Andy Sernovitz at Forrester Consumer Forum: Join the Conversation, pssst its not just marketing

by Marianne Richmond on November 6, 2006

I had the opportunity to spend a little time talking to Andy Sernovitz, CEO of WOMMA, following his participation in a panel discussion moderated by Peter Kim with the topic, Word of Mouth Marketing: Have You Heard The Latest? The other panel participants were Sam Decker of Bazaarvoice, Dave Balter, BuzzAgent and Jon Berry, Keller Fay. Chloe Stromberg has a great write up of this panel discussion.

Andy has written a new book called, Word of Mouth Marketing, How Smart Companies Get People Talking. A few weeks earlier I had received a review copy of the book that was packaged along with a bag of popcorn from Dale and Thomas Popcorn. Apparently the popcorn was delicious…my son grabbed it, tossed me the book, and all I actually experienced of that, was the empty bag. In any event, Andy does practice what he writes. He also brought copies of his book for the panel audience.

I asked Andy what he wanted the book to accomplish and he said simply, he wanted to provide an easy to understand guide for people to use to get started in word of mouth marketing. That answer was in keeping with the Forrester Consumer Forum where the question, "How Do You Get Started?" was frequently asked and answered as it related to social computing, social media, and improving customer experience. So many conferences lead you to the place where you want to get started, but stop just short of telling you how.

 Business books seem to come in two flavors: Why you should and How to. Andy’s book starts with the basic concepts of word of mouth, hits the high points of why you should, and then gets right down to building the plan; he ends with sixteen things to start doing right now. He delivers on his goal of providing a quick start guide to word of mouth, with just enough background and concepts to keep you going.

Another really great thing about the book is Chapter 7, Taking Part: How Can You Join The Conversation?

He points out that although word of mouth marketing is marketing, in other words an outbound function; that the conversation is not just marketing. He highlights this "Big Idea: Word of mouth is as much about customer service as it is about marketing." He suggests that the customer service team should monitor the Internet for product and company mentions. He says to view customer service calls as part of THE conversation; I think we might just miss this subtle point when we talk about "joining the conversation" in the context of social media. Whether you or your company blog or not, or whether you are being blogged about, you are involved in "the Conversation" every time a customer service rep or tech support speaks to the customer.

The disconnect between the marketing message whether delivered via word of mouth or via any other manner, that can occur in customer service can stop positive word of mouth and make it negative faster than you can say, press 1 to confirm that you are already upset or you wouldn’t be calling and that you understand you will be waiting for a long time before you are connected to our untrained support team who does not speak English.

As I have mentioned several times, I see Sprint as an example of an organization with a serious disconnect between marketing and customer support through my own personal experiences. This weekend, I had yet another opportunity to experience the monthly pleasure of an incorrect bill. In the course of "the Conversation" I was told that the reason my last 3 bills had enormous charges for overages was that the change to my plan that they had magnanimously made to correct another previous error on their part, did not provide for mobile to mobile minutes.

Of course that part was not presented to me and I never would have agreed to it; after much arguing back and forth and their insistence that I had agreed to it, I asked if the always alluded to "this call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes" option could shed any light on their allegations. Silence followed. I said, why don’t you simply email customers a confirmation list every time changes are "agreed" to with an option for correcting if they are wrong. The answer? Our reps don’t have access to email.

I’m sorry, you will have to call back after the idiots in our state of the art technology department of our "powerful network, powerful value" teleCOMMUINCATIONS company who don’t provide our customer service department with email are replaced by people who think it is important to communicate clearly and get it right the first time….goodbye.

Andy, it is a BIG IDEA. Word of Mouth, its not just about marketing. Or is it ALL about marketing?

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