Asking for referrals can be a nerve-wracking experience. As with anything that requires putting yourself out there, there’s always the chance of inciting a negative response. However, when it comes to referrals, you can’t just sit around and expect them all to come in organically without some effort. The best way to get them is to just ask. This is especially the case if you have a decently sized contact list because the likelihood of success is greater.

There are a few ways to reach out to customers, but everyone seems to be asking digitally or by automation these days. By asking directly (either in-person, by personal phone call, or personal email) and throwing in this unexpected changeup, a business can set themselves apart from the rest by being more personal.

There are also a few things to consider before reaching out directly to get referrals. Let’s go over what we mean.

It’s hard to directly reach out

People are lazy. And, as we mentioned, everyone wants automation these days… so this is a great opportunity to switch it up and offer a little bit of unexpected personalization mixed-in with your communication efforts.

To make the whole process scalable, we suggest segmenting your “battles” (pick and choose wisely). Not all customers will respond the same. So scale out your asking points by planning out who to ask, and do so when it makes sense.

1. Decide who to invite

Part of the initial battle is figuring out who you want to invite. Asking in the first place can be stressful, and to add on to that, deciding on who you’re going to ask can make it even more confusing. The truth is, you can ask all customers, but you shouldn’t ask every single one directly. For example, it may not make sense for you to directly ask someone for a referral who hasn’t purchased from you in a few years. You’d instead have better luck asking a current or frequent shopper. You can use automation to ask the masses, but segment your direct asks for a specific type of customer.

Good people to reach out directly for a referral include:

  • Most current customers
  • Customers who have given a good review
  • The customers you know well
  • Customers who already send in friends
  • Those who aren’t afraid to tell you how much they like your business
  • Your friends and family who are also customers

2. Decide on when to invite

If you have the opportunity to get back in front of the customer after leaving them with a positive impression or good experience, you should. It’s the perfect time to ask. Take advantage of this when you can.

For example, if you’re a realtor who just sold a house, bring the new homeowners some cookies or a small gift after they move in. Since you’re going above and beyond what is expected and what others are doing, you are making a lasting impression on the customer, which could mean referrals for you in the future.

Whatever you do, just be sure to ask at the right time. If you’re having a face-to-face interaction, a good time may be at the end of it.  As you’re saying your goodbyes, give them a couple business cards and mention something like “if you have friends who need (insert your service/business/product), we’d love to help them out.” Going about it like this is asking for a referral in a way that isn’t too pushy, but it gets the point across.

It’s important to have a great reason

Why you are contacting the customer matters. If you’re stopping by or meeting with a customer and there is no relevant or good reason to do so, it makes the interaction fall flat. So be sure that you have something valuable to offer, on top of your initial reason for contact.

People are busy and will get annoyed if you bother them

Look for opportunities. If you don’t have a good reason to directly ask, that’s okay. There will likely be some other opportune times that are perfect for asking. Even if you don’t have face-to-face or post-purchase meetings, there are still other ways you can reach out for a referral.

For example, after receiving a good review, positive email, or even a friendly “how’s it going” message on Facebook. If you have a reason to believe the person reaching out to your business is happy, you have reason to believe they are willing to refer. Most happy customers are willing to help you out, and would gladly give you a few referrals if you just ask.

This shouldn’t be forced

Don’t ask just for the sake of asking. You shouldn’t have to force your way into an interaction, especially if it’s to ask for a referral. It’s important to remember, customers are doing you a favor by referring business to you. If you make it seem forced it could come off as being insincere and you risk your chance at getting a referral. Customers shouldn’t feel like their relationship with your business is abused or purely one-sided. So, if you don’t have a good reason for asking in the first place, hold off until you do.

Personalize your message

Relating directly to your customer through personalization differentiates your brand. It could mean sharing a little anecdote or story you remembered of their experience with you. Little personal stories, as such, are easy to incorporate into the message you’re delivering to them. Even if you’re only delivering their invoice or receipt, hitting on a personal story that connects them to your brand is a great way to personalize the experience and make them feel special.

If you add an element of personalization, you can directly ask in an email or over a phone call. It makes the customer feel like you are talking to them, rather than just sending an automated and impersonal message.

Do your research / Know about your target

Do your research before you try a direct ask. You can look at surveys, reviews, or simply keep up with your customer’s history with your business. Chances are you will gain some knowledgeable insight and you will be able to better provide a more personalized message and in turn, deliver a better ask.

Relate to them

If you’ve done your research, you have probably learned a few ways to relate to your customers. Whether it’s a personal reason or not, finding some sort of common ground to help you produce a more successful ask.

Some easy ways you can make the experience more personalized for each customer are:

Note when they first contacted you: You don’t need to state the exact day and time. But if you generalize the date the customer first signed up, it can be a quick and noninvasive way to connect with the customer. For example:

“Hey, I noticed you signed up for our service 3 months ago. I just wanted to check in and see how you’re liking it thus far. Please let me know if I can help you out in any way.



P.S  I’m not sure if you know about our referral program, but, we’d love to meet your friends, click here if you want to know more information.”

Who they’ve talked to in the past: Again, you don’t have to know a lot of information to give a personalized message. So even if you just drop a short line about something simple, like the last salesperson or customer service rep the customer was in contact with, it can be just enough personalization without going overboard.

Past orders: Mentioning past orders is a very quick way to establish that you remember the customer. Again you don’t have to be very specific. You can generalize if need be. However, if the item is an everyday thing or something that isn’t embarrassing, feel free to use it as a reason to talk to the customer and then end that conversation by asking for a referral.

Don’t be creepy

We’ve all had those times or have heard of a time when personalization was a bit too creepy. Yes, you want to personalize, however going overboard with personalization can also be a turn-off. So avoid being too in-depth, as too much personalization can frighten your customers, and make them uncomfortable. Uncomfortable customers aren’t usually up for referring their friends.

For example, many stores aim at personalizing ads, coupons, and flyers for customers based off of past purchases. Some people may feel like their privacy is invaded or that you’re tracking them too closely, which could make the customer feel creeped out. And, depending on what they bought, they may even be embarrassed when sent coupons or flyers.

Start with an incentive

If you’re directly asking for referrals you may find it helpful to mention the benefit a customer will receive by doing so. Generally speaking, people appreciate knowing what’s in it for them. So, if you’re asking for referrals, make sure all your bases are covered, including why they should refer. Fortunately, there are many referral program incentive options out there, so picking something that makes sense for your business should be easy.

Finish with an ask

The perfect time to ask for something actionable is typically at the end of a conversation. So, after discussing your reason for contacting, as well as the benefit of referring, you should finish with the ask or a great call to action (CTA).

This is really easy if you’re directly asking by email. A lot of businesses write great emails to their customers communicating their sales, changes, product updates, and asking for specific CTA’s. But remember, customer engagement is a two-way street, so you want them to reply, comment, or do a specific action. As a suggestion, leave them with an ask, which will encourage them to do an action, like sending a referral.

Always be branding and highlight your differentiators

Whether you know what you stand for or you know your brand differentiation. You want to make sure that you talk about how you have a superior curation process and the best products, or the best customer service, or whatever makes you stand apart.

Be sure to highlight what makes you unique, and be sure that it is evident across all platforms. Brand your message throughout. It’s a great way to reinforce your brand, and build your brand trustworthiness, as well as build your social proof.

You don’t want to have to say it outright to customers. It can be present subtly throughout the messaging you use. And, if you do point out what makes you better, it will make it easier for you when it comes to directly asking for a referral.


As you can see, there are quite a few things to consider when directly asking for referrals. Let us know what other ways you’ve tried asking for a referral. We’d love to add it to our list, especially if it was successful.

Ready to mobilize customers as advocates? For the greatest success, we recommend setting up a formalized referral program to ask for referrals. 

These resources may help: