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August 31, 2006

Engaging Your Customers Results in Great Word of Mouth Marketing

By Li Evans

I came across a great example of Word of Mouth (WOM) marketing yesterday, one that made me pause and think about how internet retailers could replicate the same type of great customer relations with their customers and even visitors to their sites. Jackie Huba at Church of the Customer Blog, wrote about her great experience last year with J.Crew and again, this year with a surprise “touch back” from the same sales representative “Natalie”. 

Internet retailers are at a disadvantage when it comes to this kind of personal touch. Compared to the brick and motor stores that offer that personal one on one experience where sales representatives can make or break the customer’s experience, an internet retailer is a faceless, almost impersonal shopping experience. There are advantages and disadvantages to this, I’m sure that each can be debated, but the point I’m trying to make is that it’s the personal and genuine “reach” to the customer is what can keep them coming back as a customer. 

So what’s an online retailer to do to make that kind of connection and create that customer evanglist? When you don’t know Customer #55789 from Customer #98765, how do you reach out and know exactly what it is that made them purchase your products or come to your site? Unless you actively engage the customer or visitor, you don’t. That’s where so many internet retailers go wrong. 

By allowing the customer or visitor to engage with the internet retailer, you are creating a relationship that can blossom into a repeat buyer and great word of mouth marketing. Having someone or a team dedicated to monitoring this type of engagement is also vital in creating relationships like J.Crew has within their retail stores. It’s all part of monitoring your “buzz” and capitalizing on it. 

There are many ways of engaging the customer online with your store. Feedback forms provide a great way to establish a one on one connection with a customer. Given the opportunity, a unsatisfied customer can be turned into one of your greatest evangelists if you respond to their feedback email by recognizing their issue and responding in positive manner. If your site provides customer reviews on products, your team should be monitoring who are your most active contributors in the product reviews. By just reaching out acknowledging their customer loyalty, you can create a great relationship without meeting them face to face. 

The costs of acquiring new customers are always greater than retaining current customers. Online retailers are at an advantage over the clerk in a retail store, you have a customer’s purchase history at your fingertips. Most retail clerks have to rely on their memory. At 16 or 18 those clerks are trying to remember football plays, friends phone numbers and the reason why Albert Einstein was so important to our history.

The lesson from J. Crew for internet retailers - I you aren’t engaging your visitors and customers in unique and personal ways, you are missing out on a great way to gear up your Word of Mouth Marketing.

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