The #1 Thing Killing Your Word-of-Mouth Marketing

iStock_000004719846SmallMy cleaning lady wants to grow her business.

This morning, she presented me with a handful of freshly inked business cards and asked that I recommend her service to my neighbors and friends.

I told her that I couldn’t.

It’s not that she doesn’t do a great job – the woman is a cleaning machine.  After a visit from her, every inch of my house sparkles with a Disneyesque twinkle, and I just feel better about life in general.

So why wouldn’t I recommend her to my friends?

Because it would ruin my credibility.

My cleaning lady is undependable, inconsistent at best.

  • Cleaning appointments are missed.
  • Communication about why is almost non-existent (and no, it’s not a language barrier issue).
  • Responsibility is not a high priority.

While I work around these quirks (for now), I couldn’t expect my friends to have the same level of tolerance.

I’d never recommend her to anyone, because her inability to deliver reflects on my credibility as a person with sound judgment.

When businesses strategize about generating word-of-mouth marketing, they stop at the point of figuring out something remarkable to offer. They forget the most important part – how they’re going to offer it on a consistent, dependable basis.

And for women, who are wired for connection and are three times as likely to talk about your product or service, dependability is the key to word-of-mouth.

She’s staking her reputation on what you have to deliver.

God help you if she sends someone your way and you screw it up.

In the last three weeks, I’ve been personally embarrassed by well-meaning recommendations that I made.

A restaurant.

A web designer.

A marketing consultant.

All still good at what they do, but completely unreliable in the dependability department.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but inconsistency will kill the business every time.

Are you too focused on the sparkle and not enough on consistency?



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10 Responses to “The #1 Thing Killing Your Word-of-Mouth Marketing”

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  1. Michele,

    that is sooooooo true!
    Being a specialized lawyer (Taxes and Franchises) I face the times when I have to recommend a criminal lawyer or other speciality… There is a saying here: “There is no lawyer ever on time!”
    So it is hard to put out recommendation. Don’t even to get in the ethics department. The lawyers are like bananas (none are straight -ethically speaking) joke has a well deserved basis. Me being a time coach and ethics expert, gets in the way of recommending someone that may be great in litigation, but lacking those 2 values, as my reputation would be on the line.
    Great post!
    Mario E.

  2. Thanks, Mario. It’s extremely difficult when trying to find people in your own line of work to recommend. I face it all the time, and most of the time feel that I’m walking a professional tightrope.

    It can go the other way as well – hesitating to recommend a potential client to a colleague because I’m not sure they have what it takes to be a success.

  3. Michele,
    You do know I don’t hold you personally responsible for someone else’s lack of business sensibility, right? ;-) But I am still amazed at times when people fail to grasp how they are working against themselves by losing the trust of their clients.

  4. Michele, you’re so right. Sometimes there are eccentricities we tolerate out of loyalty that we would not expect others to tolerate.

    The same thing happened in my village with a local restaurant. The food was mostly good. The service was horrible. I stopped recommending it to anyone.

    The sad thing is most of the time clients or customers don’t say anything to the small business or entrepreneur, they just go somewhere else!

  5. You nailed it Michele! Consistency is an absolute must for growing a business. The sad thing is that it’s simple, doesn’t take an algorithm. In your example here, the cleaning lady does great work, yet fails on the most simple of human courtesies—something most of us learn as children. Many businesses get too caught up in trying to find the next big thing, and fail to focus on the simple things that can cause more people to want to do business with them.

  6. Mary Schmidt says:

    One of the bedrock principles of services. Far better to be consistent in delivering “only good” service – than deliver superior SUPER STAR service inconsistently.

    Then there are the women who think we should make referrals to them just because they’re fellow women…and pay them simply for trying to do something (“But, I had to buy the paper!” sniffle.). It’s the “group hug, kumbaya” syndrome – which makes me crazy.

  7. Sean Claes says:

    A very well written post… and a lesson I learned the hard way… a couple of times.

  8. Pixie – excellent point. Most customers (especially women) don’t say anything. They just go away and never come back.

    David – you’re so right about businesses always looking to the “next big thing.” That’s a lot easier than focusing/tweaking what you already have. Most business owners are bored by that, which is the silliest thing I’ve ever encountered.

    Mary – I’m with you. I would take consistent, GOOD service over inconsistent superior attempts any day.

    Sean – welcome aboard! I think we’ve all had our own experiences with this, definitely.

  9. Kelly Watson says:

    Frankly I am (and have always been) a little surprised by how lackadaisical some business owners act about things like this.

    But then it’s not like we’re in a RECESSION or anything. ;-)

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