Get the basics right, and give your customers a reason to share their positive story on your behalf
It’s something you often hear and, perhaps, might even say to customers yourself: the best gift a customer can give is a referral. Although it is an overused phrase, it has a lot of truth and meaning to it.
Customers are more skeptical today of brands, companies and advertising than at any point in recent memory.
Indeed, the vast majority of people — more than 90 percent, according to Nielsen — overwhelmingly trust recommendations from friends and even complete strangers on the Internet.
This far outpaces the trust they put in brands and advertising, which hovers around 40 percent. So those customer referrals truly are in some ways magical for growing your HVACR business and sustaining a steady stream of new customers.
Your task as a business leader is to create the right environment for those referrals to reflect the very best aspects of your business, and to give customers the right context for their effort.
To win that much coveted positive feedback, you need to start by focusing on getting the basics right in your business, then give them the right trigger mechanism to share their story and referral on your behalf.
It’s essential you tackle this in that order, or your marketing energy will be quickly depleted.
Getting the Basics Right
A bit of good news should be welcome here: customer referrals, particularly in the form of online ratings and reviews, are remarkably predictable. In fact, most follow a simple formula that allows you, as a business leader, to reverse engineer the ingredients in a way that gives you some confidence in the eventual outcome.
Will you deal with crazy outliers? Always. But the vast majority of online reviews have a simple multi-part pattern that looks like this:
[A basic thing business got right]
+ [A basic thing business got right]
+ [A basic thing business got right]
+ maybe [something extra special about business]
If that formula feels a bit difficult to grasp, let’s look at a more tangible example.
This is an actual review for Oasis Heating & Cooling in the Chicago area and it illustrates this formula perfectly.
Notice the basic business fundamentals the customer mentions: 1) “everyone is highly trained,” 2) “skilled in great communication” and 3) “they go the extra mile.”
That’s three things the customer mentions, then they toss in, for good measure, an extra fourth anecdote: “Any one of the employees could give lessons in custom(er) service, they are just that good.”
This is not an isolated incident for Oasis. In fact, they have more than 250 reviews on Yelp alone, and more than 240 of them are 5-star reviews. For any business, that kind of word-of-mouth is immeasurable.
Oasis earns their way to these great reviews and recommendations by consistently nailing the basics in their business: promptness, transparent pricing and honest business practices.
Those alone earn them consistent praise, but they clearly have an extra touch that hits the right chord with their customers: exceptional customer service.
In the eyes of their customers this sets them apart.
Here is another example that further illustrates their commitment to service:
Notice the use of that customer referral formula here. This customer first references their timeliness (“on time”), their speed (“in and out in less than an hour”) and their honesty (“hard to find good service people…that are both friendly and competent”).
Then, the icing on the cake: “We’re definitely using Oasis for all our HVAC needs!”
That is the application of the referral formula in practice. When you see it, you’ll spot it immediately. The way people think, write and behave is predictable because it’s consistent.
When people give the gift of referral or a written review, it’s almost always within the parameters of this formula. Customers do that to earn the trust of their reader and demonstrate that they’re critical thinkers.
It’s a customer’s way of saying “you guys listen to this, this company gets the basics SO right but THEN they do this extra amazing, unexpected thing. You have to call them!”
Customers reward consistency. It’s table stakes and without that operational consistency it becomes difficult for a customer referral, in any context, to have the most impact.
The Magic Number
Every business has core basics that customers measure it against, sort of a baseline schematic. If a brand can’t even do those things right, the logic goes, how could they possibly do anything extra special?
There’s an interesting, longstanding psychology theory that should give you comfort as you think through your approach to getting the basics right. That theory is brought to you by the number three. Three is the magic number.
Any sales person will tell you that the number three invariably works wonders in the sales process. It’s something you might have known for a long time even if you didn’t think about it. There is even a phrase for this in latin: Omne. Trium. Perfect. Roughly translated that means that everything in a set of three is complete, or beautiful. Three. That’s the magic number.
Business, sales and marketing people have used the number three for generations. It’s common to see it in public health campaigns, for example, like “Stop, Drop and Roll.”
It’s also used to reinforce national pride worldwide. In the United States we have Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness but in France they have Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity).
It turns out, three is the brain’s favorite number. In sales, you should always give people three options (such as small, medium or large, or good, better or best). The vast majority of the time, people will choose the middle option, and that’s exactly what you should want.
The presence of three options creates an illusion of choice with the absence of having to make an actual decision.
Pivoting back to you and your business getting the basics right: it also turns out that people seem to think and recall in lists of three, too. In the world of online reviews, that manifests in the things they review about your business.
Many times you’ll note, as in the examples above, the citation of three things. In the case of that review, the customers mentioned timeliness, pricing and honesty.
Making the Formula Work
Your challenge in making this formula work for your business begins with understanding the three things customers care about the most. In many cases it’s going to be price, punctuality and service.
You can observe what customers are saying by looking at your own online reviews, as well as those of your competitors or peers, to see what issues seem to surface again and again.
If you can get those three things right, consistently, you’ve solved the first riddle.
Here’s another simple example, this one from a top-rated locksmith in New York, LockBusters:
In this case, the customer references timeliness, speed and honest pricing. It’s worth including an example from a different service sector here as it reinforces that the pattern is truly consistent across the board.
Where you have an extra opportunity to stand out from your competitors lies not just in your mastery of the three critical things. It’s the extra special sauce, something that gives your customer a story (albeit short) to tell about your business.
In the example of Oasis, that extra special sauce is exceptional service. For LockBusters, the extra bonus is perhaps more compelling: the owner of that business, Jay, donates all of his customer tips to an animal rescue in New York.
That extra bonus is unexpected by his customers but makes it way into many reviews, setting him and his business apart in a way just getting the basics right might not accomplish.
How you choose to create that secret sauce for your business is pure preference and comes down to your values as a business owner. Whether you choose to donate a percent of profit to charity, amp up your commitment to customer service or give small freebies to customers during every visit, just be consistent.
But that leads us to the last, and perhaps most important step in this process: reminding customers of the things you do right.
This is where the formula of three things begins to show its real value because, as established, most people are generally pre-disposed to remember only a few things about a business or brand.
When it comes time to wrap up a job, that’s a perfect opportunity for your team to shine by simply and plainly reinforcing what you want your customer to remember. The easy way to accomplish that is to use this phrase, or some version of it:
“Thank you so much for your business today. We hope you found us to be on time, friendly and well-priced. We’d love your feedback on those things to help us become even better.”
From there you can offer small cards seeking reviews on your preferred online channel, but the simple act of reinforcing the things you truly strive to get right every single day is your best offensive game.
You’ve given the customer a list of things that, when it comes time to write a review or offer a referral, they can reference and easily remember. And, quite simply, that is how you win customer referrals one person at a time, every single day