How a Small Business Fuels Word of Mouth


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Word-of-Mouth is widely accepted as one of the most effective ways of winning the minds of new customers. Potential customers rank people like themselves very high on trust scales. If they are friends, all the better.
The question is Why don’t businesses take a more proactive role in fueling word-of-mouth?
Here is an example of how a small business stimulates word-of-mouth in a particularly fertile marketplace.
Richard Houghton is the owner of Fine Line Renovations, a company that restores or replaces decks in northern California. Richard is proud of his company’s attention to detail and their ability to not only make customers satisfied, but to make the whole experience of buying, installing and living with a new deck highly positive.
The story of how I met Richard illustrates how he fuels word-of-mouth.
My first exposure was a nicely design sign in my neighbors front yard. It announced that Fine Line Renovations was in the process of replacing the neighbor’s deck.
Next, Bob, my neighbor and Bocce team mate, mentioned how impressed he was with the work Richard and his crew were doing. I wondered why they were replacing their deck, it seemed fine to me. Bob explained that the substructure was rotting. This had an immediate impact on me. Bob and I live in a subdivision of homes that are all the same age and that meant that I was probably due for a new deck in the near future. I was listening a little more intently now.
At the next weeks Bocce match, Bob invited us (the Bocce team) to a backyard barbeque to check out his new deck. He proceeded to tell us that Richard was putting on the barbeque and we didn’t need to bring anything.
Bob also told us that Richard asked Bob and Candice to be especially picky about the quality of the job. He wanted them to be exceptionally happy and he wanted to impress anyone who came to the barbecue.
About 30 people showed up for a great feast of grilled tri-tip and all the trimming, courtesy of Richard. The group included neighbors, invited by Bob and Candice directly, or by a postcard announcement from them put on all the neighborhood doorsteps. Of course, Richard covered the printing and the distribution. Richard also invited prospect from other neighborhoods.
Naturally, everyone checked out the deck and was impressed with the details. One guy brought up an issue with the stairs connecting two levels that Bob and Candice had not considered. Richard picked up on the conversation and jump in, along with his construction foreman. They agreed on a solution and committed to having it done in two days at no additional charge.
What did Richard’s investment in a barbeque do for his business? He attracted the attention of potential new customers who would be needing deck in the near future. He established credibility for the quality of his work and, very importantly, for his willingness to stand behind his work. He also fueled advocacy in everyone in attendance. We will carry the message to the neighbors who didn’t attend.
For a small investment, Fine Line Renovations will be getting a lot of business in our neighborhood over the next year.

John Todor
John I. Todor, Ph.D. is the Managing Partner of the MindShift Innovation, a firm that helps executives confront the volatility and complexity of the marketplace. We engage executives in a process that tackles two critical challenges: envisioning new possibilities for creating and delivering value to customers and, fostering employee engagement in the innovation and alignment of business practices to deliver on the new possibilities. Follow me on Twitter @johntodor


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