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Marketing / Customer service

Why word of mouth advertising matters

It’s easy to think of word-of-mouth advertising as being feel-good marketing, but thanks to my contrasting experiences at two international airports, I can report that feel-bad also has its place.

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Upon arrival in one airport, my travel weary family and I were greeted by surly, edgy airport staff who refused to make eye contact with any of us. At the other side of passport control, John-Paul and I (who were in separate queues) both had tales of how rudely we’d been dealt with.

“Why’s it (sic) got a different surname?” the passport officer asked me of my darling daughter, who is but a babe in arms. “Her father and I aren’t married.” I stumbled, feeling ashamed of the fact for the first time. Nowadays, most would agree different last names are a social norm. To the staff of this airport they are a sign that I may be a kidnapper.

Meantime in the other airport, the welcome could not have been more different. “How was your trip? Did (glance at passport) Amy get some sleep?” asked the officer. At baggage control a customs official headed our way and invited us through a fast track lane “You don’t want to be hanging around here any longer than necessary, do you?” After thirty hours of travelling, she was spot on.

"Being even vaguely rude is a big, fat no no in my book."

In case you hadn’t guessed, the winner is Sydney.

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I worked for Tourism New South Wales prior to Sydney 2000, and know how seriously the city took its role as Olympic host. The ‘airport experience’ of visitors was given lots of focus and travellers today are still enjoying the benefits.

You’d think that such a brief bad encounter in London would hardly matter. But it turns out to matter a great deal. Because try as I did to brush off the unfriendly welcome, I found myself recounting the experience to friends and family as my first week unfolded.

And here I am telling another 14,000 people.

At Flying Solo we often talk about the positive benefits of word-of-mouth advertising, but we shouldn’t forget that things can work the other way.

I don’t think soloists need to fall over themselves to be chummy with their customers. But being even vaguely rude is a big, fat no no in my book.

What negative experiences have you come up against recently? Dish the dirt here and we can all learn from them.

Sam Leader

is a former director of Flying Solo and the co-author of Flying Solo - How to go it alone in business.

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