Up In Your Business: HowTo Set Up a Customer Referral System

Word of mouth. It’s one of the most important sources of marketing there is to your business. Are you optimizing it? We’re giving you some tips for creating (err…continuing, for many of you) a referral system that really works!


When it comes to service-based businesses there is no more powerful marketing tool than customer referrals. Studies show that potential customers trust the testimonials and referral of happy customers more than any other form of marketing or advertising. Thankfully, optimizing word-of-mouth marketing is often very low-cost or free, relatively easy, and something you can start using today to help grow your business. Here are four ways to get started:

1. Identify your best customers

To begin, identify your dream customers to create an “ambassadors” list. This is a group of 5 or 10 folks who gave you great reviews — both in person and elsewhere. Who was over-the-top satisfied with your work? Who was chatting and loved to talk? Who appreciated the way you solved a particularly difficult problem? Who knew tons of people and was always buzzing in and out? Who do you see actively participating on social media? Who did you create a unique experience for? These are all questions you can use to help create a list of ambassadors for your business.


2. You have not, because you ask not

Admittedly, asking for referrals can be uncomfortable. You’ve got to remember: these are people who love you and want you to succeed! You’ve already won them over. If you’re polite and professional, chances are you can expect nothing but positive responses. You simply need to ask. Here are a few ways to help the “asking process” stay consistent and professional.

  • Timing is everything. There are several “ideal” times to ask customers for referrals. The most effective time to ask for a referral is at the completion of the job. If you send follow-up correspondence after you complete a job to check on satisfaction, that is a perfect opportunity to ask for a referral.
  • Another perfect time to ask is in the “happy moments.” When customers comment about how great something looks, or how happy they are, don’t just say, “thanks.” Seize that moment politely but astutely. Ask them if they would be willing to be part of your referral program.

3. Train your Ambassadors

Once you’ve identified your starting list of people who will help you get the buzz going, help them. Provide the tools they’ll need to refer you. Examples of these tools might include:

  • Clarifying what makes you different from the competition. Make sure your ambassadors understand how your company is unique and how your services make a difference to future clients.
  • Be a matchmaker! It's ok to help them understand what makes an ideal client for you. This simplifies your process and helps your ambassadors keep their eyes out for a great match.
  • Equip them! Make sure you’ve provided them with materials they can use to help refer you. Arm them with a plentiful toolbox full of business cards, marketing materials, web links, YouTube videos, photos, anything that will help them help you!


4. Reward them

Rewarding your ambassadors is an important part of a successful referral system. When you show them that you appreciate their support, you’re fueling their continued enthusiasm for sharing your message. There are many ways to recognize ambassadors. Get creative. A few ideas include:

  • Simple correspondence. Remember handwritten notes? So will they! Take time to send a handwritten note to express your appreciation when they make a referral.
  • Send a gift. A small gift for an ambassador that refers qualified leads not only recognizes their efforts but encourages additional referrals. Send a gift card or offer them discounted products or services to express your appreciation when one of their referrals converts.
  • Recognize them socially. There’s something to be said for the ego. When your ambassador sends you a qualified lead, give them a shout out on social media. It makes them feel good and it gives you exposure to all their social network.