Every once in a while, during an otherwise ordinary conversation, something that really makes you think will be said. That’s what happened to me this morning during a conversation with one of our West Coast customers. We were chatting a bit after he placed his order and he told me he was amazingly busy, pretty much running to capacity. Then he told me that the only advertising he has or does is word of mouth. Satisfied customers tell other potential customers about him, and when those that have received recommendations come to him, he provides such great service and product that they don’t want to go anywhere else. The new customers become satisfied customers and, in their turn, tell other people about him and his business. The cycle just keeps rolling on and on.
What got me thinking is the fact that most business owners would probably kill to have achieved that sort of customer recognition. For many business owners, word of mouth is the holy grail of ways to bring in business. On the surface, it doesn’t cost anything. There are no magazine ads to design, no flyers to print, no product displays to create and hang on the wall. Word of mouth does not require worrying about hits on a website, or landing pages for banner ads or maintaining social media accounts. All you have to do to generate word of mouth advertising is to provide a product and service that is so inspiring that your customers are compelled to talk about your business. It’s that simple. Really, what could be easier?
Sadly, pretty much anything.
Like the marketing and social media “gurus” who say they can make your video “go viral”, there are those out there who will sell you a lot of tips and tricks for generating “buzz” or taking your company “viral”. It’s tempting to think there is an easy way to generate positive word of mouth, but that isn’t really the case. If you want people to talk about your company for the right reasons, you have to do a lot of things right. Generating positive word of mouth is an ongoing process, one that may take years to provide full benefit, and it can easily be destroyed by the surly counter person who provides a customer with a bad experience, or the production employee who doesn’t pay attention one day when creating embroidered polos.
If you’re looking to generate word of mouth for your business, the first fact with which you need to make peace is the fact that you can’t force anyone to talk about you. People generally talk about something for one of two reasons, either they’re amazed and astonished by the experience they just had or something about the experience has made them annoyed and angry. Obviously, most business owners are shooting for amazed and astonished, but many often miss and score a bullseye in angry and annoyed. You don’t want people talking about you for the wrong reasons, so one of the first things you need to do if you want to generate positive word of mouth is to make sure your customer service and production processes are as good as they can possibly be.
Another thing to keep in mind when working to generate word of mouth for your business is the fact that you can’t force people to talk about you positively, but you can ask them to do so. It might be as simple as a sentence on the end of an invoice “If you like our work, please tell your friends”. You could simply ask current customers for referrals to new customers, which can be as easy as saying “Do you know anyone who could use our services?”. You might also consider offering a discount or a rebate to those who recommend you to others. If you are already providing an experience that amazes and delights, there’s nothing wrong with asking people to talk about it. Just be very sure that they are amazed and delighted before making your request.
Finally, you need to remember that generating positive word of mouth is a marathon, not a sprint. It isn’t about providing great product and a stellar experience one time, it’s about providing great product and a stellar experience time and time again. Yes, one good experience may make a customer talk about your positively, but a consistent string of positive experiences will generate the kind of recommendations and buzz that will keep your shop humming for years.