As product managers, it is our job to make sure that our products meet the needs of our customers. As part of our product development definition we spend a lot of time trying to find ways to get the message about our product out to our customers: we run ads, we attend tradeshows, and we create a great deal of collateral. However, it turns out that the most powerful form of communicating about our products is out of our hands: it’s word of mouth.
Why Is Word Of Mouth So Powerful?
Television commercials, magazine ads, direct mail, trade shows – there always seems to be a countless number of ways that product managers can use to reach their customers. However, there is nothing more powerful than that word of mouth communication. The studies have shown over and over again that a happy customer will tell three of their friends about their experience with your product. However, an unhappy customer will tell 10 of their friends about their experience with your product.
The reason that word of mouth communication is so powerful is because of who it is coming from. All of those other forms of communication with your customer are coming from you – and your customer doesn’t know you. What their friends and associates tell them is much more valuable. In fact, studies have shown that what your customers hear via word of mouth may cause them to discard anything else that they hear about your product from other channels.
The power of word of mouth communication is nothing new for product managers. We’ve know about this for quite some time. That’s why you’ll see things like testimonials and letters from customers splashed throughout our advertising material. We are desperately trying to overcome any sort of trust barrier that exists between us and our customers. This is the kind of skill that you’ll see documented on every product manager resume.
The Role Of Social Networks In Word Of Mouth Communication
Recently, the world of word of mouth communication has been turned upside down. The arrival of online social media tools has caused your customers to experience an explosion of word of mouth inputs. Customers can now post stories about their experiences with your products on web sites, on blogs, in Facebook and via Twitter. What this means for you product manager is that more and more people are going to have a chance to read about the experiences of your existing customers.
Product managers need to realize that the arrival of social networking means that our customer’s voices are going to be amplified. It has become so easy to jump online after using a product and immediately share your thoughts that our customers are doing exactly that.
Product managers need to get ahead of this wave of word of mouth discussion about our products and do our best to try to shape the way that the discussion is going. There are three effective ways to go about doing this:
- Monitor the social media channels in order to detect when customers start to talk about our products. When positive comments are made, we need to share them and make sure that the word gets out to a larger social media audience.
- Some customers will have negative things to say about our product. When this happens, we need to address it right off the bat. If the comment is valid, then admit what you’ve done wrong and tell the world how you plan on fixing it. If the customer is wrong, explain what they did wrong and offer to help them to make it right.
- In the absence of any communication from us, our customers will make up their own stories. That’s why it’s so important that product managers provide their customers with regular updates on their product. However, this cannot be done in a “sales” way – you need to work to develop a real relationship with your customers based on trust and value.
What All Of This Means For You
The one thing that all product managers really want is for our customers to both know about our product and to like it. This is a basic part of our product manager job description. It turns out that all of the publicity and marketing that we engage in can help this to happen, but it’s nothing in comparison to the most powerful form of customer communication. What really matters is word of mouth about our product – what are our customers saying about us?
We are now living in the era of social media which only serves to boost the power of word of mouth communication. It used to be an effort for our customers to tell others what their experience with our product was, now it’s easy and something that they can do as part of their daily social media updates. This means that product managers need to monitor social media to detect when their products are being talked about. Different actions need to be taken based on positive and negative comments.
The great thing about word of mouth is that you can’t beat the price – it’s free! However, it is so powerful that you can never hope to control it. Instead, as product managers we need to find ways to steer the word of mouth discussions about our product in the directions that we want it to go.
Question For You: When people start talking bad about your product, what is the very first thing that you should do?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
Just when everything is going your way as a product manager, that’s exactly when something always seems to go wrong. One of the most common things that can happen is a new competitor shows up. Customers that you thought were a “sure thing”, now want to take a little bit more time to check out what new guy is offering. Your product and its product development definition are under attack. What is a product manager to do?