Neil O’Brien: Why word of mouth is the biggest weapon in marketing

When it comes to business, you can throw as much money at marketing as you want – but word-of-mouth is the most valuable and cost effective way to gain customers. Virgin StartUp mentor and managing director of Accentis, Neil O’Brien, tells us how excellent customer service can help you compete with the big businesses.

Great customer service should be an integral part of your job and should not be seen as an extension of it. This is a fundamental business fact. When I’m asked to value a business, the first things I look at are its customers. Why? Because a company’s most valuable asset is its customers. Without them, they would not and could not exist in business. But how do you get a customer – and, more importantly, how do you keep a customer?

Word of mouth marketing

Word-of-mouth marketing is the secret. Lots know this, but few really know how to get someone to wax lyrical about your company. So let me start from the beginning… When you interact with a customer you need to wow them, not merely satisfy them. But what’s a wow moment, and how do you create one? Well before we do that let’s consider success, because that is what we all want from our businesses. In my world success is all about making sure you spend your time on the most important stuff first: attracting and keeping customers.

How do you attract and keep customers?

The best way is to be better than your competition and that doesn’t come from merely satisfying your customers - because that satisfaction is short-lived, it’s a temporary high. This is where I come back to a “wow!” moment, and it is why I coach my clients on wowing their customers. You see - if you wow your customers, they are highly likely to tell their friends, and therefore bring new people to your business… who will also be wowed, and will tell their friends, and bring even more people to your business… you get the picture!

How do you get people to talk about your business?

It’s very easy when you get something wrong; just read any social media stream of any big company and you’ll see a timeline full of complaints. But get it right and the story shared, and your word-of-mouth marketing will amplify your reach beyond your wildest imagination. This is what success is all about: amplication of your marketing efforts and brand perception in order to keep and attract customers. Let’s start by getting people to talk about what you do…

What is a “wow!” moment?

A “wow!” moment occurs when a customer follows a “Thank you,” with a “you were fantastic!” It’s going that extra mile, above and beyond what your customers expect. Everyone can offer good service and, to be frank, that is the minimum required to keep a customer. What you are aiming for is this level above in order to impress them, make them come back, and crucially, tell others. The effort you put into creating your “wow!” factor is dependent upon the Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) you place on your customers. So always remember to ask yourself the following question: do you know how much each customer is worth?

What is the difference between a satisfied customer and a loyal customer?

A satisfied customer will feel fine about dealing with your company. Their basic needs were met, the product/service was okay, and their experience of your company was acceptable. Overall, they are satisfied with your company. They may or may not talk about their experience with your company. They may or may not refer someone to you. This is a good position to be in, right? Wrong!

A loyal customer will feel have experienced that “wow!” moment. Their needs will have been exceeded – maybe not by much, but just enough to make them feel they are getting great value. Your service would have been fast, efficient, and on time. Your products are excellent, and your customers will feel very happy – even ecstatic - about your company. They will tell everyone they know how thrilled they are. They will refer your company to their friends, and remember their experience with you. They will definitely call your company again. This is why you should aim to create loyal customers every day. You’re getting your customer to come back and do more business with you, and they’re telling others to use your company. Over time, this will grow your company.

How do you create a loyal customer and wow them?

By giving! The best way to get loyalty is to give loyalty. Help the customer with the problem they have, and give the customer more than what they expected. It’s a deep-rooted psychological mindset: if someone gives us something, we feel obliged to give something back. This is the theory of reciprocity, and there are thousands of studies to prove just how valuable it is in business. So let’s get back to giving first. It needn’t be expensive. Here are a few simple tips to help you get there. Remember: it’s not the big things that matter, but the little things that add up to something bigger.

  • Do you track your customer’s date of birth? Even for product companies, this is an easy field to collect. If you have it, do you do something with it? A simple birthday card, an offer on their birthday, a free gift on a ‘big’ birthday?
  • Do you gift them a free gift for their order as a thank you? Something as simple as a chocolate bar can put a smile on their face.
  • For service companies, do you mail a handwritten thank you card after completing a client project?
  • Do you publish response times for enquires and/or sales? Do you send a gift as an apology when you miss them?

Whatever you do must have an emotional impact on the receiver. Try it, give it 90 days, and measure it. I’m sure you’ll soon find your customers talking about you more and when they do, the people they’re talking to will know you - so if you begin to interact with them too they’re not cold prospects, they’re warm prospects. And that’s worth a lot to your business!

To read more about Neil and his business, visit