Productive Leaders

Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame

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Want Referrals? Be Referable!

Many people rely on referrals and repeat business to sustain their livelihood. But there is a difference between repeat business and business loyalty that makes your clients happy to refer you to other people.

I have a friend who has been with his insurance company since he was 17 years old. He knows there are many other great insurance companies, but he is so intensely loyal to his insurance company that he does not even consider the offers from other companies. The other companies may have lower prices. They may have better coverage. They may dangle enticing offers and extra benefits if he changes companies. But he doesn’t. And he refers this company to others as often as possible.

What drives such proponents? Wouldn’t it be great to be the company that induces such intense loyalty that referrals are driving new customers to you in droves?

How do you become a company that delivers great value and becomes referable?

1. Make sure every customer you have receives great communication from your team. You might think your company is doing a superb job. But you might want to ask a few questions: Do your customer service people call your customers by their proper names and titles? When your customers make an address change, does it go to all parts of the organization, or do they have to make several phone calls? Are your customers subjected to long wait times when they call you? Do you respond to customer inquiries right away? Are you keeping a loyal following?

2. Pop the blisters. The customers who complain are some of your best friends in business. If a customer has a problem and they complain, and you fix it, you have actually increased their loyalty to your company. However, if customers do not complain after they have had a less-than-satisfactory experience, you never get back that opportunity to remedy the situation. Your customers just go to your competitors. Make sure that you fully understand the problem and the consequences from their point of view, and then make sure that the steps you take to fix the problem actually happen. (Sometimes an owner or a manager will direct someone else to take the required action, but that person doesn’t. This increases the customer’s frustration, and solidifies his or her intent to use your competitors.) Solve the problem completely, and follow-up to make sure the customer is sincerely happy.

3. Solve your client’s problems by being attentive to their problems. I was at a conference delivering a speech and right before my talk, the meeting planner looked unhappy and flustered. I asked if everything was okay. Frustrated, she said that one of her breakout session speakers had just canceled that morning for an afternoon session. (Aha! A problem!)

”Well,” I said, ”I’d be happy to substitute for him and conduct a seminar on social media if that helps you. It is completely different from my leadership keynote, and I have the social media brief right here.” I knew budget was an issue and I added, “And I’ll do it for nothing. I am sure the accounting folks are busy enough right now.” This solved her problem, and made her day as a meeting planner much easier. I received two referrals from her and future loyal business from her organization. Was I trying to get referrals? No, I was really just trying to help my meeting planner.

4. Deliver more than what your clients expect. We often patronize businesses even though we are not completely satisfied with their delivery or our experience. As a result, we are not loyal to those businesses, so if we find another provider, we will probably explore our choices. This is one of the reasons why hotels and airlines and other substitutable service providers have rewards programs. If you have a poor experience at one hotel in a chain in one city it makes you reluctant to try that same chain in another city. By giving you incentives to stay with that chain, the hotels are hoping that you will give them another chance, and continue to patronize them. This sometimes works, but wouldn’t it be great if people continued to use your business because they were absolutely delighted every time?

I needed a piece of wooden trim to finish one of my household projects. I do not own a table saw. (I don’t really want to own a table saw.) At the hardware store, I found a very nice man in the lumber section who not only pulled a piece of trim that I needed, but cut it exactly to the required specifications. I was only charged for the piece of trim. This saved me significant amounts of time and effort. (And possibly injury. I’m not very good with saws.) Needless to say, I was delighted. I called the store manager to relay the terrific experience and thanked him for having such a helpful employee. I went online to the store’s comment card section to report my fantastic experience. That hardware store built loyalty because one person took five minutes to completely meet my needs and exceed my expectations.

5. Show your appreciation to your clients for their business. Say thank you!!! It is not just good manners, it is good business. Thank your clients with a follow-up note or phone call. Remember client birthdays. Be thoughtful.

A colleague of mine just bought a new car from a very well known car dealer. About three weeks afterwards, I asked if the car dealership that sold a $30,000 car had called him to see how he was doing with the vehicle. Nope. No call, no note, no follow up in any way. What a missed opportunity! So if you do follow-up and thank your clients when they do business with you, you are memorable.

6. If you want people to refer business to you, refer business to them. One of the ways you can help your clients, friends and colleagues is to refer them to other people. In economics, this is called the Search Activity. It takes time and effort finding quality people with which to conduct a successful business transaction. When you generate business for others, you indicate your trust and confidence in their product and business. You are pledging your name to their delivery. Most people view this as a responsibility not to disappoint you, and if someone gives you a referral, you should treat it as such.

Becoming a valued provider means cultivating the relationship that makes an experience with you one that your clients will want to share with their friends. Creating value makes you referable and increases your business.


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