If you have any doubt that word of mouth referrals is important, consider these recent stats:

So how can you encourage positive word of mouth for your small business?

Try these three strategies.

Offer exceptional customer service—every time

There’s no way around it: positive word of mouth must be earned.

Unfortunately it is exceedingly difficult to prevent negative word of mouth. People are much more likely to share a bad experience than praise a business. (Research shows that 95% of consumers will pass on a negative run-in with a company and more than half will spread the word to at least five other people).

The best way to earn positive referrals is to make your customers feel special each time they meet you and your brand.

Here are a few simple ways to win over your customers:

  • Be friendly and approachable in person and online
  • Get to know your customers personally
  • Ensure customers are greeted promptly and don’t wait long to complete a transaction
  • Express gratitude for ongoing business
  • Offer perks for loyalty
  • Pay attention to the details
  • Be honest, always
  • If something goes amiss, take immediate steps to resolve the problem to the customer’s satisfaction.

Invite—and reward—referrals

You can increase the odds that customers will spread the good word about your business with an incentive—such as a freebie or discount on their next purchase for completing a review on your website, Yelp, or Angie’s List.

Try an app like Wufoo to set up a simple referral form right on your website. Make it easy to pass on your e-newsletter to more potential customers with a web-based referral system that automates the process.

Don’t miss an opportunity
Remember to ask the folks who praise your products and customer service that you’d love a testimonial for your website, or a shout out on social media.

On that note, it’s essential to keep track of what people are saying about your brand online—whether the talk is positive or negative. Be sure to take a moment to thank your fans for their kind words. As a bonus, replying to positive business reviews can help give them a bump in search results.

Be sure to respond appropriately to negative reviews, too. Consider a bad review an opportunity to make things right. It’s much better to know what people are saying and respond than allow a problem to fester.

Check out this article for useful tips on the right way to respond to positive and negative reviews.

Final thoughts

As you make efforts to increase word of mouth for your business, remember this: it’s the element of surprise that really gets people talking about a company. Think about how you can do more than meet your customers’ expectations, but dramatically exceed them. They’ll not only tell their friends about you—they’ll keep coming back for more.