Are Word-of-Mouth Referrals All You Think They Are?

For local businesses, it’s a virtual mantra that word-of-mouth referrals are marketing gold.  But are they happening in the way you think they are?

You do a great job for a new client.  Everything smooth as butter.

The job ends, and they say goodbye with thanks.  You ask if they’ll mention you to their friends, and they assure you they will.

Then you never get another lead that was a referral from this client.

What gives?

Marketing guru Seth Godin makes some interesting points on the selfish truth about word-of-mouth referrals.  As usual, he gets down the real way people behave, after the niceties of the good-bye are over.

In truth, many people don’t give referrals later – they hesitate.   Godin notes:

  • People are concerned that a friend might have a bad experience then blame them.
  • They’re also concerned the person they refer might act like a jerk and cause ill feelings between them and the vendor.
  • People fear sending more business to a provider they like will make the too busy and cause them to raise prices.
  • People consider their own self image.  How does this referral make them look?
  • Is the service complex?  Are there issues and pitfalls people prefer to avoid?
  • Is it honest?  People will wonder if they look like a salesperson getting a kickback for making the recommendation.

You can’t completely get around these problems – they’re just human reactions.

It also may explain why people like online review platforms that maintain their anonymity.  They can give a review, but not be involved if things go badly later for someone who engaged the business because of it.

One thing’s for sure, when you get a rock-solid customer who is an advocate, have them give you a testimonial you can use on your website.  Make it complete with their name and a picture.

People know when they see that type of testimonial on a website, the client is really standing behind the business.

That’s word-of-mouth you can’t beat.