Word of mouth and the “eraser”

It has been said many times that the best form of advertising is word of mouth. We all know what that is. You do a job for one person and then they tell their friends about you and the friends hire you to do their job too.

This is a pretty simple concept on the surface. But there are all manner of subtleties involved. A lot can depend on the status of the original client within his or her social network. If the person is someone who others look to for guidance in the areas of design or home dcor, their word may carry much more weight.

But the one thing that is carved in stone about word of mouth is that their can be no “erasers.” A verbal eraser is just like the one on the end of your pencil (assuming that you have not chewed it off!). You use it to erase lines you have drawn or words you have written. A verbal eraser erases words that have been spoken. Verbal erasers are words like but (the most common one), however, unfortunately, etc. There are also “eraser phrases” like “the thing is” or “there was just one thing” or “the only problem was”.

What happens is that the listener tends to forget everything that follows the eraser. Even if they don’t actually forget, whatever follows the eraser carries at least ten times the weight of whatever preceded it. So in order for word of mouth to really be effective, you have to make sure that you don’t leave your customers with any erasers. You don’t want them saying, “This guy was great and his work was the best we have ever seen. His price was not the lowest (still no eraser there) but the quality of the work was superb,” only to follow it with, “There was just one thing and that was that he didn’t get the job delivered on time,” or “Unfortunately, when we needed a follow up to replace a broken drawer glide he did not respond very quickly.

It really doesn’t matter how insignificant the issue that follows the eraser is. It will still work as an eraser. So if you are going to depend on word of mouth advertising, you have to make absolutely sure that you don’t leave the customer with any reason to use an eraser when telling their friends about you.



  • Pat Gilbert says:

    Excellent point especially about some customers having more influence than others.

  • Douglas says:

    Very true!!! And like some word erasers not all the word gets erased and can stay there for a very loooong time.

  • R Bagnall says:

    Well said! I would also point out that where 20 years ago an average customer might effect a few others good or bad, today every customer has a megaphone that reaches around the globe!

    Make sure that you respond effectively to their word of mouth. People will be very forgiving of honest mistakes. They will bury you if they feel they have been given the run around or ignored.


  • Mark DeCou says:

    I agree, BUT the internet has changed everything.

    I used to be able to talk to someone in person, visit their house, and get to know who they were before bidding, or deciding to accept a commission, and most of the time, they were friends of past customers, and they had some type of good introduction to my work by word-of-mouth. I could look at their current style taste, what they valued, and what they didn’t value in home furnishings.

    In these “interviews” there were some folks that just didn’t seem like they would “work out” with me, and I would decline the project, saving the hours of figuring up the costs and typing up a proposal.

    Years ago I read an article about not doing remodeling work for Engineers or Lawyers. That was an enlightening article, and alerted me to the fact that people are different in how well they will fit with my work and work style.

    BUT, nowadays, I ship nearly everything out to the East and West Coast, and I often don’t know anything about the customer, other than their email address, shipping address and Paypal account name. It’s a lot tougher to read the situation and decide which of the opportunities are best to pursue, and which ones I should “pass” on.

    BUT, without a doubt, a few key strokes on the internet can crush years of cultivating a great reputation, so I work online as hard, or harder, than I did before the internet.

    I always enjoy reading your blog every time, please keep pouring out your thoughts for us.

  • BigStick says:

    we drove to NY city for a show and diner. great time. “But” I got a parking ticket. What was the conversation all the way back to Pa.

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