Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, that's creativity.

When I was first tasked with investigating the world of customer references, I thought all my horses had come in at once.

Here was a really simple concept - Mavis enjoys a fantastic week’s holiday in the Greek Isles. Six months later a friend is looking for a new holiday destination – does she ask the travel agent to recommend somewhere? Maybe, but she would take their advice with a pinch of salt because they are blatantly biased and desperately keen to sell that bum trip to a goat colony in Outer Mongolia. So instead she turns to a trusted advisor – her friend and colleague Mavis.

Mavis has no reason to lie about her travel experience, no reason to say something was great when it wasn’t, and having had an extraordinary time on her holiday she is actually keen to share the experience with her friend - influencing her buying decision by proxy. Easy.

But that’s just one person recommending one holiday to one other person, increasing the travel agent’s bottom line by one measly holiday - what real impact does this have on business? Multiply this conversation by 1,000, 10,000 or 50,000, and your travel agent is laughing all the way to the bank.

Over the last ten years all manner of businesses have started to aggressively harness the concept of word of mouth referencing through formal strategies, and guess what? It’s working.

The figures are staggering. More and more companies are proving that customer endorsements are influencing the success of millions of pounds/dollars/Mongolian tögrög worth of new business every day, and with more businesses jumping on the customer reference treadmill, the competition is getting fiercer by the day.

I was right about one thing - the concept of a customer reference is easy. The reality of businesses gaining critical proof-points and endorsements from customers and supporting them with metrics that tie into a company’s growth and financial goals is a different story altogether…

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