Verizon, in conjunction with Small Business Trends, conducted a survey of Philadelphia small business owners in May of 2014. \u00a0One of the questions was: How do your customers find out about your business? The answer was telling - and not because it was a surprise. \u00a0It was telling because it is almost exactly in alignment with a survey we conducted online here at Small Business Trends almost a decade ago. By far the most common way customers learn about a business is from word of mouth, according to the small businesses in the survey. \u00a0Eighty-five percent of the small businesses surveyed said customers learn about them through word of mouth. \u00a0The chart above shows all the\u00a0responses. \u00a0As you can see, no other type of marketing or advertising even comes close. \u00a0Search engines come in\u00a0a distant second at 59%. \u00a0Everything else is\u00a0far behind. Back in 2005\u00a0in our survey, 83% said that referrals (i.e., word of mouth from existing customers) were the number one way of getting customers. \u00a0The results were very consistent. In one sense it's striking\u00a0that the method that is (a) most personal, and (b)\u00a0costs the least in out-of-pocket expenditures, is the top method of attracting new customers. \u00a0After all, you'd expect that by throwing money at the problem via expensive advertising, and through methods that scale to reach many, you'd get\u00a0greater results. \u00a0At least... that's what you\u00a0might think. But in another sense, it's completely predictable that word of mouth is the number one method of attracting new customers. We small businesses are all about the\u00a0personalized approach. \u00a0With small businesses, it's not about casting a wide net, but rather about connecting with a select number of customers, enlisting their trust and loyalty,\u00a0and having that positive impression spill over among their circle of friends and colleagues. That said, what does it suggest about steps you should be taking to increase and leverage word of mouth? \u00a0Here are four items for your To-Do list to increase\u00a0word of mouth: 1. Check your business in Google and Bing at least once a month. Even if search engines weren't the #2 way customers have of learning about a small business, keep in mind that word of mouth spreads online as well as offline today. \u00a0Your customers are online today. \u00a0Even if you run a local brick-and-mortar business, chances are they check you out online. \u00a0In other words, word-of-mouth today goes well beyond Mary Smith talking during exercise classes to a friend about your new restaurant. If there is something negative online, it's not a question of burying your head in the sand. \u00a0You need to be aware, so you can fix it. Make no mistake, you can fix many negative impressions, such as customer complaints or negative reviews. \u00a0But first you have to know about them -- and not be blindsided or ignore them because they're\u00a0too painful to confront. Once you know about them, you can contact the customer, leave unemotional explanations if the information looks incorrect, or seek out more positive reviews to convey a more balanced impression. Read more on when to respond to negative reviews, and about how to handle bad online reviews. \u00a02. Conduct a regular customer survey to learn\u00a0what your customers REALLY think. The Net Promoter system is right on point here. \u00a0The Net Promoter scoring system asks on a scale of one to ten, "How likely is it that you'd recommend us to your friends and colleagues?" \u00a0The ones who are very positive are called Promoters. \u00a0The ones who are negative are called Detractors. \u00a0Net them out, and you have a Net Promoter score. Today, with online survey tools (some of which are integrated with the software that manages your house email list), it's not hard to discover and keep track of your Net Promoter score. \u00a0Increasing your Net Promoter score gives you something for your team to rally around and set improvement goals. \u00a0So by all means, start measuring and analyzing. \u00a0Discover what is making Detractors out of some, and Promoters out of others. Not only do\u00a0you want to eradicate what's turning people into Detractors, but more importantly you want to understand what your customers value so much that they are wildly enthusiastic about your business. \u00a0When you figure out what turns customers into raving fans, then you know what to do to get more of them talking about you, more often. 3. \u00a0Communicate and reinforce to employees the value of raving fans. You might think it's obvious to your employees that they should be trying to make customers ecstatic. \u00a0But I've been in business long enough to know that employees take their cue from the top. \u00a0If you spend a lot of time focusing on solving\u00a0negative complaints, you may be inadvertently sending signals that customer service only matters when there's a complaint. Instead, you should be sending signals to\u00a0get ahead of the curve. \u00a0Customer service matters BEFORE someone gets\u00a0upset, when you have the opportunity to turn\u00a0someone into that raving fan of your company. Spend some time explaining to employees where most new customers come from and how valuable it is to have existing customers who love your company. \u00a0Don't assume that your employees actually pick up on that. \u00a0Show your appreciation publicly when they\u00a0go "above and beyond" to delight customers. I used to think it was corny when companies had mission statements that said "we delight our customers." \u00a0I would think, 'Everyone knows that you should be delighting customers!' But then I realized\u00a0that everyone doesn't necessarily\u00a0believe\u00a0that -- unless you talk the talk and walk the walk. The reality is, your employees at all levels need to hear the message\u00a0repeatedly. \u00a0They need to believe that YOU believe it. 4. Create easy ways for customers to share word of mouth. This is where traditional marketing and advertising can support and amplify customer\u00a0word-of-mouth. Consciously develop initiatives that get happy customers talking. \u00a0Make it easy for them to share their positive impressions. \u00a0Also, make it easy for existing customers to refer\u00a0their friends, family and colleagues. \u00a0Some tactics that can help\u00a0are: Specifically ask for referrals. \u00a0Many customers are willing to give referrals -- but they are busy. \u00a0You have to nudge them, without irritating them. \u00a0This could be done in a phone call saying, "Glad you're happy. \u00a0Feel free to refer any colleagues to us - we'll take good care of them." \u00a0Or send a followup letter or email with a thank you and gentle nudge. Suggest easy ways to leave testimonials. \u00a0Be prepared to suggest quick\u00a0and relatively painless ways to\u00a0give testimonials. If you are a B2B service provider, then ask people to recommend you on LinkedIn. \u00a0The process is pretty quick and easy there. \u00a0Or invite a customer on to a live Google Hangout or Skype call, and video\u00a0a brief testimonial. \u00a0Or ask them to leave a brief star review on your Facebook Page or Google+ Page. Provide referral cards. \u00a0Have a preprinted card your customer can leave with a friend. \u00a0It helps even to leave behind\u00a0several business cards so they can hand one to a neighbor who may need your\u00a0landscaping services. Offer "refer a friend" links on newsletters. \u00a0If you deliver a beautiful\u00a0email newsletter, make it easy for people to share that and at the same time you may gain a new subscriber who eventually may become a customer. These and other tactics will increase the likelihood of positive word of mouth being spread by your existing customers. Remember: while word of mouth is something your customers share, it's not out of your hands. \u00a0What you do and don't do, has a huge impact on\u00a0word of mouth. See also more tips on how to create word of mouth for\u00a0your business. \u00a0Also, check out the Verizon Small Business Blog which has more insights from\u00a0this survey and more advice about customer service and word of mouth.