Word of Mouth: 4 tips to harnessing the power of customers in the digital age

By Steve Strauss, senior USA TODAY Small Business Columnist

My dad always called himself "the world's greatest salesman." Was he? No, probably not.
But what I can say is that he was one of the great marketers.

He started out in the '60s as an ad man (like a character
on Mad Men in the good ways, not the bad) and then
opened a small carpet store with a partner. They grew that
single store into one of the biggest chains in California at
the time. In the end, Dad didn't like running such a large
business, so he sold his share to his partner. He started
over and created a giant carpet warehouse that was,
again, super-successful. As I said, he was a heck of a
One surprising feature of that carpet store was a banner
you saw when you sauntered inside: "Our word of mouth
advertising starts with you!"

Steve Strauss, senior USA
TODAY Small Business

After all those years - through all the TV ads, Sunday inserts, parking lot sales, grand
openings, the whole enchilada—his essential marketing takeaway was that nothing beats
word of mouth advertising. Having someone tell a friend or neighbor about her positive
experience with your business can't be beat. It's marketing gold.

It is as true today as it was back then-actually more so. Today we live in a world where
sharing what you think about a business is almost de rigueur; the difference is that now
we're sharing our opinions online. With access to Yelp, blogs, comments, Twitter, Facebook
- what have you - it is easier than ever to spread the word (both good and bad) about a
business. So customers are no longer sharing an opinion with one other person but with 1
thousand - or 10 thousand.

Maybe word of mouth isn't the right term anymore; word of click seems more apt.
  Steve Strauss's father at Carpet World in California   

What do you do before you buy something or go to a new business these days? Of course,
you do a search. What have other people said about this business, about this product?
What's the overall tone of the reviews? Why is the average rating so low?

In the social era, how do you get people to share their positive opinions of your business?
Let's make no mistake: in this hyperconnected, 24/7, digital world, online comments and
reviews can make or break a business. So how can you get word of click?

Here are a few methods that work:

1.   Be great. You will notice that I didn't say, "be good." When it is just so easy now for someone to share his or her take, being good isn't good enough. If you want a customer to write a four-star review about your business, you have to offer a four-star product. You need to go the extra mile. What gets a consumer's attention is when he or she has some sort of exceptional experience - either positive or negative - with your business. 
2.   Offer great customer service. Along the same lines, if you really work to make your customers happy, you will. "We give great customer service" has to be more than a motivational message that hangs on a slightly off-kilter poster in the break room. 
3.   Make it personal. People like doing business with other people (not a faceless corporate entity), and they're apt to share their positive experiences online when those experiences involve working with someone they like. To the extent it is possible in your line of business, endeavor to do make every experience a personal one. 
4.   Ask. I have a colleague who has amassed more than 100 reviews (almost all good) for his book. That's a lot. When I asked him how he got so many, he said, "I ask for them. In my e-newsletter, on my site, and in my email correspondence I say, 'If you have read my book, I sure would appreciate a review.' And then I give them a link." That's a strategy that can work for any of us. Ask, like I am now: if you like this article, please share it via your social media. Thank you! 

Dad really was on to something. Cultivating word of mouth - or word of click - may well
be the best thing you can do to grow your business, and it's a tactic any company of any size
in any industry can embrace.
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