Word of Mouth Epidemic

Published in: Ladue News
Author: Benjamin Ola. Akande

This being the information age, I think we sometimes forget the importance of personal communication. In 1990, just after Lexus introduced its luxury cars in the United States, the company realized two minor problems with the LS400 would require a recall. Lexus had decided from the beginning to build its reputation around quality workmanship and reliability, and now, a little more than a year into the brand's launch, the company was being forced to admit problems.

Most recalls are handled in a public announcement via TV, radio, letters to owners, fax or in publications. Lexus wisely decided to convey its message about the recall in the most personal and direct manner. So the company called each owner on the telephone the day the recall was announced. When owners picked up their cars at dealerships after the repair work was completed, each car had been washed and the tank filled with gas. If an owner lived more than 100 miles from a dealership, the dealer sent a mechanic to the owner's home; in one instance, a technician flew from Los Angeles to Anchorage to make the repairs!

Needless to say, the company emerged from what could have been a disaster with a reputation for outstanding customer service that continues to this day. One automotive publication later called it "the perfect recall." By going the extra mile in a personal way, Lexus successfully kick-started a 'word-of-mouth epidemic' about the quality of its customer service–something that would not have happened had the recall been conducted through letter, fax or media broadcast.

This is a story about the value of communication. The effectiveness of our message can depend more on how the message is delivered than the message itself–and that includes our dealings with colleagues, business partners and clients. Do you take the easy, least resistant way to communicate your message? Have you become addicted to e-mail, more comfortable sending those impersonal sound bytes than meeting face-to-face? Do you prefer to leave a message on the voice mail rather than engage in a telephone conversation? Are you eager to draft memoranda to colleagues outlining an idea and/or concept and shy away from calling a meeting or walking down the hallway for a brief discussion? Beware.

We live in a world of instantaneous information where we demand immediate response(s) to all our questions. We find a way to get what we need, when we need it. But all this immediacy comes with a steep price. We have dehumanized the value of looking someone in the eye, observing their body language, and assessing a positive or negative reaction to our message. Remember: There is no replacement for that. Gone are the days when we rely on the variation in a person's voice for an indication of how they respond to our ideas, comments, observations. Today we have literally to read between the lines, to guess what the words truly mean, hoping against hope that the written word is accurate.

How are you communicating your message? That is something everyone, from friends to business associates, should ask themselves. And is that communication the most effective way to convey your message?