Ask kitchen and bath professionals how they market their businesses, and the answer is always “word-of-mouth” or “referrals.” But ask what they do to actively understand, manage and accelerate the referral process, and they probably won’t have an answer.
Today, generating referrals requires more than simply waiting for past customers to pass along your name. It requires understanding what motivates consumers to refer you, and then proactively cultivating them. This approach results in something bigger than word-of-mouth. It creates a network of people who are passionate about your company – who are evangelists.
In their book Creating Customer Evangelists, Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba note that “creating customer evangelists requires planning, resources and patience.”
Who is an evangelist? A satisfied customer? Not necessarily. Someone who is merely satisfied might give you a lukewarm referral.
An evangelist, the authors contend, is “someone who will recommend you, wholeheartedly…someone who feels compelled to spread the word.” Evangelists, they note, put their personal reputations on the line with friends and family by vouching for you. An evangelist will passionately tell how their new kitchen or bath changed their life.
What motivates a customer evangelist? “It happens when your business makes an emotional connection with someone,” McConnell and Huba say. They suggest a number of ways to make this happen. Among them are:
- Continuously gather feedback.
- "Napsterize" your knowledge.
- Build the buzz.
- Create community.
Evangelists want to have a dialogue with you. McConnell and Huba say the most important thing you can do to create evangelists is to “continuously understand what your customers love about you and what they would like to see improved.” This means everything from one-on-one conversations to formal (but not necessarily costly) research.
Gather feedback about your Website. Make sure your Website makes it easy for customers to contact you.
Ask your marketing company to create a simple survey of customers that can be conducted by in-person or phone interviews, mail or e-mail. The most important question to ask is whether the person would recommend you. If so, why would they recommend you? And what do they say when recommending you? What do they value most about working with you?
You may be surprised. You may think you are being recommended for your fabulous designs, but your customers may be recommending you because of your great installation team. Or, they may have loved working with you because they never felt pushed into a decision.
What do you do with the results of this customer research? Use the feedback in your marketing materials. It helps to determine your positioning...what you say in your brochures, on your Website, in your ads and in your “elevator” speech.
To solicit regular feedback, create a customer advisory group. Evangelists want to feel part of your business. They want to be connected. They are willing to devote their time to giving you advice. Could you take them to K/BIS or a local show to help you evaluate new products? Could they review catalogs with you? Evaluate other showrooms?
You need to maintain a database of past customers who are evangelists, with information about what they bought and when. And you also need a database of community mavens who may not have purchased from you, but who are influencers.
By using the term “napsterize,” the authors mean freely sharing your knowledge. This includes a robust and frequently updated Website, with links to other relevant sites. Have plenty of helpful information about the kitchen/bath remodeling process, as well as information about your company and products. Show as many jobs you’ve done as you can. Sometimes, kitchen and bath professionals worry about having their ideas ripped off, but the authors maintain, “The more knowledge you share with the world, the more people will tell others about it.”
Package your knowledge so it is easily distributed – booklets that can be handed out at seminars, in your showroom, or at home shows, for example. Write articles for a local newspaper.
The authors suggest “dating” potential customers. Invite prospects to sign up for a series of weekly e-mail newsletters about the process and decisions involved in remodeling a kitchen or bath. Have pictures of you and your staff in the newsletter, so they feel they are getting to know you. Reassure them they can opt out at any time, and that the series only lasts for say, eight weeks. Encourage them to pass the e-mail newsletters along to others.
BUILD THE BUZZ
McConnell and Huba advise businesses to “use natural networks to get people talking.” A good way to do this, they suggest, is to communicate regularly with your evangelists via a newsletter.
“Customer evangelists are often information junkies,” the authors note. “They’re influencers who spread the latest news through their networks. That provides them with stature and authority.”
Make sure they know what’s new at your company, and about new products you offer. Even though they’ve already bought, they still want to know what’s new so they can be the experts in their network. Make them part of your family.
The authors also advise that building the buzz is more than word-of-mouth. It involves understanding networks – the way “influencers,” people who are viewed as trusted sources, work. Find out who the kitchen and bath influencers are and form relationships with them.
To find out how these networks work, always ask people from whom they heard about you – the specific place, media or person. What did the referral say? Did they love your design? Your showroom? Your installers?
Another way to track networks, the authors add, is to analyze visitors to your Website. Where did they come from? A search engine? A manufacturer’s site?
CREATE A COMMUNITY
Encouraging customers to bond with one another under your umbrella also creates evangelists, the authors maintain.
Why not host a party at a customer’s new kitchen and have them invite their friends? Create the ABC Kitchens Cooking Club. Send out a regular newsletter. Have members contribute to an ABC Kitchens Club Cookbook you create. Conduct club cooking classes in your showroom. Or, try offering members a chance to win a trip to a cooking school.
One of the fastest growing businesses today involves locations where women come together to cook meals in bulk. Why not make your showroom the center of community for that? You could add informative talks by local nutrition experts.
Creating a sense of community requires a personal touch. Put pictures of everyone in your company on your Website and in your brochures. Yes, staff may change. But having people front and center sends a powerful message.
“Too often Websites and brochures feature inanimate objects…it’s as if the people have been snatched away,” the authors warn. “Humanize your marketing.”
Finally, should you pay for a referral? No, the authors say. Evangelists don’t want to be bought.
Read past columns on Consumer Insights by Leslie Hart, and send us your comments about this story and others by logging onto Kitchen & Bath Design News’ Website at www.kitchenbathdesign.com.