11 proven ways of increasing referrals from your customers

Here are 11 tips to encourage customer referrals to your brand

Before we offer tips on how to encourage customer referrals, we imagine you’ve already tried banner ads, sponsored Facebook posts and Google pay-per-click ads and perhaps are a little dismayed at the lackluster return on your investment.  It’s likely that your digital marketing efforts to-date increase visitors to your e-commerce site or provide a slight boost in revenue, but now you’re asking yourself: how can you grow your consumer engagement and get noticeable results that boost your bottom line? This blog article gives you an answer to that question.

One critical component of any good customer acquisition and retention strategy is providing your customers with a means to refer their friends to your business, and (potentially) letting them be rewarded for their actions. And that is simply because word of mouth has always been one of the most powerful agents of growth for any business. In other words, that means turning your happy customers into advocates for your brand to acquire new consumers at a lower cost than you can achieve from other channels. So the critical question to answer is: how can you encourage customers to refer you to their friends and get those referred-in friends to shop with your business?

Below we’ve assembled a list of 11 of the best ways to get customer referrals. Combining all of these strategies can take your brand from zero referrals to thousands of new referred-in customers.

What are referrals?

Referral marketing, sometimes called advocate marketing or refer-a-friend, is a highly effective marketing strategy designed to incentivize existing customers to refer their friends, family and contacts to a brand and convert them into customers.

It differs from an organic recommendation as the referrer is typically rewarded for referring the brand and the referred friend or family member receives an incentive to convert. For example, a referrer may be offered $25 to refer a friend to join their telecom network, and that friend may be offered $25 off their first month’s bill.

How does referral marketing work?

When a brand delivers a great customer experience, organic word-of-mouth will naturally occur. However, this is often random and difficult to track, influence and measure. Referral marketing is a strategy that harnesses that word-of-mouth and uses sophisticated tools to direct, measure and optimize it.

Essentially, it works like this:

  1. A business delivers a world-class experience to their customers.
  2. That business launches a referral program that incentivizes their existing customers to refer them to their friends and family and recommend they become customers.
  3. The business promotes this program to their customer base, prioritizing their biggest evangelists.
  4. They then track the progress, experiment with rewards and features and optimize program performance.
  5. And watch as new customers that are more valuable, more loyal, and less expensive to acquire start rolling in!

Now, having a great referral program is just one, admittedly very important, piece of the puzzle. The other vital piece is actually promoting it. After all, it’s all well and good having the best referral program in the world, but if you’re not marketing it, then you’re not going to get referrals.

So let’s take a look at how to actually get your customers referring you to their friends and family.

How to get more referrals

  1. Ask for referrals at the right time
  2. Make sure you are providing the right incentives
  3. Make referring as easy as possible
  4. Find ways to help your customers overcome reputational risk
  5. Encourage referred customers to become referrers themselves
  6. Remind people who have referred customers in the past to refer again
  7. Engage with your users on social media
  8. Approach product reviewers and encourage them to become referrers
  9. Train your staff to promote the referral program
  10. Build an automated referral program
  11. Go beyond just Product:Market fit


1. Ask for referrals at the right time

Ask for referrals at the right time
As with every marketing tactic, timing is critical when it comes to asking for referrals from your customers. So it is important to find the right moments in your customers’ journey when they are most likely to refer you to a friend or colleague. According to Len Markidan, former Head of Marketing at GrooveHQ, “if you ask your customers at the wrong time, you’ll be ignored (at best), or you’ll put them off (at worst).”

You need to catch and engage your customers at the exact moments when they are feeling the most satisfied with your brand, your company and your products. Then you can channel that satisfaction, engagement, and passion into positive action.

Travis Balinas, former Product Marketing Manager at OutboundEngine, wrote in his article “How to Pinpoint the Right Time to Ask for Referrals” that “there are no absolutes when it comes to timing except this one thing: your customer must be completely satisfied with your services or product.”

Clearly, an unhappy customer is unlikely to provide a referral to your business. In fact, that customer is more likely to advise friends to stay away from you.

You will likely encounter similar struggles if you target customers who were happy with their purchase but whose enthusiasm has since cooled off after the initial dopamine thrill of their purchase. So you best strike when the iron is hot – i.e. the point at which your buyer is feeling most satisfied by their shopping experience.

The good news is that there isn’t just one “moment”. There are several good opportunities in the average customer journey where you can ask your customers to make a referral:

Immediately following a purchase: Campaign Monitor, a leading marketing technology provider, found that “Personalization results in a more engaged customer-base, one that is likely to refer to your friends, family, and colleagues,” so use this to your advantage to get them to refer. If your customers are shopping online, place a distinct, personalized reminder right after they finalize their order to get them referring.

A successful method can be a pop up that encourages and incentivizes them to make a referral. This call-to-action should direct your customers to the page on your website where you explain the perks of a referral program and present them with the opportunity to share their referral link. According to Rokt, a leading e-commerce marketing solution, customers are most excited about a product right after they purchase it.

After a positive customer social engagement: Engaging with your shoppers effectively on social media is a powerful way to boost your brand image and increase customer trust. Many of your followers and the people who are sharing your brand on social media are already demonstrating that they are advocates. When your followers mention or share your brand on social media, initiating interaction and engaging with them poses an excellent opportunity to encourage them to refer their friends to you. Moreover, your interaction will appear on their friends’ feeds and build your reach.

After a high NPS rating or survey: Customers who give your brand a high rating on an NPS (Net Promoter Score) survey have just told you that they are willing to promote your brand to friends or family. This represents an excellent time to ask them for a referral:

Use a tool like promoter.io or Qualtrics to send out an NPS survey to your customers, or build the NPS survey yourself in a tool like Survey Monkey.

When a customer responds to your NPS survey with a high rating of 8 out of 10 or higher, use survey logic to redirect that person to a landing page that explains your referral program, and invites them to refer their friends. Try something like:

“We’re flattered! Thanks for the great rating. 

We’d love for you to share your happiness with your friends. 

In return for bringing us a new customer, we’ll give you 20% off your next purchase with us. You can earn up to $150 in cash discounts with us each year.

Click to learn more.”

Following a positive customer service experience: If you have a customer service hotline, have your customer service agents promote your referral program at the end of positive calls. Likewise, if you have a customer support chat system on your website, make sure your agents are trained to conclude the final message with information about the referral program (and links to the sign-up page) – or have it display automatically. And don’t forget your chatbots!

Communicating with loyal customers: Like the people who give you high scores on NPS surveys, many of your loyal customers are already primed to promote your brand to friends, family, and followers. Some may already be doing so without realizing you have a referral program in place.

As such, when you launch your referral program, it’s a good idea to reach out to your loyal patrons to let them know that the option is available. Sending email messages to your email lists and promoting the program on social media are good places to start driving awareness.

A good rule of thumb is to remind your existing customers about your referral program by email and social media at least once a month, and shoppers on your site should be able to find your referral program very easily throughout their shopping experience and on your website and in your app. 

Use banner ads, teasers during the purchase process, reminders on emailed-receipts and prominent links in your site navigation that will direct your customers to the referral program.

By catching shoppers in the right mood and at the right time, you can capitalize on their recent dopamine hit and capture new leads from their referred friends.

2. Make sure you are providing the right incentives

Not everyone needs incentives to refer your brand and products to their friends and family, as your best customers will refer you simply for the intrinsic benefits of being considered to be a good friend, and for being seen to be helpful. For that reason, rewards aren’t necessarily everything when it comes to a referral program but they can play a crucial part in super-charging natural word of mouth. If you want to know more about rewards and incentives, our blog article here summarises what we have learned from working with over a hundred leading brands and retailers.

Of course, some loyal customers are probably already referring friends and family to your brand without any referral rewards or incentives being required. But recent research from Yale and UC Berkeley found that referral rewards can help overcome the reluctance to refer due to the risks that a referral might turn out to be a bad one. And then there is the question of fairly rewarding effort. After all, if your customer has gone to a lot of effort to convince friends, shouldn’t you recognize that with a little thank you?

Provide the right incentives
Also, without an incentive, you’re relying on the generosity of your customers and their ability to find time to refer you in their busy daily lives. But, add a compelling reward and incentive into the mix, and then suddenly you’ve got their attention. Providing the right incentives, like tiered rewards and intelligent rewards, can encourage many more referrals than you would see with a simple one size fits all reward.

So clearly deciding what reward to offer in return for a successful referral is one of the most critical issues when designing a referral program. Part of this decision is determining who you will reward (the advocate or the person they referred to you, or both), and what type of rewards you want to offer. In our breakdown of everything you need to know about rewards and incentives, we discussed some of the common options for program rewards—including cash equivalents, bill credits, store coupons, and loyalty points. You should decide not only which of these incentives is most likely to result in increased referrals, but also the value of each reward compared to the value of the new business to you.

In general, you will want to follow these steps when devising your program:

Know your customer acquisition cost (CAC) and have a good sense of your customer lifetime value LTV (CLTV) before you begin. Many marketers find it challenging to understand their true CAC, but determining this will help you determine the ROI of any marketing activity, including building a referral program and issuing rewards for successful referrals. Chase Hughes has written an excellent post on KISSmetrics that explains exactly how to calculate this for your online business. Understanding CAC and CLTV will also help you determine how much you can afford to reward your advocates for successful referrals.

Do some rewards research: Understand the rewards your customers might want and what amount might be meaningful. Make sure you know your average shopping cart size, margins and existing CAC. Check to see which types of discounts and incentives have worked in the past (e.g. which ones have boosted your sales figures profitably), and test these.  Our customers regularly test out different reward values to determine what might result in more referrals from their program.

It’s important to know if there’s a direct positive correlation between reward size and the number of successful referrals that occur. Does a higher reward mean more people will refer, leading to more new customers for your business?

Remember to determine the maximum value of rewards you want to issue to someone. As a good rule of thumb when starting out, you might want to cap your total earned rewards at ½ to ¾ of a customer’s expected lifetime value.  So, if your average gross CLTV is $375 (say, five purchases over the course of 3 years at an average purchase size of $75) you might want to set a maximum limit on the value of rewards earned of around $90 to $180. Of course, you can always compare this to your CAC from other marketing channels, like paid search or paid social, to make sure that referrals remain better value for money.

A good referral marketing solution can keep track of these things for you automatically.  (And don’t worry, you won’t be paying out this volume of rewards to all of your customers, since not everyone will refer, and not every referrer will bring you enough new customers to hit the limit).  Statistically speaking, customers who make referrals to you will do it more than once.  So a successfully run referral program can deliver more than a 7.7X boost to conversion rates when compared to traditional digital channels like PPC, social media, affiliate marketing, among others.

Consider different tiers of rewards in relation to your budget. Determine how much you can reward while still driving a profit.  For example:

  • Issue a “micro-reward” to advocates who send out referrals (perhaps low-value loyalty points, or a $2 Starbucks card for the first five referrals they send out).
  • Issue a higher value reward when a referral results in one of those referred friends making their first purchase with you.
  • Encourage loyalty by paying the reward out over time. For example, a $50 reward earned for bringing in a new paying customer might be paid out in 5 x  $10 discounts over a series of purchases.
  • Reward referred-in customers a different amount than the referrer.
  • Add tiered rewards and gamification into the mix to drive more referrals.

Once your program is underway, ask customers how they like the rewards. Positive word of mouth about your referral program itself will drive more people to sign up, so you need to make sure that the incentives are getting a strong response. You should also consider changing them from time to time, to keep your program fresh, or offer time-limited booster campaigns from time to time, with extra rewards for referrals.

As we mentioned earlier, another important factor is time and process efficiency. A poorly operated referral program will unlikely achieve its potential. You can offer the best incentives in the world but your referral program will fail if your customers cannot quickly redeem and use their referral rewards.

So a good tip is to ensure that your rewards are issued as close to the customer acquisition event as possible, meaning that you should pay out rewards the moment that a referral results in you acquiring a genuine new customer. In other words, make sure that your new customer and the original advocate who made the referral are rewarded as soon as possible. If possible, shoot for instant gratification. Dopamine works!  As does basic human behavioral psychology: the closer a reward is paid to the positive action, the more closely that reward will be associated with the action itself, providing an incentive to your advocate to repeat the behavior. If there is a delay in paying out the reward, due to the need to meet certain conditions like using a debit card or paying an insurance premium, then send a communication to the referrer telling that their friend has been accepted as a customer and that the reward will likely be paid within, say, a month, when the friend has met these post-purchase conditions.

Here’s a tip: Configure your referral program to issue virtual rewards that can be used immediately. This might be a discount coupon code for a percentage or dollar value off their next purchase, or it might be a virtual credit card or branded gift card that can be set to arrive in the recipient’s inbox, and that can be claimed and used immediately. Again, the reward should be issued as close to the referral action as possible, subject to any post-purchase qualifying conditions.

3. Make referring as easy as possible

Writing for Shopify, e-commerce guru Richard Lazazzera stressed the importance of making referral programs readily available to customers: “You always want to ensure you’re making it as easy as possible to share your products and refer your brand.” Richard cites a strategy employed by the MeUndies underwear brand—a company that prominently featured a “Refer” tab at the top of their page during their product launch.

Customers aren’t necessarily going to know that your company has a referral program in place. Even most frequent shoppers may not be getting your promotions, despite all of your best efforts. Don’t assume that the people shopping on your site know about your referral program, even if they are repeat visitors.

When you have customers who do know about your referral program, you don’t want to force them to go hunting for it on your website. Instead of burying the program info in some dark corner of your site, feature it prominently. Have a button or tab on your homepage that encourages shoppers to join your program and reap the benefits. Prominently featuring the program is key to getting customers to refer.

4. Find ways to help your customers overcome reputational risk

Reputational risks

In a 2013 blog post, Dr. Ivan Misner—the founder of BNI (Business Networking International) and holder of the title of the “Father of Modern Marketing” (at least according to CNN) distilled one of the core challenges of referral marketing in a single sentence. “When you give a referral,” he wrote, “you give a little of your reputation away. If the business you’ve referred someone to does a good job, it helps your reputation. But if it does a poor job, your reputation may be hurt.”

This perceived “reputational risk” is one of the reasons why some customers won’t refer products and services to their friends—even if they are completely satisfied with your products. The fear of recommending something a friend or family won’t like, as Dr. Misner explains, is just one part of reputation risk.

Another factor in this is the widespread fear of online scams. People don’t want to be associated with a promotion that turns out to be fraudulent. This fear can present barriers to engagement with any promotion that asks them to send referrals to their Facebook or Twitter friends.

There are other reasons that consumers may be wary of referral programs when first learning about them. Chief among these is the fact that consumers don’t want to be seen to be spamming their friends and followers. In the age where social media followers are a form of currency, people don’t want to risk their following by engaging in posting behavior that might turn off their followers.

All of these factors combine to make reputational risk one of the challenges your company will face in building a successful referral program. Your job, then, is to set customers at ease and convince them that they won’t risk their reputation by referring friends to your brand. Your referral program needs to look trustworthy and be on-brand.

Here are four simple tips:

Make your site secure: People who are referred to your brand are probably going to start by checking out your website. Having a safe and secure website is a quick way to win their trust. If your site doesn’t have HTTPS enabled, speak to your web developer about upgrading to this more secure protocol.

Feature details about the referral campaign prominently: Another thing referred customers will be looking for is the referral program that brought them there. They will want to know that the friend or family member who referred them to your business was part of a legitimate program. Featuring easy-to-find links to your referral program from your homepage will help assuage any doubts they might have.

Keep it simple: Referral programs that required either the referrer or the referred to jump through hoops are the ones that really start to feel like scams. Make your program simple and straightforward and make the terms and conditions easily accessible. The referrer gets X incentive for referring a friend; the referred individual gets Y reward for making his or her first purchase. There is no need for the program to be any more complicated than that.

Be good: The best way to minimize this perceived “reputation risk” of referral programs is to promote a positive brand image and design a trustworthy, attractive referral program. If your brand has a substantial online presence and has a reputation for honesty, integrity, and excellent customer service, those qualities are going to put customers at ease when signing up for your program. If your referral program is easy to understand, easy to learn about online, and powered by attractive incentives for both the referrer and the referred, it will quickly dissolve any reservations your customers may feel about signing up.

5. Encourage referred customers to become referrers themselves

It is a fact that customers who are introduced to your brand via referral are more open to becoming referrers themselves, with referred customers 4 times more likely to refer others to your brand.

These people know that your referral program is legitimate and have experienced at least some of the incentives involved. Reputational risk isn’t as much of a concern for these customers, so the barrier to getting them to sign up for your program is not quite as high.

Referred customers also just tend to be more loyal. According to a 2012 study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, clients who come from referrals have an average lifetime value that is 16% higher than customers who come from other channels. Referred consumers will typically be loyal enough to be more apt to make referrals themselves, and interested in the incentives you have to offer.

“The lifetime value of referred customers, measured over a six-year horizon, was 16 % higher, on average, than that of non-referred customers with similar demographics and time of acquisition”, the report concludes.

Target your referred customers with extra focus. If you have a subset of loyal customers who originally came from referrals, increase the retargeting/remarketing emails they receive.  Make the interaction personal: remind them that they discovered your brand through a referral and that they could now pass on the knowledge to their friends. The longer your chain of referrers, the wider the reach of your brand.  Market your refer-a-friend program to your referred customers in a timely fashion:

Immediately after they become a customer (“Thank you for your purchase: Don’t forget to share us with your friends, and you both can earn rewards.”), particularly after repeat purchases or renewals.

Encourage their first referral no more than 30 days after they become a customer, and remind them again at the 60-day mark\Remind them immediately upon them making their first referral.

Remind them 30 days after their first referral.

6. Remind people who have referred customers in the past to refer again

Clients who have participated in your referral program in the past present ideal candidates to refer again. If previous referrers haven’t referred anyone in a while, it is important to reach out to them.  As we mentioned above, promoting your referral program regularly is key to its success.  Promoting it to customers who have referred in the past is just as important, and requires a more personal touch than promoting it to non-participants.

Referral marketing leverages the fact that buying from you in the first place is a clear sign that what you offer has value. To win back people who haven’t referred in a while, it might take nothing more than a gentle reminder that they are members of your referral program. However, you have to make sure the communication is as user-friendly as possible to see results.

In addition to using email, newsletters, SMS, retargeting, social media, and so on to reach out to your program participants, we recommended using more personal targeting strategies. Consider reaching out to them with a phone call (if practical) or send them a personalized card via direct mail.  Make your decision based upon the nature of your relationship with your customers.

It’s always worthwhile to re-establish that connection in a personal way. The people who have referred their friends to you already are people who have already gotten past the fear of reputational risk. They’ve already experienced the benefits of the program incentives. As such, they are top candidates to refer again.

7. Engage with your users on social media

One of the most prominent methods for getting customers to refer their friends and family is to engage with them. Writing for Forbes, Kimberly A. Whitler—professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business—encourages companies to “give your fans the gift of you.” By talking with your customers, involving yourself in conversations about your products, answering questions, or helping to troubleshoot problems, you build an active presence not just on social media, but in the lives of your top customers.

Making yourself an active participant in the online conversations that are taking place around your brand is an invaluable strategy for building trust. Customers are far more likely to refer a friend to a brand if they feel close to that brand in a personal way, and social engagement is the perfect way to build that sense of personal connection and trust.

Most importantly, customers will be more likely to engage in conversation with you and be open to your promotions if they’ve also had natural and conversational interactions with you through social media. Health and Fitness retailer, GNC, used their social accounts to answer questions about health and GNC products and build long-term consumer relationships. By actively engaging on social, they were able to increase inbound sales by 25%.

8. Approach product reviewers and encourage them to become referrers

Social media isn’t the only place where you can engage with your customers in a meaningful fashion. If your e-commerce store asks shoppers for product reviews then you can engage with these reviewers right on your website. These engagements can be highly effective for customer service, and they can also help drive referrals. After a positive review and a high rating, make sure your site is configured to give your reviewers a “thank-you” and present them with more about your referral program.

According to a survey conducted by Zendesk, positive reviews influence buying decisions for 90% of customers. In other words, the vast majority of online shoppers are looking for confirmation that a product is worthwhile, and they are looking for it from other shoppers. Having product reviews right on your website saves your customers from having to go elsewhere to read reviews.

These reviews are also excellent opportunities to engage with customers. In the case of negative reviews, you can comment, apologize for the customer’s negative experience, and start working on ways to reverse that negative experience.

When you see positive reviews, though, you can use them to recruit customers for your referral program. A consumer who writes a glowing five-star review of one of your products is essentially already referring other customers to your brand.  These advocates are excellent candidates for your referral program.

9. Train your staff to promote the referral program

If your website is predominantly e-commerce based, you can get a lot of promotion for your referral program without even involving your employees. Placing a “Refer” button on the homepage, including referral program information in your email newsletters, or encouraging shoppers to sign up for the program after making a purchase are all things that promote your program passively.

However, active promotion still matters too. If you have a brick and mortar store, for instance, it is important that your staff are consistently promoting the program for you. If you do have a physical store location, train your cashiers to ask shoppers if they are interested in enrolling in the referral program. Also have leaflets and in-store banners promoting the program.

If your brand is entirely online-based, make sure you involve your customer service representatives in the promotion of the program. As we discussed above, there are lots of opportunities to engage customers and promote the referral marketing program while interacting with customers online.  Your CSRs and other client success teams are the ones who are interfacing with your customers directly and are thus the ones best equipped to spread the word about your referral program on an individual basis.

Involving your staff in your referral program pays off in other areas as well. Shep Hyken, customer service expert and author of The Amazement Revolution, highlights the importance of earning referrals via great service, day-in, and day-out. “Customer advocacy starts when the culture of the company is aligned with what you want the customer to experience,” says Hyken. “What’s happening on the inside of an organization is felt on the outside by the customer.”

Involving the people that have the most direct contact with customers is your best bet for creating a company culture that naturally generates referrals.

10. Build an automated referral program

Build an automated referral system
One of the top reasons that referral programs fail is that they just get too complicated. Brands have trouble manually tracking which shoppers are involved with the program, who they’ve referred, whether their referrals have led to new customer acquisitions, and what rewards they are owed. With manual referral programs, it’s not uncommon for customers to wait months to receive their rewards—if they ever receive them at all.  Manual referral programs don’t scale well.  Tracking all of the information, interactions, and behaviors that drive a referral program is difficult for a program of any size.

That’s why Syed Balkhi, CEO of Optin Monster, recommends a platform that helps you manage, track, and scale your referral marketing program. “Do not try to build a referral platform in-house or use a self-hosted solution,” says Balkhi. “If you choose the right platform, you can see exactly how much new traffic and sales were generated from referral traffic.”

Automated referral marketing systems can maintain lists of people who have signed up for your program. They can monitor referrals on social media or distribute rewards to clients who have referred friends. They can also send automatic reminders to customers who haven’t referred for a while or collect information from your patrons on their satisfaction with the program and the rewards offered. In short, an automated referral system can do most of the things discussed in this post. They are the ultimate way to encourage customers to refer.

Consider the story of Roku Inc., a company that makes video streaming devices for watching Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu Plus, and other similar services on your television.

In 2010, Roku implemented an automated referral program, offering patrons a free month of Netflix for each new customer they referred. The program was driven primarily by automated emails. Roku sent emails to all customers in order to promote the program ahead of its launch, and then once a quarter when it was operational. They also tracked referrals on their site and used automated emails to confirm referrals that had been received and distribute the rewards.

In one year alone, Roku scaled their referral program to include 40,000 users. The growth can be credited both to the quality of the incentive and the seamless operation of the automated process.

11. Get beyond Product: Market fit to Affinity: Advocacy fit

If you’re looking to grow an already-successful business, you’ve probably already achieved product: market fit, that magical meeting place where your product and service mix has met the customer’s overwhelming desire to purchase from you.  As Hayley Liebson wrote in Forbes, “achieving product-market fit is one of the most important goals for a startup”.  Hayley quotes Marc Andreesen’s famous simplification of this achievement as “being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.”   But as we’ve explained before, a great many factors can prevent your otherwise happy customers from advocating for your products and your brand.

How do you get a customer from Brand Affinity to Brand Advocacy – to the point at which a customer demonstrates their willingness to share their brand association with others?   You may have product: market fit, but do you have affinity: advocacy fit? Will your happy customers actively and publicly promote your brand for you? If so, in what forums? Each of the following environments presents forums for your customers to share their love for your brand, but different forums might present different concerns for your customers.

  • A private conversation over a coffee with a friend
  • A backyard barbecue with the neighbors
  • A dinner party hosted by your boss
  • A raucous outing at a bar with close friends
  • A family social group on Facebook
  • On your public Twitter feed
  • A broadcast email to all of your contacts
  • On stage during a speaking opportunity
  • In a live television interview

No matter how much your customers love your products, does your product category have a private or personal nature that might make advocates more reserved about sharing it within certain communities?

Will your advocates not only overcome their concerns over reputational risk (see above) but find their way from affinity to advocacy?

Is your brand’s affinity score, and your relationship with your customers deep and strong enough to help your advocates get beyond such reservations to promote? Can you overcome this?

Some brands that have overcome the “embarrassment” factor include body-slimming clothing line Spanx – who claim public figures like Michelle Obama as vocal advocates, toilet assistant Squatty Potty who found advocates in Howard Stern and NBA star Steph Curry, adult undergarment provider Depends on who got a red-carpet endorsement from soap actress Lisa Rinna, and Novartis’ relationship with Neve Campbell for their epilepsy medicine.

It might not be a matter of embarrassment that holds your advocates back or concern over reputational risk, but any number of other things: Apathy, distraction, a desire not to intrude, some level of introversion, or difficulty even understanding that there may be an extrinsic reward for making such a referral.

If celebrity endorsements are not easily coming your way, and you can’t afford to invest in an influencer program, here are three things you can do to get your customers beyond affinity to advocacy:

  1. Ask your customers if they will refer you to their friends. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  When we pose this question to our prospects and clients, the majority have never once asked their own customers if they’d make a referral to friends.  Run a survey of your customers to find out if they would ever refer your brand. Ask them if they would appreciate some kind of reward for doing it.  Even if only 3% of your customers respond to the survey, you may learn some interesting things about their willingness to do so. You might find that many are willing to refer you but only under certain circumstances.
  2. Find out what it is that your customers like about you, and build on that. Now you’ve surveyed your entire client base, survey your most loyal customers – those that have made multiple purchases with you over an extended period of time. Ask them what it is about your product, customer service, pricing, brand, advertising, marketing, availability and distribution that makes them keep coming back to you. Even if you only have a few of these, take their answers and distill the elements of their perception of your brand. Take these elements and consider rebuilding your outbound brand persona to match how they feel about your brand. For example. If your loyal customers highly-value your generous returns policy, promote this to your first or second-time buyer.  Sound counter-intuitive?  After all, who wants returns? But think of it as an opportunity to make a few customers love your brand even more. Creating positive experiences gives you an opportunity to ask them for a referral!
  3. Tune your referral channels to suit the relationship your customers have with your brand. If your customers have concerns over reputational risk because of your product category, make sure they can easily refer their friends in a private and confidential way: so, maybe a 1:1 personalized email is better than encouraging (or worse, mandating) a Twitter or Instagram post. Watch how your active referrers promote you, learn about them and their behavior, and encourage the same activity amongst those of your customers who have never advocated for you in the past.


By investing time, effort, and engagement into your company’s referral program, you will be able to reap the benefits of one of the lowest cost-per-acquisition marketing methods available to you. From increased customer trust and active conversations about your brand on social media, all the way to higher sales and revenue numbers, these benefits can be enjoyed by any e-commerce brand.

9 thoughts on “11 proven ways of increasing referrals from your customers

  1. Thank you Ann for write this article. Once I did, the traffic started coming in. I learned from here to include more hashtags, images, and certain words. This can reach more people, especially if I want to post something that I want to touch a lot of people.
    This article is a great source for me to make loads of improvements.

  2. Great Article. The article is very useful and contains all the major aspects which are essential for eCommerce business. Keep updating us with such blogs.Thanks for sharing.

  3. Useful suggestions…
    Encouraging customer referrals might helps a lot to generate more leads. So, a businessman should take suitable take effective measures to generate more customer referrals. Marketing is an important aspect of any kind of business and every business person should be aware of different aspects of marketing strategy to promote a product or service and generate leads.

  4. Great article but what about customer reviews? Being in the industry I see that as one to the top online to generate referral business. The right reputation and review platform combined with sharing on social media is a powerful combination.

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