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 asking, but sometimes doing this 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.

Infographic on how to ask for referrals the right way

How to ask for a referral: 7 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 seven 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.

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 next two 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 getting customers to join. 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.

6. Make a handoff

It’s important to remove any friction associated with asking for referrals. You don’t want a situation where the person you ask for referrals feels like they need to get their friends’ permission before giving any names to you. That approach creates lots of unnecessary friction before you’re able to send an intro email to a referral.

What to do instead? Let the potential customer opt in.

By encouraging referrers to send a trackable referral link as they make their recommendation, you’ll create a handoff, or an exchange between just the referrer and potential customer. You won’t be directly in the loop until the potential customer shows interest. But once the potential customer has opted in, you’ll know right away, and you’ll have a warm lead (or new customer) who you’re free to build a relationship with.

“How can you give the customer an easy way to share with a friend, without all those little intricate steps going back and forth? Let them send a link to friends and say ‘here’s my URL, you can go check it out, I had a great experience with this business.’ That’s it. They’re doing that handoff. This allows the prospective new customer to essentially opt in.

“With Referral Rock, you can give each referrer a unique URL. Any time someone signs up using that link, you’ll know which referrer that person came from.” — Josh Ho, founder and CEO of Referral Rock

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.

“If there’s something in it for the referrer, and these incentives are balanced, then you won’t have to worry about overexposing your referral program. You’re presenting an offer, and you’re not asking them to pay for anything — you just want people to take action and share.

“You can send more emails asking for referrals than other marketing and sales emails because you’re not asking to pull from their wallet. You’re just looking for them to take action, in a way where they’re also going to benefit.” — Josh Ho, founder and CEO of Referral Rock

How does this work in practice?

  • 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.
    • Offer an incentive that makes sense for your business, that your business is allowed to give, and that is motivating to the referrer. If regulations prevent you from giving cash, for example, consider giving swag or a charitable donation.
    • 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. But 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 four 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. Be specific about who you want referred

Your referral ask shouldn’t be too generic — target the ask to a type of market who would benefit to reduce the referrer’s cognitive load. If you ask for referrals without any qualifiers, this may require too much thinking on the potential referrer’s part, but if you use a prompt based on niche, industry, or type of need, someone is usually able to think of someone who fits the description.

(Here’s an example: “Know someone at a SaaS company that could benefit from our software?”)

Just don’t be too specific, either — for instance, don’t ask for new contacts from one specific company.

4. Don’t go overboard

You don’t want to be creepy. For example, if a person’s 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 it 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 dedicated 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.

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.)

Pro tip: You might even mention the type of customer you’re looking for in the subject or header. For instance, if you’re a baby food company, your subject line might read “Know other new parents who’d love us?” If you have multiple target markets, you can rotate your “asks” so you eventually search for multiple segments of potential customers at a time.

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)

Hi [customer’s name],

I wanted to reach out to thank you for [name a specific way they’ve helped you, such as posting a positive comment on social, being a loyal customer for a given number of years, or leaving a stellar review].

We appreciate that you continue to trust [company name] for [name a specific need your business has met]. It’s customers like you who help our business grow!

I was wondering if you have anyone in mind who could also benefit from [need your product/service accomplishes]. If so, would you please consider referring them to us via our referral program?

You can access our referral program here.


[Your name]

How to ask for a referral example: Email template #2 (after a purchase)

Hi [customer name],

Thanks again for purchasing [product] from us! We appreciate your support and are grateful that you trust us for [need your business helps meet].  If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

[Use this space to personalize the email and recognize other specific ways the customer has helped your business, if you wish.]

We were wondering: can you think of anyone who might also love [product or service]?

If so, we’d appreciate if you could send their names to us using our referral program: [provide link to referral program].

To show how grateful we are for your referrals, we’ll send you [reward] every time a friend you refer makes their first purchase.

Thanks again,

[Your name]
Looking for even more referral email templates you can use to ask for referrals? We’ve got you covered.

2. How to ask for a referral on the phone (or Zoom)

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?”

Get your ask dialed in

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 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 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.

lokai referral

4. How to ask for referrals on social media

If you have a social media profile for your company, be it X (Twitter), LinkedIn, or Facebook, you should use it to ask for referrals. Social media asks are so powerful because that is where like-minded people naturally connect with each other.

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 page 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.
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. Three new referrals today!” This may get some attention and remind people to send you referrals.

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. And since people trust their friends, that usually leads to purchasing products.

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.

Make your business cards referral friendly just by adding a simple “referred by” line. Or perhaps you have a couple lines about your referral program right on the card. 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, making the referrals 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: