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Customers: Your Free Sales Force
by Stephanie Liska

Your grandfathers did it across the fence. They leaned in, sharing experiences, discussing what worked and what didn’t, who they did and didn’t enjoy doing business with.

Our fathers leaned against the hood of the pickup and said “What’s your experience been with John down at the elevator?”
There’s nothing more powerful than Word of Mouth. Getting your customers to talk with their peers (often your prospects) in a favorable way about your business is the most important thing you can do to successfully market your business and create a lasting brand.

Let’s get ‘em talking. The first step? Ensure they have good things to talk about. Talk with your customers and find out what kind of experiences they’re really having.

Here are just a few starting questions you can use or have a third party organization use on your behalf:

  1. Have your customers rate various experiences on a 1 ((very poor) to 5 (Excellent) scale:
    Rate your experience with wait time when you bring in grain.
    …when you call in and talk with the office staff.
    …with delivery.
  2. What do you tell your employees to expect when they arrive at the
  3. What could we do better that would make a difference in your business?
  4. Why are you currently doing business with us?
  5. Would you recommend us to others?

Listen carefully to fully understand the feedback you get. Once you understand these experiences you will know what your customers are telling others, what to continue and where to improve.

Secondly, there should be no harder critic than you! View your business through your customers’ eyes for a day. Call in and experience how you are handled on the phone. Is your web site easy to use, your office clean and professional? You’re dealing with multi-million dollar businesses—does your office space reflect that? Are your invoices easy to understand? Are your employees offering the service and professionalism necessary for a good customer experience?

Don’t make excuses—look for areas of improvement, even the smallest change can lead to a Word of Mouth Ripple Effect in your market place that will attract new customers or further solidify the loyalty of old ones.

The Ripple Effect is real. At the National Agri-Marketing Association Meeting this April, Dr. Joan Fulton of Purdue University presented the findings of a national study and stated, “The WOMM Impact Study proved that the ripple effect was very powerful. People are more likely to share with their peers experiences and information about products or services when they are adequately empowered with information and a positive experience.”

The third step is to identify and put your best customers to work for you—sharing their experience and telling your story. Identify your most loyal customers—those you know have had a good experience with you and can speak highly of your organization.

Inform your key employees that these customers are critical to your Word of Mouth Marketing Strategy. These customers need to be informed and every employee needs to be responsible for the customer experience. This will go a long way, not only in what your key customers tell their peers but also the expectations they set in the market place.

Word of Mouth occurs naturally when your customers become your advocates. To help facilitate do this:

  • Ask your customer advocates to share their experience in testimonials in statement stuffers or on your web site. At customer meetings have customers tell the group about how your organization makes a difference in their business. In your company newsletter feature a loyal customer, his business and his story as to WHY he does business with you.
  • Provide satisfied customers with invitations they can provide to their friends. These “invitations to do business where I do business” signed by the satisfied customer and presented to another earns both parties a discount or free service. Now you have your most satisfied customer seeking out others to tell about their best experience, and prospects walk in your door.
  • Don’t ignore negative word of mouth. Respond quickly to concerns and criticism. Again, this is everyone’s responsibility in your organization.

Today your customers are doing it! They are talking about YOU on their cell phones and Internet blogs! Use their power to impact your business results.

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