Word of mouth is a powerful force for generating business for your company, but how can you capture this lighting in a bottle?
While nothing guarantees water cooler chatter (other than, perhaps, a celebrity wardrobe malfunction), there are several factors that can increase your chances of coming up in conversation.
1. Be remarkable
Jonah Berger is the author of “Contagious: Why Things Catch On,” and reminds us that the word “remarkable” literally means “worthy of remark.” This means you have to do more than simply be great at what you do. Being great at what you do is merely the ante in the game of word of mouth.
To generate positive buzz, you need to go beyond a foundation of excellence to make your business truly uncommon. For example, let’s say you’re a plumber ... a really, really good plumber. If you routinely arrive on time, fix the leak, charge a fair price, and leave no mess behind you, what are the chances you will be remarked upon by your customers to their friends and family? Unless your customer is asked directly for a plumber referral, odds are not good that your Monday service call will come up over beer that weekend.
Alternatively, imagine that you arrive on time, fix the leak, charge a fair price, leave no mess behind you, and you give your customer a rubber chicken wearing a bow tie as your parting gift. Now what are the chances your customer will mention this incident to someone else?
So ask yourself, what original twist can you put on your goods or services? What pleasant or offbeat surprise can you offer to make you stand out in your customer’s mind? What’s your rubber chicken?
2. Tell a good story
In the seminal book “Human Communication as Narration,” communication professor Walter Fisher proposes that humans are essentially storytelling creatures, and dubs our species Homo narrans. Therefore consider that the word of mouth you seek for your business will likely take a very specific form, namely a story.
Every customer will have their own unique story about their experience with you, but you can influence their stories by effectively telling your own. For example, Paul Cardone, aka Charlotte’s Garage Door Guru, is a third generation garage door installer. Verena Martin, owner of SouthPark Hypnosis, became certified after hypnosis helped her overcome her lifelong struggle with weight and self-confidence. Dilworth restaurateur Phong Luong conceived the idea for his iPad app NexTable while watching frustrated customers walk out after being quoted a long wait time.
Each of these abbreviated stories tells more than just what happened.
Each story also implicitly conveys why you should become a customer, and far more convincingly than a typical slogan or corporate strategy statement.
3. Ask the right way
Once you’ve armed your customers with something worth remarking on and a story about your company worth telling, trigger them by simply asking them to spread the word.
The trick is to ask the right customers, at the right time, in the right way.
Think through the customer profile that is ideal for your business. Which of your existing clients is the most profitable or best represents the strategic direction you have in mind? Be sure to target them with your requests for referrals, versus asking across the board.
Then decide on an auspicious moment to ask for the referral. Too early and you won’t have built enough credibility. Too late and you may have faded from memory.
Jennie Wong, Ph.D. is a Charlotte-based executive coach, author of “Ask the Mompreneur,” and founder of the social shopping site CartCentric.com. Follow her on Twitter @DrJennieWong.
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