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Owner‐managers of small businesses invariably cite word of mouth recommendations as the principal way in which they attract new customers. Marketing theory is…
Owner‐managers of small businesses invariably cite word of mouth recommendations as the principal way in which they attract new customers. Marketing theory is under‐developed in this field with little empirical evidence about the recommending behaviour of small business customers and referral groups. The case study of an independent health club reported here illustrates how these processes can be researched and the results used to influence word of mouth recommendations. The owner‐manager of the club carried out some basic research on his customer base in order to identify the types of members who were most active in recommending the club, and the stimuli that led to recommendations being made. A key finding was that newer members were more likely to recommend than those who had been members for some time, contradicting the implications of relationship marketing theories that long standing customers generate most recommendations. Membership more than doubled following a number of activities designed to increase recommending behaviour. The most important stimuli to recommendations were believed to be involvement with the club, incentives and experiential factors. The case study indicates that word of mouth strategies benefit from research to find out which customers are recommending the business, what they are recommending about the business and what prompts them to do so.