Make the customer the hero of your story. – Ann Handley
Around the same time that I made a purchase from a company that delivered exceptional customer service, I had an inspiring conversation with the owner of a successful change management and marketing business in Vancouver.
I regularly connect with marketing communication leaders to talk shop, pass along contact information for subcontractors and share best practices and lessons learned. During our conversation, we touched on the subject of lead generation and noted that we’d both secured most of our current clients through client referrals.
Doing good business leads to more business
As a marketer, I’m keenly aware of the importance of recommendations, both ones I receive from former clients/colleagues and give to other communicators, marketers and subcontractors I’ve worked with and can vouch for. It’s a powerful tool that keeps our community strong, and makes it easier for clients to find the right fit for their organizations.
Referrals help you convert customers through clients and colleagues you’ve worked with and people you know. Some studies estimate that offline word of mouth (WOM) recommendations drive up sales five times more than a paid media impression, and that the higher the actual or perceived cost of a product or service, the more WOM can positively affect a sale. Most customers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, adding to their legitimacy and strength as a modern marketing tool. To excel, organizations should focus on providing exceptional customer service that makes people want to sing your praises and recommend you to their colleagues, friends, family and online communities.
How to increase your referrals
Recommendations are a relatively low-cost and effective way for for business owners and marketers to strengthen and grow their customer base. It’s something most of us know intuitively, but perhaps haven’t added to our business plan or marketing strategy. The following is a list of some key questions business owners and marketers can use to evaluate their approach to securing referrals:
1. Does your business have referral-generation in its culture?
Always provide the best possible customer service to foster recommendations from your clients and staff – and, down the line, from their online and offline connections. To make this strategy work, you should also keep an eye on retaining and developing current customers. Even difficult or challenging clients can be seen as an opportunity to impress and can lead to recommendations and referrals for your business.
2. Should you use customer relationship management software?
Online tools can be a big time-saver when it comes to organizing your contacts and customers, and a huge asset for generating leads and referrals. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software helps you manage and optimize current client relationships, and often comes with tools for converting new customers.
3. Have you maximized your network?
Never underestimate the power of your network. If you follow the six degrees of separation concept, getting connected to clients through referrals could be easier than you’d expect. Contact a colleague or friend who is plugged into your target market and could recommend you to a potential client. Visit your LinkedIn page and reflect on past professional connections to identify possible inroads and recommendation or pitching opportunities.
4. Are you selling yourself?
With the amount of competition out there, it can be difficult to stand out from the crowd. It’s okay to ask for a recommendation from a past client. Always feel out the situation first, but you’ll find that many people are more than happy to help. Use some of those recommendations as self-promotion tools by adding the best ones to your website, LinkedIn page and marketing materials.
5. Should you launch a referral program?
Many organizations can benefit from creating a customer referral program to incentivize recommendations from past/current customers. While this may not be appropriate in every sector or for every business, offering discounts, rewards and other incentives to customers who recommend your business to a friend or colleague is an effective way to maximize your referrals.
6. Are you saying thank you enough?
Thanking current and past clients, staff and colleagues is a great way to show appreciation for their support, and can strengthen relationships and lead to recommendations. Saying thank you goes hand-in-hand with providing exceptional customer service and being a great organization. It’s something that will set you apart and encourage people to recommend you to others. Another tip would be to give recommendations to businesses and business owners you respect. They may or may not reciprocate, but it also doesn’t hurt to have your name and organization appear on the website or LinkedIn page of a company or professional that you believe in and want to support.
Why recommendations are valuable
When you receive recommendations that convert into paying customers, you save time and money that would have otherwise been devoted to converting the same number of sales. Tracking those recommendation can also act as a gauge of how happy your customer base is with your service or product, which has the added bonus of acting as a market research analysis tool.
Providing topnotch service to your clients increases the likelihood that they’ll come back to you for future purchases and recommend you to friends, family and colleagues. When providing great customer service, it’s important to bear in mind that you’ll not only be increasing your odds of getting a glowing Yelp, Google or Amazon review, you’ll also be more likely to receive referrals for future business.