Most businesses know that the best way to get new customers is through word-of-mouth recommendations. Almost all of us base a lot of decisions on recommendations because we tend to believe someone who is not trying to sell to us. (Think about the last few purchasing decisions you made – whether it's choosing a restaurant, a tradesperson, or a hairdresser, most of us rarely on word-of-mouth to some extent.) But the tricky part about word-of-mouth, is that it's large out of your hands. However, there are several things you can do to encourage your customers to recommend you to others.
- Make sure customers are happy with your service This is literally as simple as asking them what they thought of your service. For some businesses it may mean making it policy to ask how the customer's meal was, or calling a few days after a service has been completed to make sure everything is ok. If there was any problem, this gives you the opportunity to find out about it.
- Ask them to rate you on the web For some businesses this sounds scary but if your customers are happy with you, all you need to do is ask if they're mind posting a rating on the web for your business. Most people love to feel needed and if they're happy with your service and you've developed some level of rapport with them, they'll be more than happy to help you out. Misty's Diner has been doing this for several months and at the time of writing has 120 customer ratings in WOMOW. Obviously we suggest you use WOMOW, but the key is to have your customer ratings in a public forum run by an objective third party. That's what makes them believable!
- Ask for personal referrals At first glance this can look disappointed, but all it means is letting your customers know that your business is built on word-of-mouth and if they know anyone that would be interested in your product / service, to point them in your direction. Later, when they're having dinner with friends, hopefully they'll remember this simple prompt and it's amazing how often a referral will come about.
- Let them know some inside secrets Give customers something interesting to say to other people. It does not have to be particularly ground-breaking stuff either. It could be something about yourself and why you got into this business, the types of clients you deal with, something about a major project you're working on, really anything that gives them the opportunity to tell someone else something they do not already know. Imagine the difference between saying: "I know a great plumber who might be able to help you out with that" and: "I know a great plumber who specializes in gray water solutions. … "
- Keep in contact Your customers could be in a position to give you a recommendation at any time, but if they have not heard from you in years its not likely they'll remember you. The key is to stay in touch through personal phone calls, mailouts, newsletters, emails, lunches, whatever it takes to make sure that when the opportunity arises and a friend requests "do you know a good accountant around here?", Your name will be the first they mention. One way to achieve this and combine with point 2 above is to email your clients saying that you'd like their feedback. Let them know that you're using a website to collect feedback and would really appreciate it if they could rate you (if you want to use WOMOW just include a link to your listing).
- Dare to be different Another way to ensure your customers remember you is to be different in some way. There's any number of ways you could do this but some businesses I've come across that do this use things like bright uniforms, posting a quote of the day, asking customers to pay what they think is a fair price instead of using a price list , use dramatic packaging, provide a mobile service (instead of in an office), or serve each customer a fresh muffin on arrival. Really this is marketing 101 in terms of setting yourself apart from your competitors, but think of it not just as a way of being better, but as a way of being remembered and talked about.
- Let everyone know about your ratings When people are checking out your website or in the middle of the sales process, let them know what your other customers say about you by showing them customer ratings or testimonials. These could be printed out in your office, a link to you WOMOW listing from your website, or included in your written quotes (eg "See what customers are saying about us here xxxx")
- Thank people for their recommendations When you do get a recommendation, make sure you thank the person and let them know how much it means to you. This could mean phoning the customer that just sent their college to visit you, sending a box of chocolates or bottle of wine. When you get ratings on WOMOW, you can post a comment on their rating thanking them for their rating and for using your service – they'll be more inclined to give you more recommendations, plus for everyone else reading, it looks like you really care . And unless the rating is anonymous, you can send them a private email too with a personalized thank-you.
- Above all, provide great service This underpins everything else, but I can not let it go unmentioned. Sometimes it's easy to get talked up in the mechanics of the business and forget about the customer experience. Be a customer for a day and put yourself in their shoes. What's it like to phone your company, walk into the waiting room, email you, visit your website for the first time? Is there anything you could be doing better? Are there any basics that you're missing? Once you get a few ratings, you'll soon know what aspects of your business customers value the most.
- Go one step extra I know of one car dealership that provides a lifetime of free carwashing to anyone that buys a car from them. Not only does this provide a great talking point, it ensures the customer remembers them next time they're looking to buy a new car. If there's something you can do to really wow your customers, they'll be so grateful, they'll look for opportunities to even the score. As they say, the difference between extraordinary and ordinary is the "extra"! If it's at all possible, make it a policy to do something extra that customers would not expect. Call the next day to see how everything is working out, remember their order from their last visit (or set up a system that does), give them a coffee / wine / mineral water / chocolate on arrival, set up a TV with relevant DVD's in your waiting room, offer a free fitting service, write to them and offer a free maintenance check, give them a free air-fragrance with your service, or allow them to keep something else associated with your business.
Once you start regularly implementing just some of these ideas, the referrals will start flooding in. It's a great way to do business!