We all remember remarkable experiences. Similarly, we all remember terrible ones. Both get us talking. As customers, we want others to know about the amazing deals or superior service we received from businesses we like. Likewise, if we did business with an establishment where the service wasn't so great or our expectations weren't met, we want to share that too. In today's social media age, word-of-mouth is everything.

Social media gives consumers the opportunity to express their opinions and share their experiences in real-time and without filter. For businesses, this can be either a blessing or an opportunity. So what can businesses do to ensure their customers' word-of-mouth advertising is positive?

It's all about creating the right talk triggers, says best-selling author, renowned speaker and marketing expert Jay Baer. Recently I had the chance to speak with Baer about a new book he co-wrote with Daniel Lemin, Talk Triggers, The Complete Guide To Creating Customers with Word of Mouth.

"Word-of-mouth impacts 50% of all purchases and 90% of B2B purchases," Jay notes. Yet even in today's digital age, fewer than 1% of companies have an actual strategy for generating these crucial customer conversations.

Simply offering a "good" product or an "okay" service is not enough to generate buzz for your business. Instead, customers want remarkable experiences they can tell their friends about. As Jay points out, a strong talk trigger is far more valuable than any other marketing or advertising effort. Here's how to stand out.

Competent vs. remarkable

When was the last time you recommended a restaurant to a friend simply because it offered "competent" service, edible food and a server who got your order right? Chances are, never. By contrast, if you stayed at a pet-friendly hotel where the waiters served your dog homemade biscuits in a stainless steel bowl, chances are you'd tell everyone about the remarkable service. (We did!)

The point is, being "good" at something does not generate word-of-mouth. Competence might get customers through the door, but it won't create raving fans. A remarkable experience, on the other hand, will.

When businesses delight customers with meaningful and unexpected touches to their products or services, talk triggers are activated.

The four musts of a talk trigger

There are four key ingredients that make up an effective talk trigger. Without them, says Jay, customers likely not to notice your efforts.

Remarkable - Whatever you do, your actions should be remarkable. Give people something to "remark" upon.

Relevance - Is the offer relevant to your brand or the feelings/thoughts you want to evoke? If not, you will likely miss the mark.

Reasonable - Is the offer you're making "over the top" or outrageous enough to seem like a bribe or window dressing? If so, you risk turning customers away.

Repeatable - Can all your customers benefit from the extra perk, special treatment or remarkable experience? If only a handful of patrons can take advantage of a company's offer, then it might not be a true trigger.

What if word of mouth is not positive?

Just as remarkable experiences can generate rave reviews, bad experiences can generate damaging ones. What happens if, despite your efforts, the kind of buzz you were aiming for is anything but positive?

As Jay Baer points out in his best-selling book Hug Your Haters, How To Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers, critics are not a company's biggest issue -- if they are acknowledged.

"Haters are not the problem," Jay says. "Ignoring them is."

When customers lodge complaints online (and off), a thoughtful response is important, not only for the complainant but for prospects reading the reviews. It's important that your company be on the record in public. How you respond to upset customers in a public setting says a lot about what kind of business you are and what you're made of. It's all about trust and confidence.


Powerful experiences, whether good or bad, can create lasting impressions. So it's important your company have a strategy to generate as many positive experiences for customers as possible. "The best businesses in the world don't have to spend a lot on advertising and marketing," Jay says. "Their customers are the advertising and marketing."

If you can give your customers something to talk about, the referrals will start rolling in.

Published on: Oct 12, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.