Viral Campaigning or Viral Complaining?


Last week on the Big Biz Radio Show, where I am a frequent “personality”(that’s what they like to call me), we talked about how easy it can be to get customer service wrong, with the results sometimes splattered all over the Internet.  That got us to talking about viral campaigning vs. viral complaining.  Here is what that could look like:


In Viral Campaigning… customers tell their friends and family how great your company is.

In Viral Complaining… customers tell anyone who will listen how much they dislike your company.

In Viral Campaigning… loyal customers are turned into raving fans.

In Viral Complaining… loyal customers are turned into frustrated screamers.

Viral Campaigning… spreads slowly, but surely, over time.

Viral Complaining… spreads like wildfire.

Success Factors

Which type of customers your company will have depends on several factors.  The following are the top tips for building “viral campaigners”:

  • Foster a strong sense of community among customers.  Social media is a great tool for helping this to happen quickly.  Be sure to go to where your customers are already hanging out online; if they don’t have a good virtual meeting spot, invite them to your “house”!
  • Put together a proactive customer strategy.  Understanding customer needs and differences will help you figure out how to treat them based on their own preferences.  This can be a key competitive differentiator when done well.
  • Meet and exceed customer expectations.  This doesn’t mean “do everything the customers says”.  It does mean understand what customers expect and do all you can to exceed those expectations.  In order to accomplish this, it is important to properly set expectations up front, empower employees to do what’s right, and measure employees based on customer expectations.

A company that has been doing a great job of creating viral campaigners is Zappos.com.  The CEO of Zappos.com, Tony Hsieh (twitter.com/zappos), has been personally using Twitter and blogging (along with many of his employees) to build stronger customer relationships.  His customers regularly evangelize Zappos.com to others; you can see many of their testimonials, as well as their ratings and reviews, on the Zappos.com website.  They are indeed raving fans!

Taming Complainers

What can you do when viral complaining happens?  The first few company reactions to the complaints can stop the negative words from spreading further.  Here are a few tips:

  • Act swiftly.  Don’t let things simmer for too long!  It is important to try and contact the complainer directly or, if that is not possible, respond in the forum where the complaining started.
  • Be honest and sincere.  Acknowledge what happened, don’t be condescending, and show your human side as much as possible.  Customers are more understanding when they are dealing with other people rather than corporations.
  • Keep your ears open for further concerns.  Best thing to do is always to be listening to your customers; this way, you will be able to keep track of the “temperature” of customer sentiments.

A company that is working hard to do tame the complainers is Comcast.  Frank Eliason (twitter.com/comcastcares) is in charge of customer care and told me he has been successfully turning around the complainers into customers who care not only for him but for each other.  He has had them answer each other’s questions when personal matters have called him away from his duties.  He also takes time to listen to the ‘net.  For example, whenever someone complains about Comcast on Twitter, Frank responds with “How can I help?”

Come hear more at BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas

You can have both Tony and Frank answer your questions about building customer loyalty at my BlogWorld panel in Las Vegas next month.  Other panelists will include Toby Bloomberg and Brian Solis who are also experts in what companies are doing with social media and customer loyalty, especially in customer service.  Readers who register by September 1 can save 20% by using my special Customers Rock! discount code: BCYV1PLL (case sensitive).  If you can’t make it to BlogWorld, be sure to leave your questions in the comments or contact me via email or Twitter (twitter.com/bcarroll7), and I will be sure to ask them for you!

Register here for BlogWorldExpo 2008.

(photo credit: Hallgerd)

10 Responses

  1. On a recent Southwest Airlines flight, the flight attendant announced as we touched down, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re arriving fifteen minutes early today. Please tell your friends; we know you would tell them if we were late.”

  2. Becky Carroll

    Jody, this is a great example of the difference between positive word of mouth (WOM) and negative WOM. We are much more likely to share bad experiences (I get stories sent to me all the time for inclusion on Customers Rock!, which I don’t usually post) than great ones. Expectations certainly play into it. Great stories (the kind I like to share on this blog) are usually spread when they evoke a WOW response. Otherwise, we say “Hey, I got in 15 minutes early; cool!”

    Good for Southwest for encouraging customers to share the positive. Sometimes, all it takes is a nudge. :)

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