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I have long been trying to push the idea for many of our clients to proactively encourage reviews, feedback and advocacy following a customer's experience with their brand. Word of mouth (WOM) recommendations and peer reviews add value to a prospective customer's journey and drive real business results. When done right, there is little else as powerful to marketers as a rich, ongoing stream of positive customer reviews and feedback. Many studies and data prove the point. And conversely, there is potentially a huge stream of lost economic gain in not taking advantage of the opportunity. I use the personal example of the four amazing experiences that my family has had in the maternity ward at Danbury Hospital. Given a little prodding at the right time, we would have shouted our satisfaction from the rooftop, yet we have had limited opportunity to convey our delight...either privately or publicly. Multiply this by the many positive outcomes that occur there daily and all of the people that could have been influenced by this exposure and the consequences of this missed opportunity add up fast. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I just encountered what was perhaps the advocacy experience of my dreams. Enter an unlikely subject...the new JOOLA ping pong table that I purchased on Amazon due to all of its great reviews.

JOOLA table

This is a smaller, mid-sized, table so the reviews, and there were a LOT of them, were very important in influencing my purchase decision.

Joola Card InsertOnce the table arrive, I found packed with it what is likely the source of many reviews. Enclosed was a simple offer to submit a review in return for a free box of ping pong balls. It wasn’t just the catchy/prominent "FREE BALLS" offer that grabbed my attention – although I think it is a very simple, compelling and contextually relevant idea for someone who just bought a ping pong table. What equally grabbed me was the obvious attention they are paying to their customer's journey on the other side of the 5x7 card.

JOOLA proactively offers help, advice, ideas and educational content to get you started on the right foot. This is some great utility marketing along with the free ping pong balls. Especially compared to the illegible and dreaded instruction manual that is usually the lead horse coming out of a box like this. This was a delighter to me from both an offer standpoint and a content standpoint.Joola Card Insert

Hopefully this will illuminate ways that you can pursue word of mouth advocacy. WOM is just as or even more powerful than just about any other form of marketing. A glowing review is probably worth thousands of this case...all for the cost of a box of ping pong balls and a 5x7 card. Another great example of providing tangible value to the consumer in exchange for their feedback comes from grooming products retailer Birchbox. For each product reviewed by a customer, they receive reward points that help them earn free products.BirchboxWhen I think of clients that I work with, particularly hospitals, higher ed institutions, and even financial services organizations...there are many ways to think creatively and add real value and utility to the customer in exchange for their feedback. For a maternity patient, it could be offering a Baby’s R Us gift card, for a health insurance member it could be free access to a health app or wearable, or for a college student, it could be a coupon to the bookstore. The intent is not to coerce reviews or change sentiment, but to provide incentive and means for the customer to take action while their experience is top of mind. At worst, this will give you invaluable feedback to improve your customer experience. At best it can accelerate leads and sales. Yet, many organizations are afraid to dip their toes in the water. The areas of hesitancy I hear regularly fall into these buckets: "I am not sure how we can get people to do this." "I am afraid of negative feedback." "I am too busy (with paid media or other marketing initiatives) to think about this." "I don't want to be pushy, overbearing or disingenuous." Our organization is making strides in this area, but still have some room for improvement. We have a 95%+ customer retention rate and Net Promoter Score north of 9, yet are still evolving our own processes related to reviews and feedback. The good news, though, is we will be taking this on in 2015 with our own 'call to advocacy'. In parallel, I ask you to consider your own 'call to advocacy' for your organization. If you would like help brainstorming or discussing the possibilities of an advocacy program, please reach out…we would love to talk!