Written by Chris Lambrinides


Word of mouth is a form of promotion in which satisfied customers tell other people how much they like a business or service.

Word of mouth is awesome. You receive free referrals just for do- ing a great job. You can’t beat that. You can’t build a huge business from word of mouth, but you can certainly build a smaller, profitable one.

You can do some things to increase the word-of-mouth work you get. See the next chapter on referrals for more details. In my case, we were getting about 15% of our business from word of mouth, which was accelerated by our referral program and an ongoing planned strategy. We took every opportunity possible to leverage positive experiences into sales.


Most Valuable

Word of mouth is the most valuable promotion tool, according to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). Yes, that’s a real thing! Can you believe it? There’s a trade association for everything these days. Here are some stats from the WOMMA:

1) Word of mouth drives 13% of consumer sales.
2) Off-line word of mouth drives sales five times as much as one paid media ad.
3) Word of mouth amplifies the effect of paid media by 15%.
4) Consumers trust a friend’s opinion over all other forms of paid advertising.


Check Out This Graph

This is an actual screenshot of my friend’s ResponsiBid account. He is a window cleaner with two trucks on the road and no referral program in place. He does zero advertising, and it shows in his graph.

Let’s break this down. During the time period of this graph, he got the following:

1) 62% of his work from word of mouth
2) 21% from Google SERP results
3) 13% repeat clients
4) 4% miscellaneous sources

There is something awesome about that. Now, don’t get me wrong, you’re not going to start getting referrals like this right away. It takes a while to build up your pipeline of customers. But the takeaway is that if you always do a great job and go above and beyond for your customers, the referrals will come.



The Three-Step Plan

Here is my three-step plan for you to start getting more free word-of-mouth referrals right away. Your company has two types of encounters with your clients: on-site and off-site. Encounters occur on the phone or by e-mail while scheduling and while on the job site as you’re completing the project. You can do any of these items in any order. Or do all three at the same time for maximum effectiveness.

Step 1) Make a connection.
People like people who are like them. Find a way to relate to your client in conversation. It can be something you notice during the phone call with them or something you already know about them according to where they live. Or it could be something you’ve spotted around their house. Find anything possible to connect with them.

On the phone, mention something about their neighborhood, maybe another project completed nearby. On the job site, it’s

even easier. Talk about something from their home you know they value. Do they have a boat outside? Talk to them about how much you like fishing. Talk about anything; just make some sort of connection.

Step 2) Wow them.
Go the extra mile and do something they don’t expect. You could toss in a window for free or polish their light fixtures as a thank you. You could remember some intimate detail about their life. Heck, you could even remember their dog’s name and bring him a treat. You could leave them with a Starbucks gift card or bring them a baked good. This can be anything outside the normal service call. Surprise them in some small, positive way, and they will most likely talk about it.

Step 3) Bake it into your business processes.
Don’t leave this to chance. If you want to bring in a consistent word-of-mouth workflow, plan and budget for it. This is especially important if you are not on the job site yourself. Make it part of the on-site process, built into the supervisor’s on-site duties.

Make it part of his checklist of things he must complete on- site to consider a job complete. Maybe you have a line in your CRM or on your customer paperwork to capture the pet’s name. Maybe you have your supervisor armed with gift cards. Or maybe you just ensure he does one thing on each job site that is above and beyond the call of duty.

Whatever it is, you should make it a planned routine that must happen at each job. I promise that if you do, it will come back to you in spades. Consider the extra money spent or the extra time used on-site as an investment in your business’s future.

After some testing, you will likely come up with a short list of easy, guaranteed ways to wow the customer. You want to make the whole experience automated and impressive. Hone in on those ways and then narrow them down to three, two, or maybe just one. If you have one thing and do it regularly, it will be much easier to ensure success.

It’s important to get this effort to the point where it’s actually a system and not a one-time win. Make it more about the process and less about the generosity—although the customer’s perception should be the opposite.



These were not on my radar, but they are worth mentioning. As you can see by the graph, my friend got a staggering 22% of his work from these LISTSERVs. These old-school e-mail lists are popular in some US neighborhoods where the homeowners use them to communicate with each other.

There is one e-mail address, and when someone sends an e-mail to it, the e-mail goes to the entire neighborhood. Homeowners use LISTSERVs to report break-ins, drug use, and other possible problems in the neighborhood. The owner of the graph tells me the LISTSERVs are also miniature recommendation engines. Someone in need of a service will fire off an e-mail asking for a good recommendation. It could be for a window cleaner or any other home service. It’s a does-anyone-have-someone-to-recommend type of thing.

The modern-day version of this is the neighborhood Facebook group. I have heard of and seen such groups popping up lately.


Social Media and Word of Mouth

Be sure to read chapter 8, “Social Media,” for the full details, but think about some instances of positive and negative word of mouth that have come to your attention recently. How many times have you heard friends on Facebook or Twitter complain about a product or company? I bet you have heard this quite a few times. Studies show that people are more likely to complain than compliment on social media. Think I’m kidding? Go to Twitter, look up one of your favorite brands, and put the word sucks after their name.

Furthermore, according to a survey by marketingcharts.com of one thousand consumers, respondents who experienced a bad interaction with a business were 50% more likely to share it on social media than those who had a good interaction.

To avoid being affected by these tendencies, keep these points in mind:

Step 1) Make sure you are always doing an amazing job. This will lessen the chances of any potential negative social media comments or complaints. If you mess up something, own it. Own it fast and fix it faster, but make it right at any cost.

Step 2) Leverage social media, if you can, to encourage positive word of mouth and reviews. Build positive reviews and comments from your customers right into your social media calendar. If a client is telling you how thrilled they are, don’t be afraid to ask them to share their thoughts with the world.

“Oh, you’re thrilled with the service, Miss Smith? Well, please do tell your friends. We are a small family business that gets a lot of our work from word of mouth. The best way you can say thanks to us is to tell your friends and family about your experience.”


In Summary

Always do the best job imaginable and find a way to wow your customer. People are going to talk. You may as well control the conversation to ensure there is a positive spin on everything.

As you can see by the graph, you can build a whole business from word of mouth alone, or you can use it as one part of your entire marketing campaign.

At first, you won’t be able to build a whole business this way. You don’t have enough people in the pipeline to generate the buzz needed to sustain such a campaign.

However, keep word of mouth in mind with every interaction you have with your customers. Every step of the way, think, “What will they tell their friends?” Preplan it in your favor, and build in purposeful interactions. Set up triggers to leverage word of mouth as much as possible. Make it intentional by design; don’t leave one bit of it to chance. But just keep in mind that it should always look like it was by chance. Make the customers feel special.

More important than anything else, put yourself in your customers’ shoes. If you had someone working at your house—a landscaper, gardener, pressure washer, whatever—what are some things they could do to really wow you? What little thing could they do to impress you so much that you would go out of your way to tell your friends about it?