Which do you trust more – a brand and its advertising or the opinion of your friends?
Unless you hang round particularly unsavoury types then I’m guessing you answered your friends.
When you buy a product on Amazon do you check the reviews before you buy?
If you’re like me, you do. Why? Social proof. When in doubt, you’re not going to blindly believe in the spiel from the company trying to part you from your cash, you want to see what other people – like you – have to say about their purchase.
So you trust your immediate peers the most but you’d trust a stranger ‘like you’ before you trust a company. That says a lot. People are sceptical of the promises and intentions of companies. Of course businesses are going to say their product is the best in its class. You’ll rarely see a company admit their competitor does it better.
So if your potential customers don’t really trust you and would rather listen to other people like themselves, shouldn’t you be spending a little more time, effort and budget developing advocates amongst your existing customers so they can do the selling for you?
Or to put it another way, which do you think is the strongest lead – the cold call between two faceless strangers or an existing customer raving about your product to a friend or colleague?
There are two approaches to creating advocates and they’re not mutually exclusive from one another.
A great customer experience will create more advocates for your brand than you can shake a stick at. If they love your product or service you won’t have to persuade or incentivise them, they’ll talk freely about your brand.
How do you do that? Listen to them. Discover where the friction comes when buying from you and your competitors. Take a long hard look at what you’re selling. Dissect it, make it better.
Want an easy win? Speak to your Customer Service team and ask for a list of the Top 10 most frequent complaints from customers. You’d be surprised how small and trivial some of them will seem to you. To your customer though, it could be the difference between a poor, average or great experience. Fix them.
You don’t have to just rely on people recommending you out of the goodness of their own heart, you can give them an encouraging nudge through incentives.
It’s important to get the incentive right for it to be effective. A few years ago you couldn’t traverse the Retail district of the Web without being swamped with money-off vouchers for cases of Virgin Wines. From my perspective, the incentive failed on three fronts:
- lack of relevance – none of my activity was at all related to wine (and therefore my interests)
- lack of exclusivity – the offer was everywhere, I didn’t feel special
- lack of an actual incentive – I had to spend more money before I even got my incentive (a discount)
Give them something they actually need. Invariably that means more of the product they’re already buying from you or a taste of the one that is just out of their price range or budget. For instance, if you’ve a service based product, with a customer on a 12 month contract, give them a free month if they refer a company that signs a contract of specific minimum value.
You need to do the maths obviously. What is the cost you’re giving up versus your cost to acquire a new customer?
As we’re talking peer-to-peer recommendation, you might want to give some thought to rewarding both sides of the transaction. The Referrer gets a Thank You, the Prospect gets an introductory offer. You get two customers with smiles on their faces.
An example of this done well is LOVEFiLM, the (now Amazon-owned) film rental company. As an existing customer I can earn prizes ranging from a £20 credit on my account through to a Sony Blu-Ray Player for recommending new customers to the service. As the new customer you’ll get a free trial of the service for a specified period (ranging from 2 weeks to 3 months depending on the promotion).
It’s worth considering however, that a customer is still unlikely to recommend a shoddy product to a peer just to get an incentive. It would damage the trust within the relationship. So don’t focus only on this area at the expense of providing a great product and customer service.
Trust can take a long time to develop, especially for a brand. You can earn that by consistently delivering on your promise to answer your customers need. The good news is that you don’t have to do it alone. The time invested with your existing customers will pay off as they become an extension of your salesforce. If you can get it to snowball, customers delivering customers delivering customers, you’re going to look pretty smart making the change. Trust me.