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Put the Power of Word of Mouth to Good Use

Howard Scott |

Everyone knows that word-of-mouth advertising is the best form of winning business, but few do anything about it. One Laundromat owner told me: “Word-of-mouth advertising is my key to bringing in business. I keep this place spotless and make it customer-accessible. Customers tell their friends and neighbors, and that’s how we get more business.”Yes, but what are you doing to expand your word-of-mouth effect? Maintaining a nice business is certainly necessary, but it is not a marketing effort in itself. For word-of-mouth advertising to really work, you must push it along, give it wings, and expand its potential.INCENTIVESProvide an incentive for customer recommendations. Walk around your store, handing out fake $3 bills (money in trade) for bringing in a new patron. Say something like, “You know how we value you as a customer, Mrs. Doe. But we want your neighbor’s business, too. Perhaps you’ll recommend us to someone you know. Here’s some earnest money to trigger your memory. When you bring the new customer in, you’ll receive $3 free usage on a machine or a $3 credit for future use.”The customer must come in with the newcomer. You or your attendant welcomes the newcomer. Then you arrange $3 credit on the customer’s machine, or detail the recommendation in a logbook for future credit.How do you know the customer is a first-timer? You can’t be sure, but if you are attentive, you will have a pretty good idea that the person is, at a minimum, not a regular. Besides, getting an infrequent user to come in is almost as good.Such a promotion gets you out and around your clientele, which, it must be said, is never a bad thing. Never begrudge the time spent schmoozing with customers. I know some owners avoid mixing with customers. They would prefer to be doing just about anything other than interacting with patrons, as if they could catch a dreaded disease from them.Being on the scene shows that you are an active participant in your shop. Everyone likes to see the boss on the premises. Yes, you might get criticism thrown at you that you could have avoided, but so what? You’re an adult; you can take it.TAKE THEIR WORD FOR ITPut recommendations in all advertising/promotional material. If you send a letter to apartment dwellers in the area, it can’t hurt to include a testimonial. If you use Valpak coupons, have several recommendations on the back. Make positive comments the focus of your printed ads. Here are some examples:

  • They make my life easier by solving any wash-day problems.
  • I like going there because it’s sort of like going home.
  • Where do I go to look good? I go to Acme Laundromat.
  • It’s easier for me to use the Bubble’s pickup and drop-off service than to do it myself.

Of course, your comments will have attribution. The person’s name and town or street address will be used beneath each comment.Where do you get these recommendations? Ask customers for comments. Make calls. If answers aren’t forthcoming, prompt them. “Well, why do you keep coming here?” might be a prompt. Encourage the comments by how you frame the questions.Do quotations have to be the exact words? No, the goal is to make the quote grammatically correct, clear and brief. One can eliminate the nonessential so that it says just what it’s supposed to. The guiding principle is that the user must capture the intent of the statement, and generally use what was said. Within that context, you’re free to make changes.GET THE STAFF INVOLVEDMotivate staffers to become word-of-mouth recommenders. Hand out personalized (their name on them) bring-a-friend coupons for them to distribute at family gatherings, parties, etc. Offer them a $5 bill for every new customer who comes into the Laundromat. The new customer must return the bring-a-friend coupon, and leave it with an attendant. If there is no attendant, the customer puts the bring-a-friend coupon in a clearly marked box. Management checks the coupons, and hands out cash to deserving employees.Employees aren’t going to get rich from this effort. If each staffer brings in one new customer a week, that will be fine. But the program does alert workers that they have a part to play in the marketing of the business. Bring-a-friend programs inform employees that every employee is a salesperson/goodwill ambassador. The staffer who spends time folding laundry has probably never thought of his/her job in quite those terms. But now that the seed is planted, a reasonably loyal staffer at a well-managed laundry would go out of his/her way to recommend the service to the public.USE THE INTERNETThe Internet is new, untested word-of-mouth marketing. Young people (20-35 years old) spend more and more of their time on the Internet, and it can’t hurt to go after this business. Recent college graduates just might not be able to afford apartments that have laundry rooms. Other young people might be between home and another living situation. And still other young people might just come across your site at random. Don’t spend a lot of money. Have your computer-literate son or daughter create the site. It can be good practice for them.As for content, my one rule is to make it funny. Yes, funny. Somehow, locate your funny bone and deliver humor. Make the viewer laugh, guffaw, or at least shake his head. How? Discuss your Laundromat’s “personality.” Make jokes about famous people visiting your store. Talk about naming the machines. Open up the space to Wednesday evening poetry readings. Deliver your own laundry poetry. Put a coupon on your site that is redeemable for a free wash.Make word-of-mouth marketing work for you. Harness the power of the spoken recommendation. 

About the author

Howard Scott

H&R Block

Industry Writer, Drycleaning Consultant, and H&R Block Tax Preparer

Howard Scott is a longtime industry writer and drycleaning consultant, and an H&R Block tax preparer specializing in small businesses. He welcomes questions and comments, and can be reached by writing Howard Scott, Dancing Hill, Pembroke, MA 02359.

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