Word of mouth can be the best thing since sliced bread if you own a small business. It’s more important than ever in our online-oriented society.

Online reviews are available for everything from doctors to dog walkers, and according to a study by BrightLocal, nearly 9 in 10 consumers read online reviews of local businesses, and 72% of consumers said that they used positive reviews to determine whether a business was trustworthy.

So what can you do to get and keep that good word of mouth spreading?

Here are a few ways to grow positive word of mouth for your business:

1. Provide Good Customer Service

How important is customer service to word of mouth? According to a survey by ClickFox, more than half of disgruntled customers will tell their friends and family about poor customer service experiences, and 32% will take their business elsewhere.

Show your customers that they are important to you and treat them with the courtesy, respect and interest that you would hope for in their place. Listen to customer complaints, learn from them, and train your employees accordingly. Follow these practices consistently, whether you run a retail store or a website, and positive word of mouth is sure to follow.

2. Make it Easy for Your Customer to Contact you

Poor communication practices will drive away not only the customer that was trying to reach you but the other people he tells about his frustrating experience, too.

Business phones that just ring and ring and don’t even connect to an answering machine. Equally annoying are websites that don’t provide easily accessible contact information or the correct hours of business.

If you want positive word of mouth, your small business has to be reachable. Answer your emails promptly and get all the necessary phone services, including voice mail and call forwarding.

3. Maintain a Positive Image

For small business owners, this means remembering that you are never off and that you need to treat all people with courtesy and respect – not just the customers that are in front of you.

Don’t be one of those who cuts people off in traffic while driving a vehicle with a website and business logo emblazoned on it. People love to tell other people stories about the jerks they’ve recently encountered and your behavior will affect your small business.

4. Ask for Testimonials and Display them Prominently

Testimonials from satisfied customers – short written statements praising your service, products or both, are powerful endorsements that can really spark good word of mouth. Get in the habit of asking for them. The time that you’re asking for referrals is also an excellent time to ask a client for a testimonial.

Once you get testimonials, make sure you use them to maximum effect, posting them on your website, on your Facebook page, in your advertising, in your store… wherever they will be visible to the public and seed a positive image of your small business.

5. Engage Customers on Social Media

Remember, word of mouth is all about people saying good things about your small business. And social media is where many of them are talking now. Your small business needs to be in that space. It’s not hard to set up a Twitter account or create a business page on Facebook.

But note that word of mouth involves other people talking about your business. Your telling everyone repeatedly what great products you have or service you give is going to do absolutely nothing for your word of mouth.

Instead, develop a social media strategy that will let you engage customers and entice them into saying good things about your small business.

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