If you asked 100 small business owners to name the most effective form of advertising almost all would say, “Word-of-Mouth.” One person, referring another person to your business. How valuable is that? The hard part is to find a way to get people talking about your business and telling others about it.


Every business has customers that “love” them. They think your employees are “rock stars.” These are the people to ask about possible testimonials in print, TV, radio and any other place you advertise. A third party recommendation in print or TV is almost as good as the pure one-on-one, word of mouth, referral. Asking for testimonials should be a basic staple of your customer service follow-up.

Many businesses get thank you cards or letters of appreciation from customers expressing their thanks to your business. Usually these end up pinned to a bulletin board or a book in the customer waiting area. These are way too valuable to hide in a book or an obscure corner of your store. Instead give them the exposure they deserve. Frame them and place them throughout your store. As people browse products and services they are exposed to a whole series of testimonials that re-enforce their confidence in your business.

Negative word-of-mouth

Unfortunately negative always carries more weight than positive. Pick up any newspaper or turn on your TV and you’ll find all the negative you could ever want or need. If you have an unhappy customer it’s almost like business cancer. It can slowly eat away at your business reputation until it’s too late.

You can combat this cancer by making it easy for your customers to complain. None of us like a confrontation with an unhappy customer; but they are a fact of business and learning how to deal with them will only make your business stronger. In many cases complaints are communication problems and can often be easily handled. Make sure your employees are empowered to handle any complaint in the event you are away from the business.

Don’t forget the phone

How many times have you called a business and the person answering the phone was, to put it kindly, less than professional. Did that make you feel like calling again? Did you get a bad first impression?

The person answering your phone is one of your most important employees. Someone took the time to look up your number, dial it and ask a question. That is a potential customer you could gain or lose depending on how they are handled. A smiling, happy, confident, knowledgeable, professional person should always be answering your phone.

Some Final Thoughts

Every live contact with a customer is a word-of-mouth opportunity. You are not selling — you are trying to build a long-term business relationship with everyone you meet. Give them a good reason to talk about you and watch the bottom line go from red to black.