Astute Planning, Flawless Execution,
Delighted Customers

Issue #126

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


The Importance of Referrals - Part 2
by Craig Bailey

In this newsletter edition, we conclude our series on the topic The Importance of Referrals. In the previous newsletter issue, we covered how consumers can access and use referrals to select the best service providers and began to address how businesses can leverage referrals as arguably the most effective customer-generation tool. In this edition, we will finish the discussion of how businesses can capitalize on referrals to increase their customer base by covering the following topics:

  • Provide methods for your customers to share their experience
  • Leave something (useful) behind as a reminder
  • Partner with firms that augment your services
  • Address less than stellar performance

Provide methods for your customers to share their experience

In order to get a testimonial, you'll obviously have had to deliver an excellent customer experience. Assuming that you've done this, the next step is to request a testimonial from your customer. Most will be more than happy to provide one.

There are a number of methods to obtain a testimonial. The simplest would be to have them send it to you via email or letter. And, be sure to request permission for using their testimonial.

Another approach for providers of services to homeowners (for example) would be to have customers submit a testimonial (and ranking of your firm) to an online consumer advocacy forum such as Angies List. Angies List is a word-of-mouth network for homeowners to rate and review service companies (click here to register). If you happen to own a company that provides services to homeowners, then your goal should be to get listed (as a direct result of your customers receiving a great experience from you). On the flipside, you will want to make sure that you aren't listed because of a negative experience! We'll talk more about that later…

Once you've obtained a testimonial, you'll want to share it with others. You can do so by placing their testimonial on your website and within marketing collateral that you share with your prospective customers.

Taking the Angies List idea one step further…you can acknowledge your positive Angies List ranking on your website and within your marketing collateral. It is one thing to have a positive testimonial from a customer (or customers). Having a third-party consumer advocacy organization share your ranking is taking things to an entirely new level!

Leave something (useful) behind as a reminder

While you may have delivered an excellent experience to your customer and have their testimonial, it will also be important to stay "top of mind" with them. This is important so that they think of you first when they have an additional need, or when someone mentions a need to them that you may be able to help with.

There are a number of "leave behinds" that you might consider. However, the most important suggestion that I could make is to ensure that it is useful, relevant and different. We have all received a mug, pen or pad of sticky notes with a company logo on it. While there may be some level of utility, it is just more of the same. Other examples to consider include:

  • A consulting / services company can leave behind a memory stick. I give these out like candy and people seem to love them! Guess what the memory stick is preloaded with? Useful information about my company, of course!
  • A carpet cleaning company can leave behind a dust pan and broom.

Think about how this idea applies to your business! Make it useful, relevant and different.

Partner with firms that augment your services

Do you want to be the single firm that people think of in the "general" area of your expertise / service offerings? Most business owners would respond with a resounding YES! Some might respond with: "Well, I can't be all things to all people." That is true! Some might say: "How will I handle the volume?"

I'd suggest that if you are getting calls, that is all that matters!

The next step is to deal (effectively) with those calls. If the call is about something that is "generally" related to your area of expertise but not something that you currently do, or you have more work than you can handle, you have a couple of options:

  1. Consider expanding your service offerings and capabilities to cover the area being requested (assuming that you get frequent inquiries on the topic).
  2. Refer the customer to a "reputable" provider of the service being requested.

Some might say: "Are you crazy? Refer the caller to someone that might even be my competition?" Face it. The reality is this: if you can't serve the needs of this particular caller then they WILL find someone else. Why not participate in the process of helping them get the services that they need. Not only will they remember the gesture, but so will the owner of the company that you referred the caller to. Have you heard the saying: What comes around goes around?

An immediate next step to build on this idea would be to think about the calls that you've gotten in the past that you couldn't handle (either because it was outside of your area of expertise or due to workload) and identify the firm or firms in your area that you might build a referral relationship with. You'll obviously want to make sure that there is mutual benefit from such a relationship and that you can count on them to deliver quality service.

Address less than stellar performance

The reality is that we will all let a customer down, at some point. The only exception is my business, of course ;-)

When (not if) this happens, you are encouraged to address the situation head-on. Do so by learning EXACTLY how, when and why you let them down. Apologize and take full responsibility for the situation. This includes accepting full responsibility even if you (the person speaking with the customer) had absolutely nothing to do with the mishap. If someone was tasked with performing a service to the customer, under your good (now bad) name, then you own it.

Commit to making it right and ensuring that it will NEVER happen again. There are a number of things that you can do, depending on the situation, to "make it right", including:

  • A complete or partial "redo" or refund
  • Their next service is free or (heavily) discounted
  • A personal apology and acknowledgement of the let down to those people who are important to the customer. This could include the customer's customers, employees, business partners or family.

You should know that in many, if not most, situations of this nature, if you "make things right" you will actually turn a very dissatisfied customer into one who will ultimately provide you a positive testimonial and referral. Customers simply want to know that you will stand by your word and your work!

Finally, and again building on "Angies List", if your business is presently in the "Penalty Box" (you'll have to visit to learn more about what that means), then you need to take immediate measures to resolve the situation. The reason: negative testimonials and referrals spread much more quickly than positive ones. While I can't tell you how Angies List lets you out of the penalty box, I can tell you that Customer Centricity can help you improve your customer's experience.

Feel free to contact us if you feel you aren't delivering an excellent customer experience. Numerous firms have engaged us to perform a Customer Experience Assessment to identify what they are doing well (and ought to keep doing), opportunities for improvement, and a pragmatic road-map for increasingly improving the customer experience. Finally, we also drive your continuous improvement programs to ensure traction on your customer-focused initiatives.

Visit our website for additional information and resources on delivering an excellent customer experience.



+ The Importance of Referrals

+ Score Conference

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Score Conference

Please join Customer Centricity's President Craig Bailey at the 6th Annual SCORE Conference, taking place May 13-15, 2008, at the World Trade Center in Boston. To learn more and register online, visit the SCORE website. Craig will be moderating sessions taking place on May 15, including the much anticipated panel discussion entitled Driving Operational Change to Get the Most Out of Customer Feedback.

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