Jackie Huba of The Church of the Customer blog posts an interesting question regarding the economic value of word of mouth referrals from existing customers. She asks, "Do you know the referral value of your best customers? That is, do you know how much revenue is generated from customers who refer you, and how much revenue is lost from those who recommend against you?" Huba offers research Satmetrix has conducted in the wireless communication industry. It is great to be able to get specific.
Here, however, is my specific enough answer to her question:
Your best customers' referral value is priceless! Learn to harnass it!
Paying attention and managing your word of mouth is worth a lot to your business, regardless of what sort of business you are in. Knowing your influencers, evangelists, and promoters is vital to spreading good will and making the case of your value-added. These people are in effect your volunteer sales force. They can promote and validate from the user's perspective. In addition, they can create positive conversations to diffuse or neutralize any negative word of mouth that is swirling.
Once you know who your influential customers are, engage them, educate them, include them, marshall them, appreciate them, validate them, reward them, support them, etc. etc. etc. - get the picture? If you have to ask why, start at the top and read this post again.