5 Perfect Times to Ask for a Referral

5 Perfect Times to Ask for a ReferralAsking for referrals makes many small business owners and salespeople uncomfortable. However, if you do a great job for customers and they are happy with you, customers are usually pleased to help you succeed and give you a referral. But customers often won’t think of referring your small business without prompting. You have to ask.

The most effective way to overcome reluctance is to build asking for referrals into your regular habits. Here are five ideas you can consider as “triggers” to asking for a referral:

  1. When a customer submits a glowing customer service review
  2. In the middle of a project, when the customer is most involved in your work together
  3. After delivery of a product, when the customer is most delighted
  4. At your anniversary date with a customer, as part of a broader “It’s been an outstanding year” message
  5. During any conversation with your customer when they are particularly pleased with your small business

As a bonus, these are also perfect times to ask for a testimonial. Why not do both?

Your Receptionist May Be Your Most Important Employee

In Small Business Marketing, Receptionists Are on the Front Line

Your Receptionist Might Be Your Most Important EmployeeReceptionist positions are often considered entry-level with high turnover. Small businesses don’t spend much time training the receptionist, sometimes just giving her an admonition to be friendly and punctual.

But from your customer’s perspective, your receptionist just might be your small business’s most important employee! An effective receptionist:

  • Is a customer’s first impression of your company
  • Develops meaningful customer relationships
  • Keeps customers happy
  • Is a key source of business intelligence

Everytime the phone rings or someone walks through the door, your receptionist is the spokesperson for your business. Customers will evaluate your business based on their interactions with the receptionist. More often than anyone else, she is in a position to execute your marketing strategies.

Receptionists are also in a position to uncover important business intelligence that should inform your small business marketing strategies. They talk to customers all day long. Through skillful conversation, they can identify how customers learned about you, what competitors they evaluated and problem areas in your products or services.

Does your receptionist know how important she is to your small business? Help her understand her professional role, and you’ll welcome a new, valuable member to your marketing team.

Be Comparatively Better and Absolutely More Successful

Find the Differences that Matter to Beat the Competition

Be comparatively better and absolutely more successfulCustomers will always compare your small business to your competitors. Their frame of reference for evaluating you is often if you are better or worse than what they’ve experienced in the past. If you learn what irks customers about competitors and excel in those areas, you will have a significant competitive advantage.

Not every difference matters. Customers probably don’t care if you’ve been in business 15 years, while your competitor has only been around for three. They might not even care that your certifications are more thorough. You must find the meaningful differences that can set you apart from the competition in the customer’s mind.

Let’s take my experience with construction contractors as an example. What really matters to me in a contractor is that he answers my call or calls me back the same day. I want a schedule that actually means something. When there’s a problem, I want him to tell me about it right away. That seems like basic customer service, doesn’t it? But compared to most contractors, a firm that meets those criteria will win my loyalty and business.

For some industries, being better than competitors is pretty simple. You just have to be aware of the differences that matter. How will you learn what matters? That’s also pretty simple. Ask your customers. They will tell you.

Facebook as a Customer Service Tool

Have you ever had a customer reach out to you with a customer service issue on social media?

Most businesses think of social media as only a marketing tool (if they think of these channels at all). But including social media in your customer service strategy could lead to happier customers who rave about your business in public.

Facebook as a Customer Service ToolOne great example of a business using Facebook for customer service is my client Grady Veterinary Hospital. The practice receives frequent queries on Facebook, and always responds promptly and thoroughly, in a caring manner. If appropriate, the staff replies publicly. This customer service approach on Facebook is partially responsible for the practice’s 194 reviews, averaging 4.3 stars.

Customer service personnel need to be adept at more than just phone and email communication. Small businesses should empower them to interact on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp or other social media where your business has a presence.

By honoring customers’ communication preferences, you show that you listen to them and that they are important to you. Already, a reconciliatory tone has been set. And the customer has an easy platform to shout your praises from the virtual rooftops.

Why Isn’t Every Business Using Yelp for Customer Service?

My husband and I had a great experience dining at Jimmy G’s, so I wrote them a five-star review on Yelp.

Positive review of Jimmy G's on Yelp

Less than an hour later, I received an email from Ross, the manager, thanking me for reviewing the restaurant. At first I thought, “What courtesy! How kind! How unusual!”

But then I thought… “Why isn’t every consumer business doing this?” Ross’s simple message turned me into a raving fan. I’m even giving them publicity on my blog. And it only took five minutes of his time.

How long would it take you to write a short thank-you message on Yelp to each of your reviewers?

Beyond thanking positive reviewers, what if you could repair customer relationships that resulted in negative reviews? Usually, it wouldn’t take more than an apology and a token of your sincerity.

Wouldn’t that be valuable to your business?

Marketing Podcast: Marketing With Yelp

Listen as Dave Weatherholt and I discuss small business marketing with Yelp. Since “Getting Down to Business” airs in Alaska, we focus on the Anchorage Yelp market, but these marketing tips can apply to any small business in any city. Here’s what we cover:

  • What Yelp is and what it does
  • The kinds of people who leave reviews on Yelp
  • The local pages Yelp provides for each city
  • What marketing opportunities Yelp offers your business

During the podcast, I also mention my recent article, “Yelp for Small Business Marketing“, which includes screenshots and more marketing tips.

Listen or download below:

Marketing With Yelp

Marketing Podcast: Marketing With Yelp (7.4MB)

This segment first aired during “Getting Down to Business” on Alaska’s Fox News Talk 1020.


5000 Marketing Mistakes – Should We Keep Them?

My colleague Joanne Glass recently shared an experience with me that all marketers can learn from. It starts with this excerpt from a deli’s marketing communication:

During a quick glance at the menu, Joanne also spotted “Chichen Salad,” along with “Tow locations.” This menu was so replete with errors that she was prompted to ask the cashier why the deli handed it out to customers. He replied,

“The printer refused to give my boss a credit for the typos. He said they were our fault, because we didn’t proofread it. We don’t want to throw away 5000 flyers!”

This deli owner could benefit from learning about sunk costs. Just because a vendor is in the wrong, doesn’t mean a business should pass the mistake onto their customers. Sometimes businesses must face the unpleasant task of recycling 5000 flyers for the sake of their customer relationships.

In other news, this business is currently looking for a new printing partner. Sometimes vendors must also face the unpleasant task of admitting a mistake for the sake of their customer relationships– or face the consequences of losing their customers.

Marketing for Appearances

Have you ever driven past a small business and thought it looked dingy, dilapidated or outdated? Have you ever been on a website that felt cumbersome to use, with the information you sought hard to find? Perhaps you think the business owners must not care anymore, or they don’t have the budget to fix things up. Even worse for the business, you might not think anything, but simply keep driving or surfing the web.

If it’s been awhile since you invested in your business’s appearance, customers could be thinking the same about you. After a few years, a business owner’s familiarity with her surroundings can cause her to overlook the slow decay of time.  Take a fresh look at the impression you are making on customers when they see your business for the first time.

You only have one chance at a first impression, goes the adage. And your first impression with customers is crucial- what they notice first sets the tone for how or if they will do business with you.

Your business’s exterior needs to be welcoming, easy to understand and clearly explain who you are. Your exterior could be a brick-and-mortar store, a website or even your sales team. Here are some examples to get you thinking.

Good Exteriors for Marketing

The Pink Box is a boutique in my neighborhood that shows a great exterior appearance, with a fresh sign and interesting window display. It’s easy to know when they are open and what you can buy from them.

My favorite part of The Pink Box’s exterior is this cheerful open sign. On chilly or hot days when the store must keep the door closed, this sign serves as a beacon to everyone on the square.

There’s a lovely inn in Carmel, CA that looks just as lovely when you first drive up. The Candle Light Inn looks inviting, and it’s easy for newcomers to know where to park when they arrive.

Not to overload on the pink, but the Olde Pink House Restaurant in Savannah, GA does a great job of communicating their stately yet fun vibe with their exterior.

The menu board on the front steps also helps customers know what kind of food to expect.

Camp Washington Chili hasn’t been around since 1771 like the Olde Pink House, but they have been in the same location since 1940. They’ve really kept their exterior fresh and updated, which contributes to their continued success. And with that sign, you certainly know what they sell!

Not-so-good Exteriors for Marketing

Often, seeing bad examples is just as useful as seeing good ones. Here are some unfortunate businesses that really could stand to improve their exterior appearance.

The BonBonerie is one of the best and most creative bakeries in Cincinnati, OH. For a new customer, it’s very difficult to find the entrance, because it is facing the parking lot, not the main street. This kind of confusion could cause a customer to drive away instead of stopping in.

This exterior inspires more questions than appetites. Did Laurie and Debi have a fight? Is this supposed to be a joke? What exactly is the name of this restaurant, anyway?

Casbah is a great Moroccan restaurant in Savannah, GA, with an inspired decor, great staff and delicious food. But you could never tell from the outside. If your sign is old and faded, and your canopy is dingy and worn, many new customers will pass you by.

To see some examples of websites and logos, read my articles, “Web Design Essentials for Small Business” and “Small Business Logo Design.”

There’s good news. Even if your business looks more like the bad than good examples, you can start making things better today. Your website might need a redesign, or your building a complete remodel, but there are small steps you can take to incrementally improve your appearance. Need some ideas? Send me an email or call me at 513.833.4203.

Marketing Podcast: Customer Service Tips

The hardest part of delivering good customer service is when you need to give bad news to your customer. But this marketing podcast provides four tips for delivering great customer service when you have to tell a customer, “No.” As you will hear in the podcast, businesses can even use a bad situation to create a more loyal customer.

Listen or download below:

Customer Service Tips: How to tell a customer no

Download the Customer Service Tips MP3 file here. (6.1 MB)

This segment first aired during “Getting Down to Business” on Alaska’s Fox News Talk 1020.

Good Customer Service: How to Tell a Customer “No”

Good customer service is easy when things are going smoothly, and you can say, “Yes!” to your customers’ requests. But when you have to tell a customer, “No,” it takes more thought and effort to deliver good customer service. Recently, I got to experience amazing customer service and found it a “teachable moment” for all businesses.

For many years, I have subscribed to the Wall Street Journal‘s “Best of the Web Today” emails, but in the last few months they changed the emails to excerpts, requiring subscribers to visit a web page to read the whole digest. Upset about the change, I sent a curt email, writing:

I really don’t like how you no longer include the full article in the email. I subscribe by email because I want to read the whole thing in my email inbox.

James Taranto, the editor for Best of the Web Today, emailed me back:

I’m afraid this was a business decision. There was hardly any demand for ads in the BOTWT email, so we decided to direct readers to the website. However, you can still get the full text–but without formatting and links–if you switch your subscription to the text format. Cheers, James

Four Elements of Good Customer Service

This email response took me aback. It was perfect, even though he was effectively telling me, “No.” Here’s why:

  1. The response came from someone I respect. James Taranto, the editor, wrote this email. Someone with decision-making power thought my complaint important enough to respond to himself.
  2. The explanation was honest. I can’t argue that the Wall Street Journal needs to make a profit. Taranto respected me enough to just tell me the truth.
  3. The email was personalized. Clearly, this email was not a form letter. It was written in direct response to my complaint.
  4. Taranto presented a remedy and specified its drawbacks. To get the full text,  I can subscribe to the plain text version of the mailing. But thanks to his explanation, I won’t be surprised when there aren’t any links in it. Taranto prevented a further customer service problem by telling me the drawbacks up front.

If you incorporate these four elements into your customer service interactions, you will not only satisfy customers, but you will make them more loyal and raving fans of your products and company as well. How’s that for turning a negative into a positive? Take my example. Instead of remaining angry with the Wall Street Journal, I wrote a glowing article about their great customer service.