marketing services or products that have a bad reputation with consumers, and not doing anything about it, is similar to burning money.

By marketing poor products without putting any effort into improving them, businesses only remind consumers of what they disliked in the first place and why they don’t like dealing with that business.

Additionally, business owners and managers who think it’s only their customers and prospective customers who matter need to think again. Reputational damage is easy to do and difficult to repair.

Culture of respect

Sales staff make split-second daily decisions about how they will speak to people who enter their stores, call in or email them. That decision can have a profoundly good or bad impact on your business.

If managers haven’t intentionally developed a culture of respect for all people involved with the business, they may well be doing the operation a huge disservice.

That person who managers dismiss, treat curtly or ignore on the basis that he is ‘just’ a salesperson, cold-caller, cleaner, courier or other menial service provider may not be someone who will ever buy product but is still someone who has tremendous power to influence others. Don’t be fooled by their role in the business food chain.

Power to influence

Nielsen’s 2013 Under the Influence: Consumer Trust in Advertising report, which is based on findings from an online global survey across 58 countries, showed that the mode of advertising with most impact is “recommendations from people I know”.

According to the report, 84 per cent of those surveyed identified this as the most influential form of advertising.
The next closest category was “branded websites” at 69 per cent and “consumer opinions posted online” at 68 per cent.

That’s a 15-point spread between first and second place! This huge gap shows just how important it is to obtain these “recommendations from people I know”.

What does this have to do with the way staff treat people with whom they’ll probably never do business?

The short answer is plenty.

People don’t have to be customers to spread good or bad news about businesses, and when anyone is treated disrespectfully, ignored, spoken to harshly, treated as inconsequential or otherwise dismissed, they can develop an opinion about not only the individual but also the business and brand.

As a result, they are likely to speak about the business in less than flattering ways.

They may not go to the extreme of saying that “the staff ignore me” but they may make comments along the lines of “Oh, the people in that store are so rude,” or “Every time they phone to re-order stationery, they’re very demanding.”

How staff treat people, whether they are business customers or not, may seem unimportant but it is in fact more important than ever.

This is particularly true now in the digital age where the voices of disgruntled customers and associates – be they friends, relatives or even someone who refuses to purchase from the business because “it’s reputation precedes it” – can travel much farther than ever before.

Customers aren't the only ones

At the risk of getting repetitious, it can’t be emphasised enough that it’s not only how staff treat existing and potential customers but how they treat everyone that is important.

This doesn’t mean staff are required to enter into long conversations with every person who walks through the door or contacts the business; however, it should mean treating anyone who phones, emails or visits respectfully and with dignity.

After all, who knows? It may just result in them saying nice things instead of not so nice things.

It’s a classic tale popularised by the film Pretty Woman.

Most will be familiar with the prospective customer who is poorly presented and dressed inappropriately entering a business only to receive rude treatment at the hands of judgmental staff who later realise the prospect was worth considerably more money than her attire suggested.

Staff who remember to be thankful and always strive to treat clients with respect regardless of who the customer is or what they may look like are sure to benefit.

Take this as another example: many years ago when I worked at a bank, a new customer came into the branch dressed rather sloppily.

I don’t recall the situation in its entirety but what I do remember is being very thankful that I treated this person with respect – something I’ve always strived to do in business, irrespective of the traits of that particular customer.

In this situation, it was discovered the customer, who didn’t look very wealthy, was actually a millionaire – the equivalent of a billionaire today.

If I had treated him poorly because of the way he was dressed I’m sure he would have walked out of the door, never to be seen again. He didn’t and I’m fairly certain this was largely because the staff didn’t judge him by his appearance.

We treated him with the same respect that every customer was given ... and after it was discovered who he was, we probably jumped through a few other hoops for him too!

This type of consistent, respectful service is even more important in today’s digital world where word-of-mouth advertising isn’t simply one friend talking to another in person or by phone but one person sharing views with thousands – even millions – of people online.

The power of opinion

When people hear negative comments from others about a business, whether it’s first-hand, second-hand or third-hand, it may cause them to think twice before they call or decide to not call at all.

This is especially likely if there are other competitors vying for their business.

Everyone can think of people and businesses they would be unlikely to refer, might say a negative comment about or offer a word of caution to friends and family who are considering dealing with that person or business.

Mostly, this is due to a poor personal experience but sometimes it’s due to hearing about the poor experiences that others have had.

Even I’ve had a few customers over the years – very few, thankfully – who I would never recommend to a client or anyone else for that matter.

It’s not that the product or service they sell isn’t good but, having worked with them and experienced the way they deal with people first-hand, I wouldn’t have the confidence to refer business their way.

The reverse of this is also true. Businesses that hire the right people, provide the right training and foster and model a culture where all people are respected and valued will generate an extra level of word-of-mouth advertising unavailable to businesses that don’t.

Not only will their customers say nice things about them but so will all those who interact with them, no matter what their position or potential value to the business.

Over time, this feedback has the potential to create extra buzz that will help build the business.

Hiring, training and culture

The people businesses hire; the training they provide; the values they encourage and instil – all of this fosters a culture that builds a reputation that either helps or hinders businesses.

A company’s reputation is not only in the hands of its customers. It’s also in the hands of every person with whom that company’s staff interact or engage.

Businesses cannot afford for poor judgment from staff to influence how people are treated ... even if staff turn out to be right.

Can anyone really risk taking that chance?

Certainly, for anyone hoping to build a profitable and well-regarded business, the answer is no!











ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sue Cockburn

Contributor • Growing Social Biz


Sue Cockburn is founder of Growing Social Biz, a website and social media services provider for micro and small businesses. Visit: growingsocialbiz.com

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