Learn to make customers really, really happy. It doesn’t take much more than that.
(Andy Sernovitz, author of Word of Mouth Marketing)
When someone recommends a business, not only are they putting the business’ reputation on the line, they’re putting their own reputation on the line, as well. Telling your neighbor about the great carpet cleaning service you used or referring someone to the person who cuts your hair puts your own credibility at risk. If your friend doesn’t also have a great experience with the business, it can be embarrassing.
The point is people don’t take lightly the responsibility that goes along with making a recommendation. That’s one of the things that makes word-of-mouth advertising so valuable. People refer others to businesses that have met or exceeded their expectations, and they have no incentive to do so other than helping a friend have a similarly positive experience. They do not expect payment or a reward. They simply want to pass on valuable information.
Harnessing the power of word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM) is essential for any business. According to QuickBooks, “The number one reason people pick one product over another — or even pick up a product in the first place — is due to recommendations from people they know. In other words, through word of mouth.”
So, how does a business leverage the power of WOMM?
As Scott Cook, founder of Intuit, has said, “You can’t buy it. There are no tricks, but there is a challenge: You have to be really great at delighting customers.” They’re the only ones who are likely to make a point of telling their friends about your business. If you merely meet their expectations — in other words, you provide them the service or product they wanted at the price they expected to pay, and nothing more — they may not be inclined to refer their friends.
So, first and foremost, you have to be great. Give your customers more than they expect. As the late Stephen R. Covey said, “Begin with the end in mind.” To get that four-star review, you have to provide a four-star product, service, or experience.
Second, as cliche as it sounds, you have to provide great customer service. It doesn’t matter how loyal a customer is, if you keep her on the phone for an hour and either don’t resolve her problem, act as if you are doing her a favor by solving her problem, or lecture her on why she shouldn’t consider it a problem in the first place, you can be sure that she is not a customer who will recommend you to her neighbors. So, be generous. Your business is not going to go under because you replace a product or redo a service for an unhappy customer. On the contrary, there’s a good chance that being generous could earn you two or three new customers because the customer whose issue you resolved will be excited to tell her friends about her experience.
Next, make it personal. Customers don’t want to feel like a number on a ledger. Make phone calls or send personal notes — handwritten, if possible — to thank customers for their business and their loyalty, to make sure they are happy with your work and ask if there’s anything more you can do for them.
Finally, don’t be shy about asking for referrals. Recently, Fresh Level Productions sent out a newsletter asking customers to provide us with the names of other companies that would be a good fit. Within an hour after publishing the newsletter, we had already gotten six referrals. Ask customers to give you a good review, and provide a link to make it easy for them.
Word-of-mouth is essential for any business, but the good news is that it’s something any business can do, no matter how small or what industry they’re in.