When I was running my own business, word-of-mouth advertising meant encouraging happy customers to tell their friends and family members about my business. Although that’s still part of the equation today, with the proliferation of social review sites like Yelp!, TrustPilot, Google My Business, Trip Advisor, and others, your customers have a bigger audience. One happy (or unhappy) customer’s online review can impact the way thousands of other potential customers think of your business.
Regardless of the form word-of-mouth advertising takes, for good or bad, it should be considered in your marketing efforts. The way you treat your customers, deal with problems, and the impression your business leaves on them can have a direct (and very public) impact on your company’s image. It’s never a good idea to ignore what current customers are saying online, because your potential customers aren’t.
Because word-of-mouth is so important in today’s small business environment, here are seven suggestions to help you make the most of your great customer relationships and deal with your detractors.
1. Your brand might not be what you think it is:
Don’t confuse your brand with your logo, your company colors, or tagline. Those things are part of the face your business presents to the world, but your brand is really your values and how you act on those values with both your customers and your employees.
I think it’s important to recognize that in the long run, your brand is less about what your business says it is and more about what it is. For example, if you claim that you put customers first, you demonstrate that when there’s a problem and how you solve it. Customers recognize that things don’t always go as planned, but they appreciate the businesses that happily fix mistakes and take responsibility when things go wrong. Not only does it keep your happy customers happy, they’ll tell their friends about your business, post positive reviews online, and are likely to come back again.
2. Customers are happy when your employees are happy:
The way your employees treat your customers is a direct reflection of your brand—as well as a reflection of how you treat your employees. Over the years I’ve witnessed first hand how an unhappy employee can create an unpleasant customer interaction and leave that customer with a less-than-favorable impression of a business. The most successful companies tend to foster an environment in which their employees are satisfied, which filters down to their interaction with customers, and ultimately results in positive word of mouth promotion and referrals.
3. Empowered employees make customers happy:
Empowering employees to satisfy customer needs is a good idea at many levels. When employees feel empowered to solve problems (and know you will back them up), they will make sure your customers leave your business feeling like they’ve been treated fairly and will be happy to tell their friends about your business.
Although your employees might not always make the same decision you would in the heat of battle, they need to know you will back them up. They’re less likely to go the the extra mile for a customer if they’re worried you might not support them. Taking your team’s side helps you foster a more satisfying work environment, and eventually trickles down to satisfied customers.
4. Don’t let the trolls get you down:
There will always be people you can’t make happy. And, they always seem to be the ones who complain about your product or service on social media review sites. Fortunately, most people understand that mistakes happen in the course of doing business; and even the best companies will sometimes get a negative review. With the exception of those hard-to-please customers, most of the people you deal with every day are willing to overlook the occasional misstep.
If you want them to share positive impressions of you and your business, you should always do your best to make sure every product or service performs as advertised and will fit their needs.
5. Make it right, even if you need to swallow your pride:
If something goes wrong, fix it. I once spoke with a small restaurant owner who felt like she had been mistreated by one of her customers. There was no question, the customer had tried to take advantage of a promotional offer, but the online tirade associated with the incident actually ended up hurting her business. Had she taken a different approach to resolve the perceived slight her customer had felt, the good will she created with her other customers would have far exceeded the loss on this one customer’s order.
“Wow, if this restaurant will do that for someone who is obviously a jerk, if I have a problem, I know they’ll take care of me.”
Nordstrom has made this a matter of course with their customers. There are a few people who try to take advantage of their return policy, but their policy assures their good customers that Nordstrom will always take care of them when something goes wrong.
6. Ask for a positive review and incentivize referrals:
As a business owner, referrals were an important part of my business, so I tried to give my customers reasons to tell their friends about me. In addition to religiously trying to follow the five suggestions above, I also had an official referral program that offered a discount to the referrer as well as the potential new customer they were referring to me.
Most people like helping others and they’re even more likely to help out with the right incentives. “Jesse sent me over. She said you’d take care of me” was music to my ears! You may not be able to buy that type of endorsement, but you can nudge it along by encouraging your customers to tell others about you.
The same is true when it comes to online reviews.It never hurts to encourage happy customers to share their positive experience on a review site of their choice.
7. Turn detractors into advisors:
Sometimes your greatest source of improvement could be the person who has a less-than-optimal experience. I’ve seen unhappy customers completely flip when offered the right kind of customer service. Whether something went wrong with your product, your process, or their shopping experience, simply asking them for advice to make things better can turn a detractor into an advocate overnight. Of course, you might not like what they have to say, but if you listen and consider their advice, they’ll likely be the first on the bandwagon to tell their friends about your business.
Word of mouth advertising is more important than ever because technology gives your customers a bigger voice than ever to share their positive experiences. You can’t take for granted that your happy customers will talk about your business—or that your unhappy customers won’t. Give these seven suggestions a try and you may discover that word of mouth is the most effective way to introduce new customers to your business.
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