Word of mouth is probably the most effective way of growing your practice, yet many of us take this free advertising for granted. We think it is out of our control. We’re content to let word of mouth “just happen”.

“I cannot force people to talk about my practice,” we reason. “If it happens, it happens.” Really? I think we need to examine this attitude.

Are we able to encourage and activate word-of-mouth recommendations for our practice? The answer is a definite Yes, we can.

Remember that word of mouth is just talking, and word-of-mouth marketing is simply organizing that talk and driving it in a particular way.

Why is word of mouth so powerful?

We live in a skeptical world where there is huge lack of trust. Marketers have exploited people by telling untruths and not delivering, and people have become accustomed to messages that don’t really mean much. So no matter what you say on social media or in your adverts, more than half of your potential clients simply won’t trust you.

Who do they trust?

According to research, 83% of Americans trust recommendations from their friends and family and 60% trust online reviews (Talk Triggers, Baer & Lemin).

We can either sit back and expect random generated referrals, or we can engage word of mouth with intention.

So how do we do this? What makes a practice so different that people want to talk about it? Great therapists, a great customer experience and friendly, empathetic staff? Definitely. But these are the standard of competent vet rehab practices. I would not expect any less. Just because a practice offers operational competence doesn’t mean clients will talk about it. We have to go further.

Beyond average

We are physiologically conditioned to discuss what is different and to ignore the average.

To spur clients on to discuss your service positively with others, you have to do something unexpected, something that surprises your client, something that nobody else is doing. It has to be something so unusual that they feel the need to say, “You won’t believe what happened to me today …”

Nobody is going to talk about average or adequate experiences. Their experience has to be exceptional.

Most practices don’t optimally benefit from word of mouth because they don’t give their clients sufficient raw materials for a conversation. In short, their story is just not good enough. Their story is an average one.

The figures

I recently surveyed veterinary practices and pet owners separately. 78.8% of vet practices said they receive most of their new clients via word of mouth. 60% of pet owners said they found their vet through a friend or family member’s recommendation.

If this is where we are getting so many of our new clients, why are we focusing so much on social media, and not on this area? It is essential that we use social media to be seen and heard and to reinforce consistent, key messages about our practice, but this should not be all we do. In my survey, only 2.9% of clients said that they found their vet via a social media post.

Getting people to talk about you

If your practice is not discuss-able, then cost becomes the sole basis for comparing your practice with your competitors. Customers like to look for a point of distinction. When you fail to outline one for them, they move to the only thing they know in order to distinguish you, and that is price.

If you want to be talked about you need to:

  • be different
  • stand out
  • get noticed

And for this you’ll need a great customer experience first and foremost. You need systems in place and all your operations need to be consistently smooth and easy.

And then you need to create a talk trigger. This is a term coined by Jay Bauer and Daniel Lemin, authors of the book Talk Triggers. A talk trigger is a strategic business choice that compels conversations.

Talk triggers make word of mouth intentional, powerful and purposeful. They work because your client perceives your service to be different from what they expect.

Creating a talk trigger is not a marketing stunt; it should be rooted in the realities of your practice, somehow distilling the essence of what you do and how you view clients.  The Double Tree Hilton hotel chain has one of the most famous talk triggers. They offer every guest a warm chocolate chip cookie on arrival. If you look at social media, it’s one of the most talked about aspects of being a guest at their hotels.

So your talk trigger needs to be both remarkable and integrally related to your core business. If it’s not remarkable enough, it just becomes an advantage – such as good service or a good location. At the same time, it cannot be so different that it is not reasonable. You don’t want to cross the threshold where what you offer is so unbelievable that people start to question if it’s possible.

Double Tree Hilton’s warm chocolate chip cookies are a perfect blend of remarkable and relevant; they mesh perfectly with the hospitality trade, conveying a message of warmth and hospitality. In addition, they’re repeatable.

Your talk trigger needs to be sustainable and achievable for all, not only for some of your clients. It needs to become a hallmark of your service.

A catalyst for talk

Word of mouth spreads when our customers experience something they did not expect. It is that difference between what we expect and what we experience that becomes the catalyst to generate conversation and spur clients on to share their experiences.

I’d love to hear what your talk triggers are. Are clients talking about you? If so, what are they saying? If you’ve tried different ideas, please share them in the comments below. Not everything may work perfectly, but eventually, with creativity and experience, we may discover what is both sustainable and gets people talking. Word of mouth is our best possible marketing tool, so it’s worth putting effort into this area.

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Onlinepethealth members can find more in-depth training on word of mouth marketing and how to create a talk trigger in the business basics section here.

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