Word-of-mouth recommendations, referrals, and reviews are an essential part of running a business. They’re a cost-effective way to share your products and services with new clients, grow a loyal customer base, and improve customer retention rates. But how do you get customer referrals? One popular way to ask for referrals is through email.

Making a habit of asking for referrals in your emails is one of the easiest ways to create a steady referral stream, and an essential part of a strong referral marketing strategy. Whether you’re running a formal referral marketing program, or simply need some testimonials to put on your website, you can ask happy clients to recommend you through email.

We’ll cover strategies and best practices for how to ask for referrals in an email, along with stellar referral email examples that follow these strategies. Whether you work for a small business or a larger corporation, you’re sure to find referral email strategies that will help you increase your customer referrals.

How to ask for referrals in an email: 11 best practices

Email lists are a great way to promote referral programs, which will help you both gain new customers and encourage repeat customers.

Unlike social media, where messages are easily lost, email messages are sent straight to a customer’s inbox. You can also personalize your messages to include current campaigns and encourage customers to give you a referral or recommendation.

How to ask for a referral in an email, exactly? We’ve got you covered when it comes to perfecting your referral email design and referral email ask strategy. Here are some of the best tips on how to ask for referrals in an email, the right way.

1. Figure out if you’ll ask personally, in masse, or both

There are two main ways you can ask for referrals in an email: send a highly personalized email to one specific customer, or ask many happy customers for referrals using the same email copy. Both approaches work well, but there’s an ideal timing for each.

  • Personal referral emails work great for small businesses, B2Bs, and other companies where personal or professional relationships are in play.
  • Templated (mass) referral emails work well if you have a large list of happy customers to reach out to, and/or if you’re using software to automate the sending of referral emails at preset ideal times.

2. Reach out to the right people

Whether you’re reaching out to a large email list, or just a few choice customers, you need to be deliberate about who you ask for referrals in an email. People are most likely to refer when they are happiest with your brand.

Find a way to keep track of customer feedback. For example, run an NPS survey (Net Promoter Score survey), send out a customer satisfaction survey, or log customer comments and reviews. Which customers are already happy with what you do? These happy customers are the ones most likely to provide you with positive recommendations and be the 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 on your dashboard. If you sell goods on an ecommerce site, you can contact anyone who’s spent more than $200 with you in the past few months. These customers are actively engaged with your brand and would probably welcome a personal email. You can then track emails to monitor the performance of your referral email campaign.

You might also make it a habit to reach out to referred customers, since they’re likely to be happy with your products, and would enjoy the chance to pay it forward (and possibly earn referral rewards of their own).

3. Ask at the right time

Nobody will recommend a product or service they’ve forgotten about. It’s important to ask your customers for referrals and recommendations when they’re most engaged and receiving value from their purchase. In other words, you have to target them at the right time.

For example, if you were a florist who provided your services for weddings, it would be good to ask for a recommendation shortly after the event. If you wait too long, the bride and groom may have forgotten what it was like to work with you. The flowers will be long gone, and so will your recommendation.

The right time depends a lot on your particular business, and whether you want customer referrals or testimonials. It’s best to experiment with different days and times to see when you get the most positive responses.

If you have a lot of customers and can’t email them all personally, use an email service provider (ESP) to set up triggers or time-based emails. For example, you can schedule an email that asks existing clients for referrals, to be sent 10 days after the product was purchased. Or, you might automate the email for after clients complete an onboarding.

You also want to consider the timing that the email hits someone’s inbox, based on the times that people regularly check and open other emails that you’ve sent. For instance, if you’re a B2B, you probably don’t want to send the email on a Friday afternoon, when people are about to log off for the week.

There are a number of amazing email follow-up tools to automate your emails and make sure they’re sent at the right time.

Now that we’ve covered some overarching strategies on asking for referrals in emails, let’s dive into the best practices for writing an email that’s used to ask for referrals. We’ve also included several examples that follow these best practices.

4. Keep your email concise

When asking for a referral or recommendation by email, don’t waste time with extra words and irrelevant information. Keep it short and sweet, and get to the point as quickly as possible. After all, you only have seconds to grab and keep someone’s attention.

Stitch Fix sent a very simple email asking for referrals. The messaging is concise, clear, and straightforward. It’s obvious what Stitch Fix is asking their email recipients to do – share with friends. Follow Stitch Fix’s lead when sending your own emails.

Stitch Fix referral email

5. Personalize the email

Make the recipient of your email feel special and you’ll create a deeper connection that will move them to share your product. One simple way to do this (even in a mass templated email) is to include their name in your email or subject line.

Toy company Riff Raff & Co sends personalized emails to its customers immediately after they purchase a toy online. The email informs them that their toy is on their way, and also offers a reward for any referral they can make. Even though it’s templated (sent to many customers at strategic times), this email feels very personal, as it is sent immediately after the customer’s purchase and includes their name as a greeting.

“Hi [Customer’s name],

Thank you… get 5 of your mates to purchase and get a second Riff Raff & Co sleep toy for free!”

riff raff & co referral email

You don’t have to stop at using the customer’s name, either. Personalizing your email as much as possible can greatly increase email engagement rates.

6. Highlight your successes in your referral email

If you’re asking for referrals in a personal email, be sure to highlight the personal successes and benefits your has customer received. It’s good to remind them about the positive feelings, and the reasons why they have a good relationship with you in the first place.

If you work as a consultant, you might highlight some of the projects you’ve worked on with the client. If you sell software, you might highlight some of the features the customer has recently used. When determining how to ask for a referral, always keep your industry and strengths in mind.

For example, here’s an email a jewelry retailer might send to encourage the customer to make referrals. Notice how it leads to the benefits of the earrings:

“Hi Lucy, I hope you enjoyed your new gold leaf earrings. The handcrafted style goes with any outfit, and we hope you’ve had a chance to show them off!

I wanted to reach out to see if you might be interested in our referral program.

For every friend that orders jewelry using your unique referral link, both you and that friend will receive 20% off an entire purchase.

Click here to make a referral. Rock those earrings!

– Chloe”

7. Share the rewards for referring

When you ask customers for referrals, they’ll be eager to know what’s in it for them. Your email should answer this question and motivate them by clearly stating how they will benefit from making a referral. Will they earn cash? A gift card? A free sample of your new product? Let your customers know.

Here’s an enticing offer with a short and simple email from uCraft, a website building tool. Notice how they offer incentives right away: “Earn 6 months free uCraft website plan and also give your friends 30% off when they use your link to buy something!”

ucraft referral email

YouFoodz, an online food company, also makes sure its customers can clearly tell the benefits of sharing. The YouFoodz referral email starts out with an enticing hero image that broadcasts the reward: “Refer three friends and get a week free!” Their email body then further explains the benefits of referring:

“When someone makes their first Youfoodz order using your unique referral code, you’ll both score a free meal! The more you give, the more you get!”

The brand’s tiered rewards are also pretty enticing. Notice how one successful referral earns the customer a free meal, two referrals earn the customer two free meals, and three referrals earn the customer an entire week of free meals. This motivates the customer to keep referring. Even if the customer is not able to refer three friends, at least they can aim at referring one person with a reward of a free meal!

youfoodz referral program email: how to ask for referrals in an email

8. Catch the eye with compelling imagery

First impressions do matter in email marketing, and they matter even more when asking for a referral. Create something that will linger in your customer’s mind long after they opened your email. To do this, use images combined with design and copy to create a visually engaging email.

Poprageous, an apparel brand, makes a striking impression by including models dressed in their products in its referral emails. This makes the brand’s email instantly eye-catching and engaging, and draws a customer’s interest.

poprageous ambassador program: how to ask for referrals in an email

9. If you explain the referral process, keep it straightforward

Sometimes, it’s helpful to explain the steps customers must take to refer within your email, especially if your program is new. But if you choose to do this, make sure to keep things concise (like we recommended in point #4).

Explain how the referral process works in just a few simple steps – three numbered or bullet-pointed steps is a great format, like Little Spoon uses below. Then, follow that up with your call to action, so customers can get referring – we’ve got more on the call to action in our next point.


Little Spoon referral email

10. Create a compelling call to action

Your call to action can make or break your referral emails. When a customer is done reading your email, they’re deciding between making a referral, doing nothing, or deleting your email. Make your email and offer impossible to ignore, and create an impression of urgency with a clear call to action.

Concisely state what you want your customer to accomplish, and share what’s in it for them. Then, make your call to action easy to find. Consider making it bold, using a bigger font, or placing it front and center on the page.

It’s also a good idea to include an enticing call-to-action button that takes customers straight to your referral landing page, where they’ll share their referral’s name and contact information. The button should be a color that stands out from the rest of the email, and (again) clearly states what you want the customer to do.

Kiwi, a travel booking company, uses a very clear call to action: “Refer a friend to book with Kiwi.com.” This is followed up with a green call-to-action button that advertises the reward for sharing.

Kiwi call to action


11. Use your best email etiquette

No matter what industry you’re in, you need to use your best email etiquette when sending email