The quality of a small business's customer referral process can significantly influence its ability to grow. Regardless of your marketing or advertising efforts, being able to garner new leads through referrals from people and companies should be a key part of any business strategy.
Here are five ways to breathe new life into your customer referral process:
1. Assess your Current Referral Efforts
Many business owners understand the need to ask for referrals, but don't have an organized approach to doing so. Start by getting answers to these questions:
- Who are you currently asking for referrals?
- How often do you ask?
- At what point in the customer fulfillment process does the request take place?
- When you do get a referral, how quickly do you follow up, and do you also respond to the person who made the referral?
- What constitutes a viable referral in the first place?
Compiling data around these questions will give you a concrete idea of where to focus your efforts.
2. Make the Referral Process Easy and Convenient
Customers are much more inclined to refer your business if it doesn't require considerable time or effort on their part. If you haven't done so already, set up an easy-to-navigate referral form on your website, which customers can easily complete and submit. Be sure the automated system you set up quickly acknowledges receipt of such referrals, along with related thank-you email messages and reminder notices.
3. Timing is Critical
What's the ideal moment to reach out for a customer referral? Some think it should happen as soon as you welcome a new customer. John Rood of Next Step Test Preparation provides the consideration of setting up expectations upfront. "Send a quick note telling new customers that you intend to provide an incredible level of customer service and support, and that in return, you and your business rely on word-of-mouth referrals." This puts the idea of referrals in a new customer's mind at the outset of their experience with your business.
Other experts suggest (a) making the request immediately after completing a transaction with a satisfied customer, or (b) after building a solid relationship with a customer. Whichever approach feels most appropriate, don't ask just once and forget about it. Politely remind the customer again once every two or three months.
4. Reward all Referrals
Motivating your customers to refer others is an effective strategy. Depending on the nature of your business, the best reward might be a future discount on your products or services. Or you could offer gift cards to a popular business. Choose the gift offer that makes the most sense and, when asking for a referral, frame it as a time-sensitive offer (i.e., a referral given in the next three weeks will receive this special reward). This adds urgency to a request your customer might otherwise file away for reference and eventually forget.
5. Get Employee Support For the Referral Process
Every employee in your company should be aware of the importance you attach to the customer referral process. Explain how all of their customer interactions - whether in person, over the phone, online, via social media, etc. - can lead to a quality referral. Once they see the role they can play in helping acquire new customers, they may also have suggestions on customer service improvements or other innovations that kick the process into high gear.
Ensuring a steady stream of new leads and customers is too important to be addressed in a haphazard, erratic fashion. By establishing a systematic process and giving it the attention it deserves, you can get the word out about your business and attract more customers than ever before.