Getting new referrals the old-fashioned way

Oct 31, 2018

Even with the advancement of social media, digital marketing, robo-emails, and other automated options that make building one’s clientele roster more efficient, there is still something endearing about good old-fashioned word of mouth. Not only is it free, but it typically is embedded in and built upon trust.

Yet, as easy and as simplistic as that may sound, what makes word of mouth work is that it is organic. There is no algorithm, but there are some things that you can do to help your clients have an exceptional experience.

Customer service, customer service, customer service

I remember one time when I was searching for a car. I loved a specific European brand, make, and model, so I narrowed my choice to a particular dealership. I went in several times and the sales staff overwhelmed me with attention, reading materials, and all the espresso that one could drink.

They used terms like "family" and "valued customer." I was assigned a personal sales agent who picked me up from work one day so that I could test-drive the car. He kept telling me to “take the corners,” so I did. It was exhilarating. Needless to say, the amazing customer service wowed me and it was a deciding factor in my purchasing the car.

A few days after picking up the car, I had a question and could not find the answer in the elaborate, but not-so-user friendly, car manual. When I called to speak to my sales agent, he immediately replied, “Tyra who?” I thought: How many Tyras have you sold cars to in the last 3 days?

Gone was the overly effervescent personality and "we are family" mantra. His voice didn’t even sound the same. And even after I jogged his memory as to who I was, he was indifferent and he could not answer my question.

When I asked to speak to the director of sales, I was told that he would call me back at his earliest convivence. This was in 2002; it is 2018 and I am still waiting for that return phone call. And no, I never found out the answer to my question. To borrow from a phrase that was popular in the 90s and 00s, I got played.

Service after the sale, in this capacity, required engaging with the customer. Although I do not recall my exact question, a return phone call or even a: “We don’t know” would have gone a long way to rebuilding my trust and respect for this business.

Why word of mouth really matters

Later, when several of my colleagues or friends asked about my car, I told them that I would drive to Philly or Baltimore before I ever purchased another car from that dealership or recommended them to someone else. I tried to remain diplomatic.

Perhaps my experience was an outlier, but what if it wasn’t?

I did not want to run the risk that people who I respected and cared about might have a similar experience. If they thought enough of my opinion to ask for it, I wanted to be fair and honest.

Our sphere of influence

Like most friendships, familial or even work relationships, we all have a sphere of influence, and that is why word of mouth is critical. Word of mouth is a pseudo-vetting process that some potential clients depend upon when determining who they want to work with. And, based upon the relationship between the parties involved, one person’s endorsement can carry quite a bit of weight.

The poor customer service that I experienced left such a sour taste in my mouth that I will never forget that experience, but for all of the wrong reasons.

Conversely, I have had amazing experiences where the business’ representatives were attentive and responsive. On numerous occasions, I have referred other people to these businesses.

Clearly, we want our clients to remember us; we want our clients to have an exceptional experience. When they do, there is a stronger likelihood that they will, via word of mouth, make referrals.

And because word of mouth is still one of the best ways to gain new clientele, be sure to make customer service a priority in how you deal with clients—before, during, and after the sale.

Tyra Seldon

Tyra Seldon is a former English Professor turned writer, editor and small business owner. Her writing addresses the intersections of race, gender, culture and education.