How To Ask for Referrals the Right Way [Without Being Pushy]

Asking for referrals can seem tough, but it doesn't have to be. This article explains everything you need to know about how to ask for referrals.

Updated August 28, 2020



Referrals can be an essential part of running a business. They can help build customer relationships, and of course, bring in new customers.

But 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 salesy or ask too many times, 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 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: 4 essential 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 four essential tips.

How to ask for referrals

1. Reach out to the right people

Before you even start crafting your referral email template, social media post, or phone script for your ask, 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.

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.

2. Make sure “the ask” feels natural

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 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.

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 – such as after a purchase, after having an issue solved through customer support, or after they’ve given positive, unprompted feedback about you (like a customer review or social media comment). 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.

How exactly you ask at this point 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. This timing works because you know the customer acknowledges the value of your business or your product. Typically, in these happy situations, a customer will agree to join your program, and may even mention a name or two right away.

How to ask someone directly for a referral

Asking for a referral directly helps you better connect 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.
  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. But 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.

Your customers want to refer you – you just haven’t asked. We automatically ask them at the right time to help word of mouth spread.

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, 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.

How to ask for referrals in 5 ways: Tips for different mediums

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 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.

  1. Do you know a friend who could use our service?
  2. Do you have a friend who would also like our product?
  3. Is there someone you know who needs what we have?

When you’re writing a referral email, the trick is to keep it simple. These referral email samples allow your customers to think about joining the program, without feeling too pressured.

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!

2. How to ask for a referral on the phone

Similar to email, if you make follow-up phone 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. Once you’re sure that your customer is able to express their concerns freely, and receives 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?”

A good practice is to also 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.

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, link sharing, and social media), to make it easy for customers to share with their friends.

lokai referral

4. How to ask for referrals on social media posts

If you have a social media profile for your company, be it Twitter 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. For example:

  • When someone posts on your wall that they had a great 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.
You could even do shout outs about your referral program’s success, as an indirect ask. For instance, you could say, “Wow, we’re so thankful for our customers. 3 new referrals today!” This may get some attention and remind people to send you referrals.

Additionally, if you use referral 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 way of asking 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.

Let’s sum it up

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.

Need some more client referral template ideas? Here’s an article to get you started.

Watch referrals roll in automatically instead of hoping they magically appearFind out how
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