We can’t emphasize enough how powerful word-of-mouth recommendations from your customers and fans can be for marketing your business. It may seem unpredictable, but here at Referral Rock, we believe that every business has the power to increase their word of mouth.
We were curious to find out how marketers grow word of mouth within their own businesses, so we ran multiple rounds of a survey. It was the most successful roundup so far – a staggering 107 marketers contributed in total!
Because of this success, we’ve split the roundup into two parts. Read part one, with all the statistical findings here.
The insights these 107 marketers shared with us prove there are plenty of ways to take control of your word-of-mouth marketing.
Ways to grow your word of mouth
As we’ve covered in a previous article, there are five types of word-of-mouth referrals. They include, but aren’t limited to, direct referrals, customer reviews, and word of mouth on social media.
In the first part of our word-of-mouth roundup, we covered why word of mouth is so hard to track, as well as several techniques that marketers use to encourage word of mouth.
But what other actionable steps can you take to increase your word of mouth?
In this second part of our roundup, we’ll explore detailed insights from marketers about five major ways to boost word of mouth referrals:
- Ask for referrals
- Follow up with your customers
- Tap into representatives, like ambassadors, partners, and employees
- Create value
- Know how to keep your customers satisfied
Asking for referrals is vital
Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals directly from your most loyal customers. They might not think about how a referral will help your business unless you give them that nudge.
Michael Anderson of GeoJango tells us, “There’s a common business scenario where a customer is completely satisfied with a product or service but they’re never asked to leave a review. With this in mind, one can imagine that a company that asks for reviews will receive exponentially more reviews compared to a company that just hopes for reviews. Since reviews are such an integral part of the conversion process, the company that follows up with their customers and asks for reviews will likely be more successful in the long run.”
Sergei Belous of Upflip tells us, “Word of mouth is so powerful because the goodwill and affinity of a referring partner or client is almost immediately transferred to your company, thus connecting you with a new sales lead that comes prepackaged with a heightened level of trust. A happy customer is often your greatest advocate, but many businesses fail to ask for that referral. In most cases, it doesn’t hurt to just ask. If they say no, that’s fine. But a yes can open the door, granting you can access to their network of business connections.”
Eric Quanstrom of Cience asserts, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get. People are too busy to remember to refer you, even if they are over the moon about your product or service. It just doesn’t occur to them. Conversely, if you (as we do) make employees responsible for making an ask to satisfied customers to pay it forward into their network (“Could any of your peers at other companies benefit from our services?”), you’d be surprised just how often people will say yes and share names on the spot. The easier you make it, the greater the likelihood you’ll get a meaningful referral. We have an entire internal playbook on exactly this kind of word of mouth.”
Similarly, Linda Miriam of Crunchy Buzz explains, “Many of our satisfied clients are happy to help us out, but don’t realize how much power they have to do so. With their busy lives, they don’t have the time to consider how much impact a post they may put up on Facebook, for example, could help us out. So, we reach out to them after several months of service to give them ideas of how they may promote us (i.e. posting in business groups they’re affiliated with, industry email lists) and we provide them with a bonus service in exchange.”
If you’re a smaller business, referrals are even more important. Jane Prizer of Hausera says, “Asking for referrals is especially important with smaller brands as you can’t rely on brand recognition to bring in new customers and introduce them to your company’s product. In order to get an effective word of mouth campaign off the ground, it is imperative that both the product and service are especially impeccable as that will determine whether your initial round of customers will be comfortable referring others to your company.
“Part of a successful word of mouth campaign stretches is not only getting it off the ground, but also maintaining a steady pipeline of new customers who have heard good things from others. Encourage people to leave reviews, even if garnering some poor reviews is almost an inevitability. Take any feedback and shape future strategy off of it, and you’ll see an increase in customer satisfaction over time.”
Following up with happy customers is key to netting the referrals you crave. Many people only talk about your business when they’re unhappy with you, so it’s important to counterbalance this with positive comments from your customers..
John Frigo of My Supplement Store attests, “The vast majority of people don’t leave reviews when they are happy, they only leave reviews when they are upset. Because of this it’s important to have a call to action as well as follow up with customers asking for a review or referral. We like to get our customers involved in our site and in helping other customers help their fellow customers. We use various apps to allow customers to ask questions about products which we or our customers can help to answer. We follow up with our brick-and-mortar and online customers requesting reviews.”
Follow up with customers to increase word of mouth
Checking on your customers with regular follow-ups keeps your brand top of mind and shows your empathy. This often leads them to spread the word about you.
Colton De Vos of Resolute TS says, “Following up with existing customers is an integral part of word-of-mouth promotion – especially if they are very satisfied customers. However, even the happiest customers won’t refer you to others if your brand isn’t top of mind. If you use a CRM or digital tool for keeping track of customers, set reminders to follow up once every six months (or on a timeline that makes sense for you). Check in and ask your customers if there’s anything that could be done better, draw attention to new projects you’ve completed, new content you’ve published, or commend them on recent awards or newsworthy items. You’ll be surprised how often a quick check-in conversation can lead to a referral or at least an introduction to a new prospect. If it doesn’t, you may still get some truly valuable insight on your customer or ways to improve your current service and relationship with them.”
Alex Membrillo of Cardinal Digital Marketing attests, “Word-of-mouth marketing is centered on customer relationships. Therefore, it’s essential to follow up and engage with customers in order to increase word of mouth promotion. Ultimately, what following up does is keep your brand top of mind. If someone is thinking about your company – in a positive way – they’re much more likely to recommend you to a friend.
“At Cardinal Digital Marketing we’ll even run Net Promoter surveys to measure the likelihood a client is to recommend us to a friend. We also ask for customer feedback to better serve and address the needs of our clients.”
Says Peter Bryla of Resume Lab, “Everyone intuitively understands that in a capitalist society the exchange of value revolves around cash, but that is why adding a human element of care, empathy and understanding is all the more important. Investing in a long-term relationship and brand loyalty is nowadays ubiquitous, but doing the extra credit is always quite flattering. Imagine BestBuy or Macy’s calling you to ask how your purchase was, and if you’re still using it and happy with it, without trying to sell you anything. It would be quite a refreshing change.
“I can vouch from personal and friends’ experience that following up is always deeply appreciated and makes the relationship with an enterprise much more personalized. This naturally translates to better positive associations in clients’ minds. In other words, be more like Costco and Patagonia and less like Walmart and Nike. Your clients will remember and reward you for it… with interest.”
Jordan Sizelove of Sell My House Fast attests, “Following up with customers is integral to not only increase word of mouth, but to increase brand awareness, customer loyalty, and further develop the relationship you have with your customer. Follow up shows that you’re committed to helping them and making sure that you’ve met all of their expectations. This is a great time to ask for referrals and increase word of mouth for your business.”
Richard Williamson of HealthLynked shares, “If you are trying to develop a strong word-of-mouth reputation, it’s utterly critical to follow up – often and creatively – with customers. Staying top of mind with customers, particularly if you can personalize the message as much as possible, is key to starting a relationship with them. If they think you are thinking about them– and you are– the customer wants to tell people about you. Once you have their attention and they understand that you think of them as individuals, simply ask them to refer a friend. Marketers often forget the power of simply paying attention to customers. Reach out to them, say hi, ask how they liked whatever it was they ordered last (you can pull that data from sales records and feed it into, say, an email program) and begin that give and take conversation that makes your business more like a real person than a company.”
Have all types of people as word-of-mouth sources
Don’t underestimate the power of brand ambassadors and influencers! Syed Ali Hasan of Film Jackets reports, “We offered free products to our happy customers to review on social media, YouTube, or any blogging site. Many of our customers are influencers, and they daily promote unboxing or run stories on their channels. We sent a free product to one of our customers and asked if he would be interested in reviewing. He was interested and promoted our product on YouTube. Not only this helps in increasing brand awareness, but the customer also receives a free gift for the review – it’s a win-win situation for both.”
Alex Azoury of HomeGrounds attests that ambassadors can help you grow your positive word of mouth, as long as you choose carefully. “Ambassadors can be a huge boon to your brand and bottom line, so long as you choose wisely. Be sure not to choose anyone who will damage your brand image.
Beyond that, make sure you choose an ambassador or influencer whose niche aligns with your target demographic: if you’re paying for each lead, and they’re sending you thousands of unqualified leads, it’s going to be net negative. However, if you choose an ambassador or influencer whose audience closely aligns with your offering – regardless of the audience size – then you will see a positive return.”
Also, consider partnering with a non-competing company that offers services or products related to yours. That way, you can refer customers to each other’s businesses.
Sarah Donawerth of Carro explains, “We’ve been using partners who already have a foothold in the space to increase our word of mouth conversions. If someone is already providing the perfect complementary service to your own, then partnering can allow you both to close with each client. That way, it’s like you’ve doubled the size of your sales/marketing teams without adding a single person. Instead, you’re reciprocating by recommending their service with each of your own conversions. This type of business partnership can allow you to grow faster, while also building up brand awareness in certain circles.”
And don’t forget about using your employees as ambassadors! Clare Richards of Leighton Interactive shares, “A tactic that our company has explored over the past 12 months is finding ways to leverage the influence and networks of our employees. We see them as both our experts and our best advocates. While most companies regularly ask their employees to share information and spread the good word, we decided to invest time and energy into incorporating this approach within our marketing and sales strategy. We created specific scoreboards and defined metrics for engaged employees (who we called “Heavy Hitters”) to encourage their participation.
“We facilitated an environment where they were able to own their personal brands and represent the company as a whole. As a result, we had around half a dozen Heavy Hitters who were consistently engaging on social platforms. They posted videos, shared posts, and connected with prospects. Many were offered opportunities to speak at events. One Heavy Hitter spoke in front of over 1,000 attendees at a national conference! Employees are often the front line of any word-of-mouth strategy, and this tactic served us well!”
Create value for your customers
If your customers perceive that you offer significant value to them, far exceeding the price of your products or services, they’ll want to spread the word to their friends. How to create this value? Here’s a sampling of what has worked for our experts:
Create content that provides solutions to pain points
Bunny Young of A Better Place Consulting says, “My favorite way to create value is to answer their questions and be a solution to their pain points but you don’t have to guess at what these are. Ask. Then when they tell you what would be helpful to them, help them. I publish blogs all the time answering questions that were asked by my clients and this way when a new client asks the same question I have a library of knowledge to share. Also, it helps when other small business owners Google these pain points that my blogs appear as solutions!”
Dan Sondhelm of Sondhelm Partners tells us, “We are considered trusted advisers to the asset management industry. That means many firms refer clients to us so we can help. In addition, we consistently engage our clients, prospects, and partners with educational content. We speak at industry conferences and webinars, we write for industry publications and our own website so professionals can find us. We also develop interactive activities for clients and prospects to engage with. One recent example is our growth assessment. We developed this assessment so firms can understand their competitive strengths and challenges compared to others who took the assessment.”
Personalize each customer’s journey
Polly Kay of English Blinds says, “Personalizing the customer journey and making it as interactive as possible. This is integral to getting people talking, because if something surprises, delights, or retains their attention, they want to spread the word.
This might be clever tech, the personal touch of a sales associate, or anything else that invests the customer in their purchase, but vitally, that also makes it memorable for all of the right reasons.”
Gregory Esterhai of Eventsured tells us, “Creating value boils down to fulfilling customers’ needs and exceeding expectations. A few inexpensive ways to create value for customers is to focus on delivering a great experience throughout your touchpoints. Customers will feel valued and taken care of if they feel like their experience with you is personalized, attentive, and detail oriented. This extra attention will then increase the likelihood of them recommending your service. In addition to providing great customer service, streamlining a referral process that rewards word-of-mouth referrals will encourage your customers with an incentive to recommend your service.”
David Peterson of HealthMarkets shares, “We have thousands of licensed agents throughout the country who are there to guide their customers through the often-confusing health, life, and other insurance product processes and help them get the coverage that best meets their health and financial needs. Likewise, we give consumers the option to research and purchase their own insurance on our company website. We aim to be able to provide the service and products our customers need when, where and how they want them – and in turn, we believe we create value in the process and end result. Many of our agents receive referrals through word of mouth because they meet a need for one customer, and that individual tells others about the positive experience. In the end, it is all about helping ensure our customers have the insurance coverage they need.”
Deliver the best quality services
Vanina Delobelle of VD Innovation attests, “We deliver high-quality services. We go above and beyond their expectations and do not charge some extra work we sometimes need to put in their projects. We are not here to sell more and more services but to deliver the best service. When we deliver quality, customers trust us and then want to work more with us. They get what they need, working as it should and without troubles. We make ourselves available and react quickly to their needs. In business services, we think that quality, honesty, and reactivity are the main assets.”
Alex Vale of Fundstack shares, I think the easiest way to get customers to talk about you to similar leads is by solving their problems as well as possible. To do this, we focus heavily on listening to what our customers want, quickly iterating the product to solve their issues, and then actively being a part of our customers’ lives while they learn the new features.
Serve customers especially well in their times of need
John Sooker of SERVPRO tells us, “Our SERVPRO franchisees and their staff members are committed to providing cleanup and restoration services to customers in their time of need, when they are desperate to put their lives back together following life changing events such as storms, water or fire damage – or biohazard remediation, which we are doing a lot of during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are in the business of helping others rebuild their lives, and when we do that well and beyond expectations, we certainly hope our customers would recommend our services to others in their time of need.”
Play up what makes you unique, and give back to the community
Says Lyris Autran of Dylan and Rainey, “What makes our business unique is that we believe that you can make money while also giving back and doing good in the world. We sell USA-made and eco-friendly products for larger dogs (and dog lovers). We donate 5% from each purchase to a different rescue each month and we feature a different adoptable dog and match adoption fees each month. We want to be 100% transparent with potential customers.
“We also try to create zero waste and as such, we ship everything in recyclable materials.
Our customers are really important to us, so we include a handwritten note of thanks and give everyone special dog treats as a thank you for each purchase. If you “bear hug” your customers and give them an A-to-Z shopping experience, they will remember your brand, and we would like to think they will choose to continue to come back to shop with us as opposed to another company where they aren’t made to feel as special.”
Listen to your customers and engage with their communities
Gavin Gn of Fixwerks attests, “It’s important for businesses to understand where their customers are online, what they are saying, and engage with them. This could be as simple as responding to a query or providing a solution to a problem in your field of expertise on these platforms.
“By improving their user experience and eliminating difficulties, they are more likely to support you and tell their friends about you (online and offline). Potential customers who are looking for a solution might also find your post. Not only will it solve their problem, it would also simplify their purchase decision knowing how your product works.
“In addition to being viewed as an industry expert, engaging with relevant communities also gives you a better understanding of how well your products are serving customers compared to the competition. You will be able to identify areas that are underserved or could be improved on. By constantly delighting your target market and meeting their needs, you’ll be able to build a memorable brand.”
Help customers share their thoughts
Daniel Cheung shares, “The average consumer is busy and making time to write a positive review takes significant effort. I build a formal feedback process into my workflow so that (a) the customer can provide me with insights into how I can do better next time, and (b) collect the foundation of a customer testimonial. After receiving their feedback, I’ll reformat their own words into a paragraph (or a few). I’ll deliberately insert certain keywords to make the content more relevant and then I’ll send the ‘testimonial’ to the customer for their review and final approval. Satisfied customers rarely refuse, and are grateful that you have helped them save time by writing a review on their behalf.”
Customer satisfaction and word of mouth
Delivering a stellar customer experience is the dirtiest secret behind word of mouth, and a secret that any business can take advantage of. We asked marketers: “What are ways you have tried to make your customers happy, which resulted in word of mouth?” Here’s what they told us.
Listen carefully to your customers’ needs, and deliver
Amber Henning of Social Eyes Marketing says, “We are always striving to make ourselves stand out in our industry, so we have built our entire business model around being different – and treating our customers like partners rather than just clients. In digital marketing, we find that many of our competitors charge hourly for work that extends their original scope. If our client is an ongoing customer of ours, we don’t nickel and dime them – we include changes and updates with their monthly charge. This helps our clients stay within their budget consistently, helping them reach their bottom line and keeping them as ongoing clients. As a result, we don’t even use contacts, because our work speaks for itself and keeps our clients loyal, not to mention encourages them to be a steady source of referrals for us.”
Michelle James of Our Crafty Mom tells us, “The main thing that I have done to keep my clients happy is by listening to their needs and delivering the content they are seeking. All too often I’ve heard clients say they are promised everything without results. I never promise what I can’t deliver. I work hard to give my clients the best rate of return and it has paid off in getting additional clients by word of mouth.”
Go above and beyond with your customer experience
Amanda Fisher of EPOCH Student Living shares, “We pride ourselves with cultivating a fantastic resident experience. We know that if our residents have a great experience while living with us, they will be happy. When they are happy, they will naturally spread the word. Whether it’s delivering donuts to a resident’s door on their birthday, hosting free concerts in our market pavilion, to giving our residents the opportunity to give back and volunteer through several of our local partnerships – we live out our mantra each and every day: Work Hard. Have Fun. Help Others. This provides an unmatched student resident experience.”
Lauren Walter of Online Optimism shares, “At our agency, we always try to go above and beyond for our customers. This helps keep customers happy while making our marketing services stand out. For instance, we start every campaign with a thorough onboarding meeting, during which we ask new clients lots of questions and get to know their wants, needs, and business. Not only does this help us deliver better results throughout the campaign, but also it shows that we are invested in our clients, making a strong and positive impression early on in our professional relationship.
“We also make it a point to check in with clients regularly to make sure they are happy with our work and results. We send detailed monthly reports about our campaigns and the results they are receiving, which we will discuss with clients by email, over the phone, or in meetings, if desired. In addition, we schedule a meeting with each client halfway through their campaign to touch base about how things have been going so far, ask if their goals have changed, and make sure the rest of the campaign will work best for them.
“Finally, we go out of our way to be helpful and kind to clients. When we see them receive press for their accomplishments, we congratulate them. If we notice something that could help them, we pass along our observations and recommendations. And if they ask for help with something that falls outside our contract, we try to go the extra mile and help whenever we can. These personal touches enhance our relationship and add to our value, leading many of our customers to speak highly of us and refer us to others.”
Surprise and delight with simple gestures
Brett Casey of HealthMarkets says, “We try to do relatively simple things that may not cost much, but they are meaningful and we are happy to do them! We send handwritten ‘thank you’ cards, call on customers’ birthdays and check in mid-year on their policy. I think it is important to proactively reach out at least twice a year just to check in on your customers and not ask for anything in return.”
Jacob Landis-Eigsti of Jacob LE shares, “We send cards, gift baskets, or gifts to customers at least once per quarter. We write articles that we know will benefit customers. Then we send personalized emails to each customer highlighting why the articles will be valuable for them. We also offer them discounts off future services if they provide referrals. We work hard to provide value every time we reach out to customers. We’re completely against ‘just checking in’ with our valuable customers. After we work with customers, we ask what could have we done to make working with us a 10 out of 10? Then we ask for referrals. We’re committed to creating a ‘knock your socks off’ customer experience.”
Develop relationships with your customers
Robyn Flint of Effortless Insurance shares, “I don’t just work with clients, I develop relationships with them and genuinely care about their success in achieving their goals. My customer service is extremely important to my continued business success. It only takes one bad experience and 100 people find out. But it takes 100 good experiences for one person to find out.”
Alex Membrillo of Cardinal Digital Marketing attests, “The best things to focus on providing in order to have happy customers are quality of work and customer service. Start with providing phenomenal work that exceeds customer expectations and delivers what was promised, on time. Next, make sure your customer service and support is outstanding.
“Additionally, develop a strategy to nurture relationship marketing with an emphasis on building customer connections. This is often key for ongoing loyalty and engagement. It can include referral programs, channel partners, influencers, and affiliates. The trick is to find innovative and meaningful ways to connect with your audience and build relationships that will create brand loyalty and word-of-mouth referrals.”
Ed Castro of Sage Consulting Group tells us, “My company is service-based. I am a digital marketing consultant who specializes in paid advertising solutions for clients. Even though my industry is results/performance based, I have noticed clients need to feel engaged in addition to seeing positive impact in their bottom line to consider referring me. So the most effective way, I have noticed, to get word of mouth referrals is to ensure your client feels like you are providing worthwhile results and to engage your client in a way that they enjoy. If either element is missing, it is much more difficult to get them to refer you.”
Empower your customers
Rochelle Burnside of Best Company tells us, “My company is a review site, and we emphasize word of mouth marketing by backing our mission to empower consumers. We allow customers to hold fundraisers where we pay out $2 for every review they write, and this has been a great way to spread the word about our brand while leaving a positive impression. We’ve also run a scholarship in the past when spreading the word out to universities.”
Heidi Markze of WaterField Designs shares, “Since our inception in 1998, WaterField Designs has enthusiastically incorporated customer ideas into its design process. Starting with the design of its Nintendo Switch Case line, however, WaterField engaged with customers at a new level. As soon as Nintendo announced the Switch, WaterField created a survey to solicit user input and quickly gathered over 1,000 responses. Additionally, the company collected suggestions from social media and popular Nintendo forums. Using a 3-D printed model of the Switch, WaterField developed case prototypes, continually incorporating feedback from potential users as it shared the evolving designs with them. The input from gamers and customers helped the WaterField design team isolate several distinct use cases. The resulting case designs represent a truly collaborative effort between company and customer.
“Since the gaming case project, WaterField has continued and expanded its community-based design collaborations with customers to create many more products that incorporate the benefit of so many creative minds. When we ask for and use customer ideas in our designs, they feel a sense of ownership over the final product and share it with their friends and colleagues.”
Wrapping things up
As you can see, there are plenty of ways for your business to grow word of mouth. First and foremost, be sure that your customers are satisfied, and that you offer value to them in a stand-out way. Follow up with them regularly to see how they’re doing, answer their questions, and keep your brand top of mind. And don’t forget to directly ask for referrals, because many of your customers may not realize how much they can help you through their sharing. Also, if you can, tap into brand ambassadors and form partnerships. Your employees could also be your ambassadors.
Looking for more tips on how to drive word of mouth? Learn the four different factors that drive almost all sharing of your business.
And if your business is B2B, our roundup of B2B word-of-mouth stories offers more tips for growing your referrals.