Spread The Word

Good Word

When bad word-of-mouth marketing about your business starts spreading, it can be devastating. If your company is a target of negative word-of-mouth, it's time for emergency measures. These five steps will cork up bad-mouthers quickly:

1. Generate positive word-of-mouth. Good comments are the best way to beat bad comments. Michael Cafferky, author of Let Your Customers Do the Talking (Upstart), says many customer complaints are related to employee behavior. Start your counteractive measures by training or, if necessary, retraining employees in good customer service skills, empowering them to handle problems immediately and communicating customer comments to everyone as quickly and completely as possible.

2. Gather complaints. Many businesspeople dislike dealing with complaints. But complainers are likely to spread negative word-of-mouth. Stop them by gathering and dealing with complaints shortly after the upset occurs. Set up toll-free complaint hotlines, suggestion boxes and customer survey cards; train employees to solicit complaints.

3. Survey opinion leaders. Opinion leaders can stop bad word-of-mouth as quickly as they can start it. Survey them by telephone, mail and in-store interviews to find out what they think of your business. Then, do something to make them like you more: Offer a freebie, give them special service, make them feel important.

4. Keep it simple. Complex explanations of why your business was not at fault sound like rationalizations to angry customers. Keep your fix basic: Admit your mistake, apologize, flatter customers by asking their opinions, and offer a solid fix like a refund or a gift certificate.

5. Plan for trouble. No business is immune to negative word-of-mouth, and forewarned is forearmed. So have plans for emergency public relations campaigns, customer service training, survey efforts and guarantees in place before you need them.

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This article was originally published in the February 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Spread The Word.

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