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Word of Mouth (WOM)-Little Things Return A Lot

10/13/2009

A classic MBA-style question ran through my head recently while a hair stylist rocked to the buzz of the lavish blow dry he was performing on my seriously gelled locks:

  • Do you play by the rules and lose the customer (Negative ROI)?

  • Or,
  • Do you bend the rules and retain the customer’s loyalty (Positive WOM)?

The experience re-taught me the lesson of building brand and customer loyalty one gesture at a time. Here’s how the buzz and word of mouth played out.

One of the sweet treats of NYC culture is serving as a hair model at leading salons. You come with your locks while a new stylist comes with scissors and product. They learn a new skill and you get a new do. The salon gets positive buzz (unpaid advertising) and loyal customers and interested shoppers.

Well, this time I was in a bit of a bind. I had two years’ worth of locks that I wanted to donate to Locks of Love. Several days prior, I called and confirmed my intention. I needed the bottom 10 inches while they could cut, curl, gel and style the rest. The day came and confusion arose as I slipped into the fateful seat. Making hair donations, I learned, was not part of the hair-model training event. Both the salon owner and the stylist assured me that they had donated their own hair and helped clients to make similar donations. In this case, the stylist was very happy to trim and do a short bob. The owner, however, was a bit weak and took a time out.

Then magic happened. The owner came back and agreed. My locks got sheared (what I cared about most, really) while the stylist got to perform his magic and learn. There was winning for all.

Positive word of mouth was part of the plan. In this case, the buzz was returned times two. Friends readjust to my “short” look and then ask, “Where’d you get your hair done?” And I’m more than happy to tell them where and add some positive buzz about the salon’s unique selling point of serving women with curly hair.

A post in USATODAY.com reminded me of the visit and the wisdom of the owner. The post, Ask an Expert: Entrepreneurs, know when to bend your rules refers to the  critical juncture every customer care expert faces.

When in doubt, I’m always reminded of Marshal Field’s classic quote:

Give the lady what she wants!
Marshall Field

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