Word of Mouth written on a wooden cube in a office deskQuestion: Do you have a real process for getting a referral from current and former customers?

If you’re like most people in the trade, you really don’t. But that’s a great opportunity to take a look at having more of a process for getting motivated customers to share a good word on your behalf to others.

First, no matter how much they enjoyed your work, you can’t expect happy customers to keep you in mind if you don’t do anything to consistently remind them about your business.

It’s not that they don’t care. The reality is with everything they have going on in their lives, out of sight (after a completed job) is out of mind and they’re not going to keep their eyes open for you as if they were paid sales representatives. This means any approach you have has to have some kind of frequency to it, reminding those customers of the quality work you provided to them and continue to provide to others.

Who are we targeting for a referral exactly?
Anyone you’ve ever done a job for? That’s a possibility. But perhaps you haven’t kept track of every name, phone number, email, etc. over the last several years. If that’s the case, don’t panic. Let’s start by thinking about your very best customers, not every customer you’ve ever had. These are the folks who loved your work and would be happy to sing your praises when prompted. They seem to respond fairly quickly to any communication of yours, such as email. They may even “Like” things you post on social media. It’s a circle of allies who are in your corner. So when you approach them for a referral, at a minimum they should be very open to the idea. Start with this inner circle as your referral base – however, you don’t have to stop expanding it just because you don’t have complete contact info from everyone. Which brings us to our next step.

Next, let’s connect to our customers past and present on LinkedIn.
Now we want to expand the circle further by ensuring both our best customers and every customer we’ve done work for is a Connection on LinkedIn – that’s right, even if they’re in our database with complete information. Emails change. Phone numbers change. But people who are LinkedIn generally stay on LinkedIn as they change jobs, locations and more. Don’t let a connection fade because you have outdated information and didn’t connect to that person on LinkedIn. You may not have all of their contact info, but you surely can remember their names or do a search on LinkedIn to track them down.

How are you making it easy for them to give your info to others?
Imagine this likely scenario just as a referral is about to be given:

Prospect: “Your kitchen countertop looks beautiful, Julie.”
Customer: “Thanks! I just had them refinished.”
Prospect: “Do you mind if I get your contractor’s info? We’re interested in doing something similar in our kitchen.”
Customer: “Sure! I have it around here somewhere. I think he gave me a card. I hope I didn’t throw it away by accident while I was cleaning. Oh well. I’ll track it down and send it to you later.”

Now the door is left open for Julie to forget to send her friend your information later on. Her intentions are good. But she’s got a thousand different things to remember today alone – what’s going to happen when a few days pass? Yes, you gave her your business card. Still, people will rarely have your card handy at the exact opportunity of referral.

On the other hand, if you’ve sent email communication recently, guess what? Julie can now say, “Oh! I actually just got an email from him. Let me look on my phone. I’ll forward you the info.” The one thing people always have with them is their phone. They simply can’t disconnect from it (to a fault in many cases!). Use that to your advantage by getting into their email’s in box regularly. Once a month is reasonable. Once a year is too long.

What is it that they’re receiving from you?  It has to be more than “do you know anyone” requests alone.
That’s not only pestering but it’s boring. At a minimum, your email communication should include some added value for their benefit. They were looking to make an improvement to their kitchen or bathroom – what else might they like to know about remodeling that area, particularly on a budget? Do you have a photo or case study of a recent job you’re proud of? Could a friend of yours in a similar trade provide a valuable design idea? It’s OK to include a request for referral as part of what you’re emailing. Just don’t make it the entire story. They’ll tune out quickly.

What if they don’t have a name for referral in mind right then?
Don’t say, “Thanks anyway” and give up. Proceed to the next step: Ask them for a testimonial quote that you can put on your website, LinkedIn, email signature, company materials and any place a prospect has the potential to make a decision on a next step. Even the back of your business card!

This testimonial can be emailed to you or you can ask over the phone. The commitment is a very low 3-5 sentences and if they want to provide more than that, that’s terrific. Start with your best customers of the past and present.

Then make it your goal going forward that every single customer you have – whether they ultimately provide you a referral or not – is going to provide you with a testimonial of your work. Think about how many of these you could accumulate in a year’s time. It’s the next best thing to actually sending your business because it’s proof of your work in front of a prospective customer from a 3rd party.

How will you reward / thank them?
This doesn’t have to mean some extraordinary sum of money. Some people are touched by receiving a hand-written thank you note with a small Starbucks gift card. The point isn’t so much what the reward is, believe it or not. The point is that you’re automatically giving someone who referred you business a response that shows gratitude in a caring way. That’s what makes it more likely that they’ll refer again. Build the incentive/reward portion into your process for what you do upon receiving referrals – and don’t let a few months pass before you act!

By making these “tune-ups” to your referral process, you’ll be running a tighter new business machine that helps your best customers help you.