This is a guest post from Andy Sernovitz — WordofMouth.org and SocialMedia.org CEO and author of “Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Companies Get People Talking.”
Most small businesses will tell you their new customers come through word of mouth, but very few can tell you how those referrals happen or where they come from.
But, it’s not magic and it’s not an accident. Great word of mouth is the result of a planned, well-executed strategy focused on earning raving fans and helping them talk about you.
The good news: It’s easy (and a whole lot of fun) to get started. Here’s how to do it:
1. Just ask
Wait, hold on. Before we go any further, have you done the most obvious, most straightforward, and most effective word of mouth strategy of all? Have you asked your happy customers to tell their friends about you?
Remind them on their way out the door. Add a note to your receipts. Send follow-up emails that include a request for a review. Include simple sharing links on your checkout confirmation pages.
Really, just ask. It’s that simple. Happy customers would be glad to talk about you.
2. Focus on the first-timers
As much as a longtime customer may love you, they’re not as likely to talk as the new one that just walked out the door.
Think about it this way: You may go to a local spot two or three times a week for lunch, but you talk a whole lot more about that exciting new place you tried for dinner last week.
When we’re used to how great something is, what else is there to say?
So, go out of your way to blow the minds of the newbies: Treat them like VIPs, celebrate their arrival, let them taste everything on the menu, give them a tour, and make sure they leave with something that helps them tell friends about the incredible experience they just had.
You only get one chance to meet each new customer. Make sure it’s amazing.
3. …and do something fantastic for the old-timers
While the new folks might be easier to get talking, your loyal customers still represent a huge and worthy word of mouth opportunity.
Give them something great to share — things like a special discount code, beta access to new products, badges and status, a reunion, or a spot on a special advisory board.
Sure, it may take a little more to get this group talking — but their experience and loyalty to you makes their referrals more credible and effective.
4. Always, always ask for feedback
Not asking for feedback is sort of like cupping your hands over your ears — customers are still complaining, but instead of doing it directly to you, they do it publicly on review sites, blogs, and social networks.
It’s not only a great way to find opportunities for improvement, it’s also a great excuse to remind happy customers to leave a review.
Start your feedback requests with a sincere focus on getting the customer’s opinion. Don’t waste this opportunity to hear about where you could do better. Ask them to rate your stuff, to share ideas for what would make things better, and to give open feedback.
Then, at the end of everything — here’s where you can add a coupon for a friend, a link to relevant review sites, and a simple checkbox saying, “Yes, I give [company name] permission to use my feedback in their marketing materials.”
For inspiration, check out how the folks at PrintingForLess.com use their feedback forms to earn referrals.
5. Learn to be great at saying “thank you”
Saying thank you to your talkers isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also a fantastic way to generate more referrals.
But, how do you find the talkers who deserve thanking? Easy, ask every customer how they heard about you. Leave room to share the referrer’s contact information and use it to send these talkers something nice.
Some businesses go so far as to send small perks (this dentist surprises his talkers with $20 Starbucks gift cards), but a friendly thank you note can work just as well.
The key here: Don’t try to buy referrals (it’s icky and often backfires), focus on thanking your existing talkers as a way to encourage even more word of mouth.
What about you? How are you earning referrals for your business?