We've heard it countless times – Build an awesome product, and your customers will shout from the rooftops. Solve your customer's big problems, and they'll tell everyone. If you build it, they will evangelize.
Unfortunately, it's not true. A very small percentage of the population is actively blogging and writing reviews. A slightly higher percentage may participate in ratings or sharing on social networks. The rest are passive consumers – reading and forming opinions silently and unlikely to influence other prospective customers.
You need to actively combat this pattern in 3 steps to get customers talking about you:
1. Understand what excites customers about you and how they naturally describe it
2. Offer suggestions for how customers can talk about you
3. Ask for customers to talk about you and guide them on how and where to do it
If steps #1 and #2 sound a bit like a chicken-and-egg problem, it's because it is a chicken-and-egg problem. If no customers are talking about you, you don't know what will resonate with them and you can't know how to best encourage them to start talking. It may take a few rounds of asking questions and active listening to hone in on what's exciting about your product.
Understand what excites customers about you and how they naturally describe it
For new products, you will need to start with non-customers (people who are not familiar with your product) and get them familiar enough so they can provide feedback. Then prompt them to tell the story of how they would use your product – "Well, I usually pay bills twice a month…" "So that's when you would log in to the site, or…?" Questions like "what would you do next?" or "how do you think this would help you?" keep the conversation flowing.
You'll want to run at least five of these interviews, but you probably won't need more than a dozen to see the patterns in what users like and how they describe it. This isn't quantitative information; you don't need a big sample size. You aren't interested in a 1-10 rating, you are interested in the story of your product, starring your customer. You want to capture the phrases and the cadence of their speech as much as the concepts.
Once you've gotten them comfortable talking, it's time for the big question: If you were recommending this to a friend, what would you tell them to make them want to use it?
"What I love about this – well, this budgeting chart makes it so clear where my money is going. It makes me feel like I'm in control of my finances."
"I don't usually sign up for social apps, but this one didn't spam me and it helped me get back in touch with a bunch of old college friends that I wouldn't have found otherwise."
Offer suggestions for how customers can talk about you
Look at the feedback you got from users and figure out which elements best overlap with the message your company wants to send. You'll need to refine the phrases and stories customers use to get rid of "ums" or inappropriate language, but otherwise keep them as authentic as possible.
Post these stories on a "what people are saying about us" page. Put one next to the social sharing widget on your site. Twitter them. If you have a "invite a friend" or "refer a friend" page, put these stories in a drop-down menu so the user can choose which message to pass along.
What you don't want is a customer who wants to talk about you, but doesn't feel ready or motivated to write something that sounds smart. You want those customers to have words at the ready that don't sound like a press release.
"Since I've been using this service, I have never lost a file. I probably save five hours of re-work per week."
Think of a blogger staring at an empty white screen, trying to find a topic to write about. She just had a great experience with your product… but nothing's coming to mind but "really useful" and "definitely worth the money". Is she going to write a bland review, or choose to write about something else entirely? Think of the community site participant who would normally lurk – if it only takes a second to call to mind the right words, he's much more likely to post a response.
Ask for customers to talk about you and guide them on how and where to do it
Finally, you can't count on luck and customer affection – often, you have to ask for the mention. Be clear on what you want, where you want it, and a direct link to click or text to copy and paste and edit. MoveOn.org and other political action groups have mastered this – any time you're asked to contact your representative, they helpfully provide you with text that is factually accurate and well-written. Whether you choose to keep it or provide your own is up to the individual.
- Kelly M. says "As soon as I signed up for the service, I got email alerts that saved me over $100!" Do you have a success story? Click here to share it on Facebook.
- We reached the 500th download mark, but we don't have any user reviews yet. Have you used the auto-save function? Are you saving time with the export to blog post? Help us out by going to Software Site and writing a quick review. Let other users know!
- Since you've been using the service, you've lost ten pounds. Forward this email to a friend so they can congratulate you and sign up.
For any of these "asks", the action needs to be obvious, no more than two clicks away, and you need to provide text but also the option to edit it or replace it entirely.
Most of these examples are targeted at consumer products and services, but they work just as well for enterprise customers. Even if you've had a relationship with a customer for years, try asking: "What do you find most valuable about us?" You may just be surprised – and the answer may help you win your next deal.