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How to Ask Customers for Referrals

In last month’s issue of Spark, we talked about the cost of new customer acquisition and how working to improve customer retention produces a much higher ROI for your business. While that is true, there is one exception to the rule: referrals.

Unlike your standard web lead, which takes a lot of marketing dollars to get, referrals are a unique kind of new client. Because they’ve heard about you from a trusted friend or relative, half the battle has already been won. They take fewer marketing dollars and less energy to acquire, are more likely to buy from you, and are more likely to remain with you as a client.

But asking for referrals is not always easy. In fact, it can feel downright awkward and obtrusive. Yet the old adage remains true: You have not, because you ask not. To help increase your referral business and make the process of asking less painful, try the following tips and tricks.

Referral Business Is Good Business

How to Ask

Opportunities to ask for referrals are plentiful. The key is knowing when the timing is right for you and your client. Here are some examples of what to say in common scenarios:

  • From the onset. When you first begin working with a client, it’s important to establish expectations and set the tone of the relationship. You can do this by stating: “If you’re happy with my service when we’re done working together, would you be willing to refer me to friends and family?”

  • Following a compliment. This can occur anytime during the customer lifecycle, so keep your ears open for positive feedback before, during, and after the sale. When a client says something nice about you, immediately follow up with: “I’m so glad to hear that we are a good fit for each other. It’s important to me that I build a trusting relationship with each client. Do you have any family and friends that you also think would enjoy working with me?”

  • After the sale. The time that a client is most apt to refer you is right after a transaction, when they’re still feeling delighted from the excellent results you delivered. Be prepared to seize on those opportunities with: “I’ve really enjoyed working with you and helping you solve xyz challenge. Do you know anyone with similar needs who could benefit from my services?”

Tips for Success

To increase your referral odds, only ask clients with whom you have an established relationship. More specifically, start with your most loyal and influential customers, as they’ll be the most likely to say yes and refer a qualified lead. After all, happy customers want to spread the word!


Referral requests don’t always have to be face-to-face, although studies have shown that in-person requests tend to yield better results. But that doesn’t mean the phone, email, or social media aren’t viable resources. In fact, email is an excellent place to request a referral, along with customer feedback (such as in a customer satisfaction survey). And on social media, you can take a more relaxed tone with a friendly shout-out to your followers that lets them know you’re on the lookout for high-quality referrals.


Once you’ve been referred to someone, be sure to thank the referring client with a phone call or a hand-written note. Then, go above and beyond to deliver excellent customer service to the new client. This not only ensures their satisfaction but also further establishes trust with the person who recommended you and encourages them to continue sending referrals your way.


While there’s no substitute for personal interaction, you can help automate your referral marketing by setting up call to action (CTA) buttons on your email signature and website, inviting clients to refer a friend or leave a review with a simple click.

Word of mouth is one of the most powerful tools for growing your business. Take advantage of it by making it a priority to ask for referrals at every opportunity.

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