- It's best to ask for referrals when customers are happiest, such as right after they make a purchase or leave a positive review.
- Combine directly asking for referrals with passive reminders, such as referral program promotions in your email newsletters and social media posts.
- Whenever you ask customers for referrals, show them the benefits they can reap from sharing (what's in it for them?).
Referrals can be an essential part of running a business. They can help build customer relationships, bring in new customers, and boost customer retention rates.
So…how can you get more referrals? The easiest way to get a customer referral is simply to ask. However, asking for referrals directly can come off sounding like you’re asking for a favor. If you come across as too sales-y or ask too many times (or at the wrong time), you’ll probably turn some people off and won’t grow your customer base.
But if you learn how to ask for a referral correctly, you can grow your customer base dramatically. Today, we outline four basic steps on how to ask for referrals from clients, strategically and effectively.
We cover direct vs. passive ways of asking for a referral, and dive into tips for asking for referrals via specific mediums, including email, and social media.
How to ask for a referral: 6 best tips
Before choosing the medium you’ll use to ask for a referral, you’ll need to know who to ask and when, for the best chances of getting more referrals. Here are six essential tips.
1. Reach out to the right people
Before you even start crafting your referral email template, social media post, or phone script for your referral request, you first need to know who you’re reaching out to. You might reach out to a large list, or just a few choice customers. Either way, you need to be deliberate about who you ask.
The best people to ask for a referral are your best customers.
You should be already keeping track of customer feedback. Which customers are happy with what you do? These customers are likely to provide you with positive recommendations and be most willing to refer you to their friends. For example:
- If you run a software service, you might reach out to the people who spend the most time in your dashboard
- Or if you sell goods on an e-commerce site, you might reach out to anyone who’s spent more than $200 in purchases within the past couple of months.
- If you use NPS surveys to collect customer feedback, you already know which customers are most likely to recommend you to friends and family. So, reach out to these promoters first (these are the people who gave you an NPS score of nine or ten out of ten).
2. Make sure “the ask” feels natural
A referral request shouldn’t feel like a cold call or a cold email. Asking for a referral should come as a natural progression, after you’ve spent time building a relationship with a customer. It shouldn’t be the first thing you lead with when you meet a new client or customer. People don’t like to be asked to do or join something right after meeting someone new.
If I said, “Hi, I’m Megan… want to sign up for our referral program?” right when you meet me, that would probably leave a sour taste in your mouth. It may make it seem like the only reason I’m talking to you is to get you to sign up for something – and no one likes that.
With that being said, referrals do not happen on their own, so an ask is still needed at some point. Asking for a referral is all about timing. You need to know when a customer’s relationship is far enough along that your referral ask feels intuitive, not awkward or pushy. The two other tips below will help you find that “sweet spot.”
3. Approach customers at a convenient time
When is the best time to invite customers to your referral program? Although there’s no right or wrong answer, there are ideal times that lead to better conversions.
One of the essential elements of a referral program is to get customers to join. Therefore, inviting people at certain times can often lead to great benefits. You want to make joining your program as easy as possible, and you don’t want to make it seem like a chore to do. Picking the most convenient time is key.
For example, if you’re a property manager looking to find new tenants for empty units, you can send your current residents a message as they’re paying their monthly rent, and offer them a monetary reward for referring new residents.
The referral bonus will be more enticing as it is presented at the same time they’re paying rent, and it encourages your current residents to generate more word-of-mouth referrals. Plus, if you send the message digitally, you can include a direct link to your referral program for even more convenience.
4. Look for moments when customers are happiest
The absolute best time to mention your referral program is when your customer is at their happiest – in other words, when your customer recognizes the value your business has provided.
This could be:
- After a purchase
- After they’ve had an issue solved through customer support
- Once you’ve helped them achieve a key outcome during a longer-term project
- After they’ve given positive, unprompted feedback about you (like a customer review or social media comment)
- After they’ve given a high score on a customer satisfaction survey
No matter what type of business you’re in, after making your customer happy and satisfied, you can (and should) ask your customer for a referral.
This timing works because you know the customer acknowledges the value of your business or your product. Typically, in these situations, a happy customer will agree to join your program, and may even mention a name or two right away.
5. Don’t be pushy
Once you’ve selected the right timing, how exactly you ask is up to you, but avoid being too pushy. You can heavily suggest a referral without making it seem like they have to do it. Consider asking something like, “Is there anyone else you know I can help?” to start things off, before asking them to join your referral program outright.
Two Stanford researchers, Jonathan Freedman and Scott Fraser have shown that once someone has agreed to a small request, that person is more likely to agree to a larger request. Their study showed 52.8% of people actually complied with the second request.
Bonus tip: Show what’s in it for them
Even after your customers are at their happiest, and you’ve requested a referral, they might still need an extra push before they actually share with their friends. So, whenever you ask for referrals, it’s a good practice to show them the benefits that they can reap from sharing.
- During your request, offer referral rewards, which existing customers can earn whenever they make a successful referral (whenever a friend they refer makes a purchase).
- Rewards could be in the form of cash, store credits, free products, gift cards, or other items of value.
- If you’re asking business owners to refer other businesses, promising to send over referrals to their company is another effective reward.
- You might also choose to offer incentives to customers’ referred friends, to encourage that first purchase.
- Tell your customers about these rewards as well, because customers love giving things to their friends.
- Plus, remind them of any intrinsic benefits of referring.
- Intrinsic rewards could include helping your business grow, helping a friend solve a problem or complete a task, or strengthening a relationship with peers.
Offering rewards creates a true win-win situation: you gain new business, and the customer gets something free and useful.
How to ask for a referral directly
Asking for a referral directly helps you effectively foster personal connections with customers. However, to make this scalable, pick and choose your battles. Use segmentation to sift out your best customers, or the ones who will mutually benefit from being asked. Here are three things you will need to consider when asking someone directly for a referral.
1. Have a reason to contact the customer
The reason for contacting a customer matters. People are busy, so don’t contact them just for the sake of doing it. Look for a good opportunity, one that isn’t forced. Shortly after a purchase, after they’ve left a review, or after you’ve helped them achieve a goal are great moments to make a direct ask.
2. Personalize your message
Differentiate your brand by relating to the customer with personalization. Be sure to do your research, and learn a little bit about your target. You can bring up who they have talked to, when they first contacted you, or even past orders. On top of knowing just a little bit of their history and how it relates to your brand, be sure to learn their name.
3. Don’t go overboard
You don’t want to be creepy. For example, if their first contact with your brand was a few years ago, it might be too late to bring that up in the conversation. Or, if their recent purchase was something people generally keep private, don’t talk about it at great lengths – and definitely don’t use it as a subject in an email or letter. Going overboard with personalization can be a big turn off and make your customers uncomfortable.
How to ask for a referral passively
You don’t always have to ask customers for referrals directly, when they’re right in front of you. Sometimes, it can be better to casually remind them, or to slip the invite in at a later time, using a passive or indirect ask.
Passive asks can be included in follow-up emails, email newsletters, transactional emails, phone messages, social media posts, business cards, or even your email signatures. While these are more passive ways of inviting people to refer their friends, they still work.
When asking for a referral or recommendation, don’t waste time with irrelevant information. Keep it short and sweet, and get to the point as quickly as possible. Here are a few ways you can ask for a referral.
1. How to ask for referrals in an email
An email asking for a referral is one of the easiest ways to ask. It’s common for businesses to send follow-up emails to customers. This could mean sending them a thank you note via email, a few weeks after they purchase. It could also mean sending a check-up email a week or so after their installation or service. After the initial message, you can add a few sentences asking them to refer a friend.
If you want to take a more direct approach, send out an email to your customer specifically focusing on the referral program. Make sure you personalize the email, so they know it isn’t another mass email that has been sent out to a sea of people.
Here are some simple ways to ask for referrals in an email. Try using them towards the end of the email as a nice closing statement. Or, add the question to a fun image and link the image to a page about your referral program.
- Do you know a friend who could use our service?
- Do you have a friend who would also like our product?
- Is there someone you know who needs what we have?
Start with a subject line that establishes what you’re asking customers to do (share you with friends). You might also include a teaser of the reward, or a short mention of how referrals help your business, if space allows. (Keep the subject line length to no more than 40 characters.)
Within the email, be sure to make customers feel like you are kindly asking them to refer others, rather than demanding it. Consider including a short note in every email, which serves as a friendly reminder that they can always refer others. You could even include the note in your signature!
Want more tips for asking for a referral in an email? Be sure to read our complete guide!
How to ask for a referral example: Email template #1 (direct ask for any loyal customer)
How to ask for a referral example: Email template #2 (after a purchase)
2. How to ask for a referral on the phone (or Zoom call)
Similar to email, if you make follow-up phone calls or Zoom calls, try asking for a referral towards the end of the call. This works especially well if the customer has mentioned how great your product has been, without prompting from you. You may want to stray away from asking for a referral from an angry person.
But if they are praising your service, product or company, go ahead and tell them about the referral program. Here are few examples of how you can ask for referrals on the phone:
Take an expert approach
Be an expert before you talk like one. Before you try to educate your customer, you must know what you’re talking about. If you provide an educational answer, you’ll build that person’s trust in you. And once you answer their queries to satisfaction, you can ask for a referral.
Question to ask for a referral: “Do you know anybody who wants to learn about this subject/topic?”
Empathize and solve problems
Some of your customers might be looking for someone who can understand their problems. Empathize with your customers by assuring them you truly understand what they need. Once you are sure that your customer trusts you, you can ask for a referral.
Question to ask for a referral: “Do you know anybody who is facing similar problems?”
Give special attention
You don’t want any of your customers to be ignored. No matter how busy you are, treat every customer with care and pay special attention to their needs. Improve their experience in any way possible, and go above and beyond to make sure they’re as satisfied as they can be, before presenting the referral request.
You might also break the ice with casual conversation, to learn more about your customer. Once you’re sure that your customer is comfortable, is able to express their concerns freely, and is receiving what they expect, you can go ahead and ask for a referral.
Question to ask for a referral: “Is there anybody else you would recommend for my services?”
Dial in with your ask
When it’s time for the request itself, don’t just ask “Do you know anyone who would benefit from [specific product/ service]?” right away.
First, ask about the people or businesses in their network who they have good relationships with, to get them thinking about possible names. Then, ask if they have any friends who are looking for the type of product or service you offer.
If they say yes, tell them about your customer referral program, and show how that’s the easiest way for them to share you with friends.
Follow up with thanks
A good practice is to send a thank-you email a few minutes after your call. This is a great way to show appreciation for their time, and serves as another means of contact in case they have any questions. You can also send a link to your referral program, to make it easier for them to send over their friends’ contact information.
How to ask for a referral example: Template for asking on the phone
Make sure your call seems conversational and not scripted. These prompts are just meant to help guide the flow of a call.
When a customer mentions that they’re satisfied with your products or services, thank them for the compliment.
Then, ask if they’ve shared how satisfied they are with any friends.
- If they say yes, thank them and direct them to the referral program in case they want to share more friends.
- If they say they haven’t, you can ask about the friends in their network.
- Determine if any of them have similar needs or problems to the ones you’ve solved for your customers.
- Then, ask if any of these friends might benefit from what you offer.
- If they say yes, ask if they’d consider referring via your referral program.
If a customer seems reluctant to give a referral:
- Emphasize that a referral is a way to help a friend out.
- Clarify that the outreach to the friend will come right from the customer (it’s not a cold call from your business).
If a customer can’t think of any friends at the moment:
- Ask if they’d be willing to share your brand in another way instead, such as through a review, testimonial, case study, or social post.
- You can also send a link to your referral program, in case they think of any friends to refer later.
3. How to ask for referrals on your website
Your website is your brand’s hub, and it’s likely where customers are purchasing from you. So, make sure you’re using your website to ask for referrals. Asking through a dedicated referral program page is an essential (especially if you’re using referral software), but you’ll need to find ways to direct customers to this page. One way to do this is with a compelling hero image on your homepage.
Of course, one of the best times to ask for referrals is right after a customer makes a purchase. Use these referral ask tips on your website to take advantage of this crucial time.
- Why not ask for referrals on your purchase thank-you page? All it takes is a simple blurb, like “Love us? Why not tell your friends?” and a direct link to your referral landing page.
- You could also use a referral program pop-up that appears right after a purchase, as another way to ask when your brand’s top of mind.
Check out how Lokai asks for referrals on their website, right after someone purchases one of their bracelets. Notice how their pop-up gives multiple referral options (email, referral link sharing, and social media), to make it easy for customers to share with their friends.
4. How to ask for referrals on social media
If you have a social media profile for your company, be it Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook, you should use it to ask for referrals. Asking for referrals through social media can be directed at a specific person, or can be done through a general public post. Here are some creative ways to ask for referrals on social media:
- When a current client posts on your wall that they had a positive experience with your company, reach back out to say thanks. Use this opportunity to also ask for a referral via direct message.
- Use social media to promote your referral program to all of your followers at once: “Know a friend who would love [brand] as much as you do?” This will remind and motivate people to tell their friends.
Additionally, if you use referral marketing software, post a link to your referral program in your social media bio. It’s a great way to always promote your referral program, and customers will be able to join whenever is best for them.
5. How to ask for a referral using business cards
It’s not unusual for customers to give their friends business cards. You can probably think of a few times that friends have said “You have to check this place out,” as they hand you a card. And since you trust your friend, that usually leads to purchasing products.
I actually found my dog’s groomer this way. The groomer asked how I heard about her. I then dropped my referring friend’s name. Then, my friend got $15 off her pet’s next grooming service. It was such a simple transaction, and it all happened because of a business card.
Think about giving customers some business cards to share with their friends, as a creative way to ask for referrals. Then, if a friend mentions a customer’s name because of the business card, you can give the referring customer a reward.
You can make your business cards referral related, by providing a referred by line. Or, if you write a small blurb about your referral program on your standard card, it could lead to referrals. Something as simple as “Don’t forget to send us your friends!” could work.
If you’re running a trackable referral program, connect your business cards to the digital referral process with a QR code. Customers can then scan the code and send referrals online, meaning the referrals are easier for you to track.
6. How to ask for a referral in person
Some businesses will find that it makes sense to ask for referrals in person. For example, if you’re a landscaper, plumber, HVAC professional or other service professional, it may make sense to ask after the conclusion of service, after you know you’ve done a stellar job.
Don’t just ask for a referral verbally, as there’s a chance the existing client may need time to think. Instead, give them a QR code with a link to your referral program page. This way, their referrals will be tracked and they’ll be eligible to earn rewards.
Don’t be afraid to ask for referrals!
Determining how to ask for referrals can be hard. Knowing exactly when to do it is key, especially if you are asking face to face. The “ask” needs to be as genuine as possible and come at the right moment.
This moment may come at different times for every customer. It all depends on when that customer seems happiest – it could also be when they are thanking you for your help, or any moment they realize the value in you, your company, or your product.
Fortunately, referral programs can make asking for, and getting, referrals a lot easier. See our recommended referral program template to get started.
Or, check out these other referral program resources: