December 03, 2023

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Word of Mouth: The Art of Creating a Referral

Word of Mouth: The Art of Creating a Referral

by Rick Wren, Wren Window Cleaning

“My clients love me!”

That’s the mantra of the small operator. And it’s true. When your clients know you  and have seen and talked to you time and time again, they become invested in what you’re doing. They want to tell their neighbors, their friends, their coworkers and others in their sphere of influence. Your customers want you to succeed because it makes them feel good when you do well. Every one of you who started from scratch knows the power of a loyal customer base. It translates directly into word- of-mouth advertising.

I was just talking to another window cleaner and he said, “Window cleaning is the easiest thing to sell. I just get in front of customers and sell myself. It’s about what I can do and they’re investing their trust and money in me.”

I agree with him. For the first eight years I was in business, that’s exactly what it was. I would get out there and talk to decision makers – either business managers or residential homeowners. I had total faith in me and I knew that I would be the best window cleaner that client had ever seen.

But then my business grew. I needed help and I hired employees. Even though I trained those employees and even though I had confidence, it wasn’t the same game any longer. This is where many small business owners find that transition daunting. As I told my friend, once your company is too big for you to do all the work, you’re no longer selling yourself, you’re selling the abilities of a team of people, and that is a hard change for us to grasp.

What I’m going to teach you is how to create that same excitement, that same word of mouth, when you aren’t always the person in front of your customers.

What is Word of Mouth?

Beyond the fact that it’s just conversation, for our purposes word of mouth is when  information is passed to a potential customer via a “non-commercial communicator.” That means that the person telling their coworker about your services isn’t getting monetary gain. I’ll get back to that later in this article.

Word of mouth is such a powerful tool because it’s how we humans have always received information. Reading, as something the masses could do, has only been around for a few hundred years. Before that it was a closely guarded secret. Advertising, flyers, television and radio have only been sales tools for a century or maybe a little more. Before that we met with our family and friends and traded stories. We learned to listen carefully and we trusted what storytellers told us.

Word of mouth is so much a part of us that it’s still the greatest sales tool you can use. From marketing metrics we learn that when you’re in front of a new prospect (cold calling), your chances of closing a sale are between five and 20 percent. But when you’re selling as the result of a personal referral your chances range from 50 to 60 percent. Also, personal referrals are free.

So, how do you get your employees to generate the kind of word-of-mouth excitement that you, the business owner, were able to generate back when you were starting out?

Here’s how I’ve done it. I have regular meetings with my team where we practice the fine art of storytelling. The first thing I tell them is that the most important element of telling a story is listening.

  • Listening: Too many of our employees get into the rut of following a script. They drone on in rote about what work is going to be performed and how it will get done. It’s not that this isn’t important, but our clients are really looking for a connection. They want to tell us things that are important about their property, their families, previous good and bad experiences with contractors, and about their neighbors: both business and residential. When one of your workers listens, they can then tell your customer all the different ways they, and your business, can help them.
  • Observation: This is the next thing I stress with my Observe your surroundings. It’s not very hard to figure out what’s important to your customer when you see how they live and work. If they are meticulous, neat, and tidy, we as contract cleaners can assist them in more ways than they might have realized. If there are stacks and disorder reigns supreme, we can offer to alleviate some of their workload because they obviously feel overwhelmed. My workers can see what books they have, what teams they root for, and what crafts they engage in. This is the jumping off point for the next most important element.
  • Engage: I teach, and I preach, that my team should tell our story, but only in bits that will engage our customers. They don’t want to hear a long monologue, but they are interested in things that interest them. By listening and observing, maybe we noticed that this person loves reading. “We love to listen to audiobooks while we work,” the crew leader might say. “Could you recommend anything good that you’ve read?” This can start a whole conversation about our work methods and how we’re quiet and neat and we leave everything in better shape than it was when we arrived.

“I see you love dogs. My dog is really old now, but he’s been great. We rescued him from the humane society 14 years ago.”

“You’re really involved with science and technology. Did you know my boss is an engineer? He started this business right after leaving the field.”

The possibilities are endless and getting my employees off the script has been a major objective. We role play in our meetings and I engage each of them in training on how to talk to people. It’s an art that will help them in my company and that will help them in their lives, in everything they do.

Now I hear from customers about how much they love Wren Windows because of Jeremy or Thomas or Aimee. I hear about what a great conversation they had with one of our helpers. I still hear the feedback and I love it when it’s a positive statement about the team and not just me. And I know if I’m hearing it, so are friends, coworkers, family members, and neighbors. It’s organic and it’s driven emotionally.

Remember when I said that word of mouth is not monetary? When it’s done right, your customers are getting something that’s more important to them than money. They are gaining influence. When they go out on a limb and tell others about your company and you deliver – service, friendliness, professionalism – they gain trust. That new customer trusts their friend a bit more because the results were great. This is why I’ve never been a fan of paying for referrals with discounts or cash incentives. The connection between trust and word of mouth is so strong that the result is loyalty, but when it’s a cash transaction, that value is diminished.

Word of mouth is not an accident, it’s a result of doing things right.

About the Author

Rick Wren owns Wren Window Cleaning in Minneapolis, MN, a company he started 14 years ago after leaving a career as an automation and controls engineer. He’s an avid reader and loves to canoe. Rick will be speaking at the 2015 Pressure Washing and Window Cleaning Convention, August 7-8 in Washington, D.C. To learn more about Rick, visit his website at

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