The view is widely held that getting the message out about a product or service via word-of-mouth is marketing at its most effective. This should surprise no one. It’s difficult to argue with the notion that consumers would put greater stock in the say-so of a family member, friend, or even an acquaintance than in the claims or promises of advertising copy.

While there is little doubt about the efficacy of word-of-mouth marketing, the business owner’s part in controlling and managing it is less certain. For example, aside from consistently producing an excellent end product (a clean, shiny, and dry car) and exceeding customer expectations, the car wash operator’s role in word of mouth is largely a passive one. The customers have all the lines. What they say about their experience, and to whom they say it, is outside the control of the operator. This can be unsettling — especially in today’s social-media-driven environment.

Operators are not deprived of all input, however. In a recent newsletter, Pam Danziger, founder of Unity Marketing and author of five books including Shops that POP! 7 Steps to Extraordinary Retail

Success, expanded on the five principles of conducting a successful word-of-mouth marketing program taught by Andy Sernovitz in his book, Word of Mouth Marketing.

Sernovitz calls these principles the five Ts of word of mouth. They are:

• Talkers — find people who will talk about you

• Topics — Give them something to talk about

• Tools — Help the message spread faster and further

• Taking Part — Join the conversation

• Tracking — Measure and understand what people are saying

To find talkers, small businesses hold substantial advantages: operators are closer to the customers, talk to them face to face, and learn about their needs. This personal interaction goes beyond just having a customer database, Danziger says. It also allows operators to encourage customers to engage with the wash on social media.

Just satisfying a customer is not enough. To give them a reason to talk about you requires doing something — in Danziger’s words — truly, uniquely, personally special for them, something they’d be eager to share with friends and family. Once you get customers to talk, you need to provide them with a convenient means of getting the word out, whether online or otherwise.

Taking part in the conversation assures a continuous cycle of sending messages, listening to customers’ comeback, reacting to that comeback and reinforcing previous messaging — an ongoing to and fro. “You have to listen to everything that is being said to you and about you,” Danziger says, when it comes to tracking. That includes searching blogs and posts online. To measure what customers are saying, small businesses again hold an advantage because of personal contact. All an operator has to do is ask customers what they think and record their responses. It could, but need not be, an elaborate system. It can be as uncomplicated as a notepad by the cash register.

All this talk has to be followed by action. That’s why it is so important to keep track of all comments — good and bad. This forms the basis for innovating and making adjustments, resulting, one would hope, in more positive word of mouth.