This post is a special Make a Referral Week guest post featuring education on the subject of referrals and word of mouth marketing and making 1000 referrals to 1000 small businesses – check it out at Make a Referral Week 2010
If I were to ask you what the secret was to getting someone to recommend and refer your business, what would you say? Perhaps you might focus on the experience that you provide. Or you might believe that this is a behaviour that you should focus on illiciting from only your best customers. Now what if I told you that the single biggest reason someone chooses whether or not to refer your business has very little to do with their experience with you? That seems counter intuitive. Yet if this were false, then everyone who had a positive experience would share it with someone else. And everyone who had a negative one would do the same.
The point is, people don’t inherently share positive or negative experiences – they need an incentive to do it. The main problem is that anger or frustration IS an incentive. That’s why you hear the often repeated adage that it is much easier to get a customer to post a negative review than it is to post a positive one. Satisfaction, apparently, is not as powerful of a motivator as dissatisfaction. Yet despite this behaviour, there are ways to stack the odds in your favor. You probably already know that online opinions make a difference for your business. So the question you need to ask yourself (especially for Referral Week) is how you can make YOUR business easier for someone to share with a friend, family member or colleague. In other words, you need to be easier to recommend!
Here are 5 tips you should consider to help you achieve that:
Ask at the right moment. There is one moment when your customer is likely to be happiest of all, and that is the moment right after they buy something. The decision has been made, and anticipation is likely to follow. Why not ask them to share their experience with a friend right in that moment? Use a post-purchase survey online or encourage your customer to write a review or even take some extra business cards with them as they walk out of your retail location. The more you can do to get someone to recommend your business right after purchase, the more referrals you can generate.
Create different levels. It is tempting to think of recommendations and referrals in strict terms. Say online review, and your mind probably goes straight to the sort of review you might find on Amazon or TripAdvisor. In reality, there are many different levels of engagement when it comes to online reviews, and handwritten experiences are the most extreme. A much simpler style is what you may have seen on Facebook … the simple thumbs up or thumbs down. Star ratings are another easy method. The lesson is simple … to create more likely situations where people will share their opinion, try to accommodate for different levels of effort and complexity.
Let them save your details. The magnet for your fridge that your real estate agent always gives you is the prime example of this idea. The opposing idea to #1, the philosophy behind letting your customers save your details easily is that you want to be there in the moment when they do get asked by someone to refer a business or service. Aside from fridge magnets, for the growing digital savvy customer, another way you may be able to stand out is to always include important keywords in your email communications (and always send email receipts). Then your customer can search their email account and even if they don’t remember your business name or have your card handy, you’re just a simple email search away.
Have a personality. The basic fact is that people don’t generally remember businesses, they remember other people. For this reason, having a personality is of paramount importance. When you can foster a personal connections with your business, you give them a reason to remember and recommend you to others. This is the power of word of mouth referrals, that we will remember working with someone who we respected and will be more likely to actively recommend that person and their business in any relevant situation.
Admit failure. This last tip will seem like an odd addition to the list. After all, we are generally taught to hide (or at least never admit) our failures for fear that it may make us or our businesses appear vulnerable. The surprising fact is that admitting a mistake can be one of the unintentionally best ways to humanize your business. We all make mistakes, but how you deal with them is the real question. Nothing can endear your business more to a customer than making a mistake an going overboard to correct it (and not making the same mistake again, of course). So the next time you or one of your employees makes a mistake, own up to it and actively fix it. You may find that in the process you converted an unhappy customer into a brand evangelist for life.
Rohit Bhargava is a founding member of the 360 Digital Influence group at Ogilvy and author of the award-winning new marketing book Personality Not Included, an entertaining and useful guide for companies on how to use their personality to stand out. He is also a popular keynote speaker on marketing and business strategy and believes in being approachable