Consider this question: "Would you recommend my service/product/person to a friend?"

Some experts believe the above question is the only one that matters when building your business through the effective use of customer referrals and repeat business. They're partially right... If you're attempting to build your business through referrals (and what good company isn’t?), this question is of ultimate importance.

However, I would also add a follow-up question: "Why or why not?"

Knowing that your customers would recommend you is great, but not knowing what they liked best (or appreciated most) doesn't help you do more of it, nor does it help you advertise that fact to others. Also, knowing simply that your customers wouldn't recommend you does not help you correct the specific problems that caused their reaction. Generalities don't help us - specifics do. We need specifics in order to implement corrective action - indeed, in order to know which corrective action(s) need implementation.

Focusing on whether your customers would the answer this question "yes" or "no" (and why) helps you:
a) focus on specific areas of quality, timeliness and value of your services;
b) stay one step ahead of your competition by knowing exactly what you have to offer that they don't;
c) constantly re-evaluate your current level of offerings and service, adding new products, services and value whenever possible (or necessary); and
d) do the basics more effectively (which many of us commonly overlook or minimize the importance of doing).

Remember this quote by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (1844-1911): It is not the straining for great things that is most effective; it is the doing of the little things, the common duties, a little better and better.

Whenever we look for new ways to do business, we often overlook the basics. We can more easily differentiate ourselves by excelling in the common services people desire than by trying to wow them with a brand new service that ignores their ordinary, everyday needs.

So, how do we determine where improvements can be made?

1. Look hard at this question; ask it objectively of yourself, based on your last several dealings with customers. Would you recommend yourself if the same things had been done to you by another service provider? If not, how can you improve? If so, commend yourself on a job well done. Even if they went well, what area(s) can you make even better? After all, since we're all human, there is room for improvement in almost anything we do.

2. Ask your customers. Send a questionnaire to your customers and don't be afraid to ask what they didn't like about your services, in addition to what they did like. This takes courage, but any feedback you receive will help you improve. In addition, keeping these answers in mind also helps you identify what you're doing right and capitalize on that in future marketing efforts.

3. Be aware of other people's customer service, marketing (and other) practices. They don't even have to be in your field. Ideas abound everywhere! Whenever you see a great product or service, brainstorm ways to customize the concept for your industry.

For example, I watched the TV show The Apprentice, one night. On that episode, one of the teams designed a brochure for a car. The brochure was die-cut in the basic shape of a circle and featured the very distinctive grille of the car on the front of the brochure. The design team asked customers at a car dealership what ONE word came to their minds when they saw the car (which was on display at the dealership). They wrote down all the customers' words (such as excitement, passion, energy).

Then they took several emotion-packed words and put one word on each page of the brochure, accompanied by a dictionary-style definition of the word and an exciting photo of the car. The brochure contained no other words except contact information - it was simply meant to generate awareness, excitement and a desire to test-drive the car and get more information about it. The brochure was BEAUTIFUL! Car company executives loved it so much, they actually put the brochure into production to market their new car.

How can you apply this concept to your business? Ask your customers what one word comes to mind when they think about you and your products and services. Hopefully, words like dependability, honesty, integrity, and excellence will arise. If so, determine how to work these words into an exciting marketing piece (post card, letter, website, business card, e-mail, ad) to create a desire in your customers to check out your services - and hopefully to use them.

Watch TV, listen to radio, look at billboards, read magazine ads... listen to your colleagues and brainstorm with them, keep an eye on your competitors - most of all, keep in close contact with your customers.

When you open your mind to the possibilities that exist in the abundance of exceptional ideas that surround us daily, and combine them with specific and timely feedback from your customers, it's amazing what you can develop for use in marketing your own business!

Author's Bio: 

National speaker and author of the book, It’s My Dream And Who Am I To Stop Me?, Sandy Geroux is helps others achieve breakthrough performance through programs on effective risk-taking, goal-setting and achievement, and customer service. For more articles and tips, visit her on the web at www.sandygeroux.com or e-mail her at sandyg@sandygeroux.com