Whether you are a service based business or a product based business, word of mouth is vital for organic growth.  And word of mouth (if done right) can be a great strategy to grow your business.

If you have any doubt that word of mouth referrals are important, consider these statistics:

So how can you encourage positive word of mouth for your small business without feeling like a pushy used car salesman?

Here are a few suggestions to take into account:

Offer exceptional customer service—every time

There is simply no way around it: positive word of mouth has to be earned. It doesn’t just happen because you sold something.

Unfortunately it is exceedingly difficult to prevent negative word of mouth. People are much more likely to share a bad experience than praise a business. (Research shows that 95% of consumers will pass on a negative run-in with a company and more than half will spread the word to at least five other people).

The best way to earn positive referrals is to make your customers feel special each and every time they come in contact with you and your brand. Whether the sale is $10 or $100, it is about the whole process from the moment they came into contact with you to the moment they receive their product/service.

Here are a few simple ways to win over your customers:

  • Be friendly and approachable in person and online
  • Answer their questions promptly
  • Get to know your customers personally
  • Ensure customers are greeted and don’t wait long to complete a transaction
  • Express gratitude for ongoing business
  • Offer perks for loyalty
  • Pay attention to the details
  • Be honest, always
  • If something goes amiss, take immediate steps to resolve the problem to the customer’s satisfaction.

Invite (and also reward) referrals

Yes that is right, you actually should ask for referrals.  Some people find the thought of asking for a referral quite daunting, but if you are already working with ideal clients, really this should be a no brainer.  As if they did refer someone, chances are it would be another ideal client.

You can increase the odds that customers will spread the good word about your business with an incentive, such as a freebie or discount on their next purchase for completing a review on your website or providing a testimonial.

Seek out every opportunity

Remember to ask the folks who praise your products and customer service that you’d love a testimonial for your website, or a shout out on social media.  So when someone does email you and say “Gee Stacey, you are amazing and solved all my bookkeeping problems”, don’t be afraid to ask them if you can use that as a testimonial across scocial media or on your website (or both).

On that note, it is essential to keep track of what people are saying about your brand online, whether the talk is positive or negative. Be sure to take a moment to thank your fans for their kind words. As an added bonus, replying to positive business reviews can help give them a bump in search results.

Be sure to respond appropriately to negative reviews, too. Consider a bad review an opportunity to make things right. What can you fix, what systems need tweaking. It is much better to know what people are saying and respond than allow a problem to fester.

As you make a conscious effort to increase word of mouth for your business, remember this: it is the element of surprise that really gets people talking about a company. Think about how you can do more than just meet your customers’ expectations, but instead what can you do to dramatically exceed them. They will not only tell their friends about you, but they will also keep coming back for more.