If you asked 100 small business owners to name the most effective form of advertising almost all would say, “Word-of-Mouth.” The simple action of 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. How many businesses have you told others about recently? Whose “doing it right” in your opinion.

Who do you know that’s going the extra mile in service, products, quality, or policies and procedures? These are the kinds of businesses that can weather economic downturns by putting their customers first.

No matter how dire economic conditions become, people are still going to need and will purchase goods and services from your business. Your challenge is to keep your promises so those customers will spread the word.

Build a Strong Business With Testimonials

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.

Frame Your Customers

Most 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 in a book in the customer waiting area. These are way to 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.

Turn Negatives Into Positives

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 possibly want or need. If you have an unhappy customer, and you don’t know about them, it’s like business cancer. Negative talk about your business can slowly eat away at your 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.

Communication With Customers

In many cases complaints are communication problems that can often be easily handled. Make sure your employees are empowered to handle any complaint in the event you are away from the business.

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

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 relationship with every one you meet. Give them a good reason to talk about you and watch the bottom line go from red to black.

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