Editor’s note: This post comes from our Constant Contact UK office. You can view all the posts from our UK team here. Or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

You’ve probably heard of Word Of Mouth marketing and how it’s the thing that you should aim for. It’s like a Holy Grail for small businesses, and is achieved when new customers are referred to you by your existing or previous customers on the basis that you’re great at what you do.

Some types of business can live or die by Word Of Mouth (or WOM as it is sometimes known), such as restaurants or hotels. These businesses know that they need to get people talking about them in a good way in order to bring in new customers, and the rest of us can benefit from WOM too – whatever type of business we are in.

However, WOM doesn’t often happen by chance or just being ‘cool’. You can actively encourage WOM referrals and there are 3 steps to doing this.

Step 1: Be really really good at what you do

People recommend businesses to their friends and families if those business are good at what they do (or really cheap, but I’m assuming that you don’t want to be cheap).

That doesn’t mean being mediocre or run of the mill, it means being better than your competitors in the way that you fulfil your role as a business and service your customers.

For many of us, getting really really good is about going back to basics. For example, do you return your clients’ calls and emails quickly? Do you deliver on time and on budget?

Your customers want your service to them to be predictable, not boring, but delivered in such a way that they know what to expect from you, and so that they actually get it.

You don’t have to go over the top to achieve this with whizz-bang promotions, flying in global experts, or gold-plating your invoices. Just think about how you like to be treated by the businesses that you buy from – what are the things that they do that make your life easier? – and do that.

Often adding a bit of love into the equation will get you there really easily. What can you do that will make your customers feel loved?

Step 2: Be worth talking about

If you are good at what you do, you will get some people recommending you to others. However, in order to maximise your WOM referrals you need to look at the things that REALLY get people talking.

What makes people talk about a brand on a consistent basis is little touches of customer service niceness that are beyond the expected.

For example, Ocado, the supermarket delivery people, have built their business on excellent customer service, with little touches like the delivery person bringing your groceries into your kitchen for you, a text message to tell you who your delivery driver is going to be and when exactly to expect them, and taking away your old carrier bags for recycling. Ocado are now known for being the best supermarket delivery service, and people recommend them to others constantly.

So, what you need to do is to look at your customer process, and identify one thing that would be worth talking about because it could make you stand out from the crowd in a good way, and make it happen.

When you’ve got that one thing, try it out and ask your customers what they think, and see if you do get more referrals out of it.

If the response is good, make it a key part of what you do for your customers.

Step 3: Ask for the referral

If you get steps 1 and 2 right, you should get good WOM and have customers being referred to you.

There is one more thing that you can do that will make it happen more quickly though, and that is actually asking for the referral.

Does that make you feel uncomfortable? It doesn’t have to, you can do it in a nice way, and here’s how:

A) Use a feedback form for every customer.

This could be online, on paper or even a phone call. Use it to ask what people liked (gets them thinking about how great you are), what they want you to improve on (shows you care about their opinion), if you can quote their comments (a great way to gather testimonials for your website etc), and how likely they would be to recommend you (makes them go through a mental process of thinking why they would recommend you and who they would recommend you to).

B) Make it easy for people to recommend you.

How you do this depends on your individual business, but it could be that you offer an incentive like a discount on their next bill for every friend they refer; you could have a bring-a-friend offer; or, you could include a ‘tell a friend’ card with every parcel you send out. What all of these have in common is that they provide a mechanism for people to pass your info on OR offer your customer an advantage for sending the referral on.


If you can do all three of these things you will be much more likely to get good referrals and WOM. However, even if you only do one or two of them, you’ll still get more referrals than you do currently, just try it and see!

A final word of warning:

If you skip over Step 1 – Getting Really Really Good, you may not receive any referals. You have to be worth referring in the first place!  …but, the simple fact that you’re reading this article and working to improve your business by learning more means that you’re probably above average anyway.