March 12, 2024 by Service Direct

9 Tips to Increase Word of Mouth Referrals for Your Small Business

In a recent survey, we asked 614 US consumers their most used methods for researching a small business and found that 56% ask a friend for recommendations. In 2024, we want to help you capitalize on those word of mouth referrals by using every marketing tool in your arsenal to create brand awareness and customer loyalty.

Typical Methods Used When Researching a Small Business to Patronize

Understanding Word of Mouth in the Digital Age

A referral occurs when an existing customer tells someone else about your business in an attempt to recommend your services.

To expand on that, word of mouth marketing is the ongoing conversation that is happening around your brand. Differing from paid advertising, word of mouth marketing is organic, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t techniques you can use to get people talking about your business.

It Starts With Brand Awareness

Brand awareness is a customer’s ability to identify a given business in relation to the services or products it offers.

When it starts to get cold outside do you look for lip balm or Chapstick? When seeking something online do you search the internet or Google it? These are examples of brand awareness.

Most businesses will never achieve the level of recognition of brands like Google and Chapstick. In fact, it takes an average of 5 to 7 impressions for someone to remember your brand.

That’s why it is crucial to use every tool in your arsenal to increase the brand awareness of your small business. Brand awareness is a long game and, especially in the digital age when any piece of information is available at the tap of a finger, you’ll need to be diligent to win it.

Building Customer Confidence

In the last few years, the business world has seen a shift in what individuals consider when purchasing a service. More people want to support local businesses in their neighborhood or ask a friend for recommendations before hiring.

By focusing on increasing customer confidence, your business can use this to your advantage to receive more word of mouth referrals.

Tip #1: Maintain a High-Quality, Up-To-Date Website

In our survey, we found that 51% of respondents were either unlikely or highly unlikely to patronize a small business with an outdated website. Because of this, one of the easiest ways to build customer confidence from the outset is by ensuring your small business has a premium website.

Focus on crucial elements such as mobile compatibility, quality visuals, and optimized content that makes it simple for a potential customer to find your service offerings, contact information, and the area you support.

Likelihood of Patronizing a Business with Outdated Website

Tip #2: Place High Priority on Customer Satisfaction

Think about this: when someone asks you for a recommendation, you are never going to suggest a company that makes the process difficult every step of the way. That would reflect poorly on you as the friend giving the recommendation.

As a business, there are elements that you focus on daily to make your company more successful, such as return on investment and time spent on each customer

Keys to premier CSS graphic

By using every tool in your arsenal to make things as seamless as possible for your customers you are putting yourself in a better position to receive referrals and repeat customers down the line. In other words, keep customer satisfaction in mind at all times and you will see more success across the board.

Tip #3: Keep in Touch With Previous Customers

To tie it all back to brand awareness, one key part to obtaining word of mouth referrals is ensuring your business springs immediately to mind when a previous customer is asked for a recommendation in your wheelhouse.

To do this, you will want to keep in touch with customers as time goes on. While it may seem like an ineffective use of your time and money, if it brings you even one additional customer through word of mouth it will be worth it. 


Take a moment to think about what types of follow-up emails would be the most valuable to you and your customers and schedule them in advance. 

Whether you are promoting new products, reminding them to schedule an annual service, or just want to "get in touch," these emails are key for staying top of mind. 

Using Social Media to Increase Reachability

We’re not going to beat around the bush here—it’s 2024 and you probably already have a good bit of social media experience under your belt. But especially post-Covid lockdown, social media is one of the best ways to increase brand awareness and, consequently, word of mouth referrals.

Tip #1: Stay Active and Engaged

When it comes to social media, responding to all legitimate messages and comments is a great way to continue to build customer confidence and awareness.

It’s crucial to maintain an active presence and do everything you can to keep a rapport on all social media platforms, especially Facebook, which 32% of our survey respondents said they use to search for small businesses.

Addressing people by their name, asking follow-up questions, and essentially doing everything you can to professionally connect with individuals will work toward getting those word of mouth referrals.

Tip #2: Focus on Shareable Content

When someone shares one of your posts on their social media page, that action acts as a type of word of mouth referral. All of their followers will see your business associated with the post, making you one step closer to being top of mind the next time they need your services.

Creating posts that encourage engagement, such as behind the scenes pictures, customer success stories, and giveaways will all help show your personality and keep your business getting new customers via existing ones.

Tip #3: Testimonials, Testimonials, and More Testimonials

Positive reviews are a surefire way to increase a potential customer’s confidence in your company from the outset. Conversely, if you don’t have a lot of reviews or if you have mixed reviews, your business will very likely be skipped over by a majority of potential customers.

We all know that negative reviews very rarely give a full picture of a company, as it is usually the people with strong opinions that take the time to leave reviews, but they can still be a death sentence. So what can you do to get more positive reviews from happy customers? The answer is simple: just ask.

Likelihood of Giving a Recommendation From a Social Media Post

In our survey we found that 71% of respondents said they were likely or very likely to provide a review after being satisfied if the company made it easy for them to do so. Simply making it easy for customers to leave reviews and asking them to do so will help get those crucial positive reviews out in the world.

Stay in Touch Through Email

The first form of email marketing was sent in 1978, and now, almost 50 years later, it still remains as one of the best ways to stay in touch with your customers as well as draw in new ones.

By being selective about your email communication with existing customers, you can stay top of mind and continue to show your business in a positive way, which all leads to increased word of mouth referrals.

Tip #1: Coupons, Deals, and Promotions

Though we stated earlier in this article that word of mouth marketing is entirely organic, that's not completely true. While most word of mouth marketing cannot be forced, there are certain ways you can nudge an existing customer in the right direction.

By sending promotional emails for referral programs, special deals, or rewards, you are increasing the likelihood that a customer will tell a friend about your company. This is especially true for referral programs, as they offer both the existing customer and the potential customer an incentive for patronizing your business.

Customer Referral Cycle Diagram

Money is the name of the game in the 21st century and these deals are more than likely going to keep customers coming back and referring new people.

Promotional Email Example

Tip #2: Too Much Versus Too Little Communication

When it comes to email marketing, there is a fine line between emailing so little that the customer forgets about your company and emailing so often so that they unsubscribe out of irritation. In fact, frequency tends to be the biggest reason people unsubscribe from email lists.

Unfortunately, there is no set number of emails that will work for your small business. It’s important to take the time and research your competitors, the industry you are in, and even consider asking your customers what they think. Some businesses may see success with 1 to 2 emails per week while others may only want to send 2 to 3 emails a month.

The key is figuring out the best strategy to keep your business top of mind so that a customer may recommend you to a friend but won’t feel too bothered by your communication.

Tip #3: Keep Emails Simple and Easy To Find

It’s important to keep in mind when writing emails that you want people to open the email and, even better, read what you have to say. Try to keep the subject lines interesting and engaging and the content in the email short and sweet. Also, make sure your emails are personalized to improve conversion rates. 

If you have any promotions or deals you are featuring, put that in the subject line and make sure it is prominent in the body of the email.

Keep in mind that simple is always better when it comes to all emails. When you send someone a follow-up email, a confirmation email, or even a bill, make sure your business name is in the email address. Also ensure the subject line includes any key words like confirmation, receipt, or thank you.

This way, when a customer wants to recommend your company to a friend but can’t remember your name, they can easily search any of those words in their inbox and your communication will appear.

IN Conclusion

Ultimately, the key to getting more word of mouth referrals is simple: combine expert services and exemplary customer care with brand awareness.

Ensure that you're serving your customers with the best product in the area at a reasonable price. Combine that with staying in contact through email, social media, or face-to-face communication, and your business will jump right to mind when a friend asks for a recommendation.

Keep these tips on hand for increasing that awareness and you’ll soon be capitalizing on the rewards word of mouth marketing creates. 

Author's note: This post was originally published in April 2022 and has been updated to reflect new developments and data.

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