Does it feel like David vs. Goliath out there for your small business? Big companies may be able to outspend you on ad campaigns and merchandising, but there are areas where ad spend has no power. One such area is word of mouth. Glowing reviews and personal referrals are just as good as—if not better than—any marketing money can buy. As long as you consistently deliver satisfying products and/or services, there will inevitably be some chatter about you. Your customers will mention you in conversation and may even give your name when asked for a referral. In other words, big companies may have a leg up on spending, but no one has a monopoly on customer satisfaction. Here’s how you can leverage word of mouth and give your small business the competitive edge it needs.
Online Reviews Are the New Word of Mouth
It’s easy to spread word of mouth through the digital grapevine. With the prominence of online communities like Facebook, Yelp, HomeAdvisor, Angie’s List, and even Google Maps, word travels fast. Online, word of mouth exists in the form of customer reviews. You can establish your brand reputation just by delivering a memorable experience that customers will want to write about.
Whether they’re on your social media pages or your directory listings, customer reviews are like word of mouth from strangers. In fact, a recent study revealed that 84% of people trust online reviews as much as recommendations from their friends. So if you’re a small business owner, all you have to do is wow your customers and ask them to leave you reviews online. The reviews will speak for themselves, as long as you have enough of them. Here are some tricks to help you get started on collecting enough customer reviews:
- Use an on-page feedback form or button right on your website.
- Ask the customer directly during your interactions, and mention which site (e.g. Facebook, Yelp, etc.) you prefer them to use.
- Send reminders in follow-up e-mails and even invoices.
- Offer incentives for leaving a review, like coupons or small freebies.
Old-Fashioned Word of Mouth Still Works, Too
While the dynamics of social media and online interactions change, people are still the same. They still want to hear from friends and family—people they trust—about their personal recommendations. For instance, when looking for a team to install new windows, they’ll probably first turn to anyone they know who recently had a home renovation. Failing that, they’ll probably use Facebook, a virtual megaphone, to shout from the rooftop and ask for all of their online friends’ recommendations. Think about it: You’ve probably seen at least one friend on Facebook do that this week. At the same time, people are often looking out for each other. If they recently had a positive experience with any business from a roofing contractor to a new restaurant in town, they’re likely to speak up if they think one of their friends or family members would appreciate it, too. However, you can further encourage them to speak up by directly asking for referrals. Here are some of our suggestions:
- Ask customers at the beginning of your working relationship so they unconsciously keep an eye out for things they like about you.
- Offer referral bonuses and incentives, like giving customers a discount on their next purchase when they refer a friend.
- Surprise customers with unexpected freebies and other perks that keep them happy and wanting to gush about you.
- Make referrals easy by providing customers with a clear form to fill out. Minimizing guesswork or confusion will make them much more likely to follow through with a referral.
A Positive Experience Is Invaluable
Ultimately, leaving customers with a positive experience and a good impression is the best way to build your reputation. Susan Ward of The Balance offers a simple guideline:
To get good word of mouth building about your small business, think about what makes up a pleasant customer experience in your case and make sure that all the elements that would contribute to such an experience are in their best shape.
When it comes to word of mouth, there’s no substitute for customer satisfaction. You’ll have the edge over the big guys by giving your customers the personal care, friendly service, and attention to detail only a small business can provide. Use this to your advantage! Give them an experience they’ll be raving about.