Friday, March 1, 2013

How Do You Treat Your Referrals?

Image courtesy of lisaverhas
How do you treat customers that came in through referrals?

There's all this talk about word of mouth, referrals, recommendations, promoters ... to-may-toes, to-mah-toes. But have you ever given much thought to how important that referral really is, like at the personal level, not just at the "hey, my business is growing" level?

Think about this. You're asking your customers: "How likely are you to recommend my business?" They tell you they're very likely, they will, they have, etc. But what happens when you don't deliver for the person who received the referral.

Satisfied customers who will spread word of mouth are the most powerful assets you have.
-Andy Sernovitz

I've got an example I'd like to share.

I'm in the midst of getting quotes for a bathroom remodel. A friend of mine, who also happens to be in the process of getting quotes for his bathroom remodel, got a referral for a general contractor and passed the contractor's name on to me. My favorite part about the recommendation was that this guy is always on time, even early.

I called the contractor, got his voicemail, and left a message; he called me back the same day. I let him know that a friend he did work for referred him through another friend. We set a time (on a Monday afternoon) for him to come by to talk about the work I wanted done. When he arrived, he told me I was his ninth stop of the day. (Hmmm.) He was super friendly, very knowledgeable, and I appreciated his suggestions. As he was leaving, he told me he'd have the quote for me on Wednesday. Expectation set.

Wednesday came and went, and the week rolled into a busy weekend. No email; no quote. I called him Monday morning and left him a voicemail. He never returned my call, but I got an email with the quote the next afternoon, along with a note saying that I should call him with questions. Of course I had questions, so I called him the next day (Wednesday). I didn't get a return call; instead, I got an email Friday afternoon with an apology, an explanation, and a note asking if he could call me Saturday afternoon. I responded and let him know I'd be available all day Saturday. No call on Saturday. He called me Monday (earlier this week); I wasn't available. I haven't called him back.

So my question is: If you know a customer was referred by someone you've previously done work for or done business with, should you treat that customer differently?

I don't necessarily think that you need to treat the person differently; after all, you earned a recommendation because of the way you do business (great product, great service, etc.). Be yourself. The problem arises when you don't adhere to the tenet of the consistent experience.

I do think that if someone has taken that extra step to recommend you for your products or services, then you should:
  • Thank the individual who gave you the referral
  • Find out why you earned the referral (VOC, feedback)
  • Acknowledge that the individual (new customer) is a referral
  • Not mess it up
 (Obviously, this won't apply to every situation/industry.)

This contractor has to know that friends talk. In the end, he's not going to get my business or my friend's because neither of us care for that type of service. What happens if we hire him and there's a problem or a change if he can't get it right during the quote phase. Not only does this highlight the need for a consistent experience for all customers but also a consistent experience at the various touchpoints across the stages of the lifecyle.

Contrast that with another contractor, one that I found on Angie's List. (Have you used Angie's List yet? It's awesome.) His reviews were phenomenal, and it wasn't difficult to select him from the myriad of contractors that popped up for me. I called him, and he actually answered the phone! (Unlike the other contractors I called.) We arranged a time (this past Sunday) for him to come to my house; the night before, he texted me and confirmed the time and the address. Wow. He showed up on time, and he spent almost 90 minutes discussing my needs, making suggestions, talking about pros and cons of some of my ideas, etc. It was so refreshing.

As he was leaving, he set my expectations: he does paperwork on Sundays, so he'd send the quote on Sunday at the latest, sooner if he could get to it. I'm writing this on Thursday night, and just a few minutes ago I saw an email come in from him with the quote. Expectations exceeded.

Word of mouth--Happy and engaged customers have a mouth, and they are not afraid to use it. Through positive word-of-mouth recommendations, companies will gain net new customers. - See more at:
Word of mouth--Happy and engaged customers have a mouth, and they are not afraid to use it. Through positive word-of-mouth recommendations, companies will gain net new customers. - See more at:
Word of mouth--Happy and engaged customers have a mouth, and they are not afraid to use it. Through positive word-of-mouth recommendations, companies will gain net new customers. - See more at:
Anna Papachristos said in a recent article on 1to1 media: "Word of mouth--Happy and engaged customers have a mouth, and they are not afraid to use it. Through positive word-of-mouth recommendations, companies will gain net new customers."

I'd like to add the opposing view that, "Through negative word of mouth, companies will lose current and potential customers."

Word of mouth is a good thing... but it can also be a bad thing.

What do you think?


  1. Annette,

    I am constantly amazed that people can earn a living.

    For a while I worked for myself and I always gave people exactly what I said I would exactly when I said I would regardless of whether they were a referral or not.

    Customers kept coming back, yet it was still the most stressful period of my life.

    How you can survive and not treat your customers well is beyond me.


    1. Thanks, James, I agree. Regardless of whether the customer is a referral or not, how can a company survive without treating customers well.

      Annette :-)

  2. Added to James Lawther comment above (which I agree with ~ how can they survive)

    I take treatment like this as an indication how I will be treated throughout a relationship. In fact I expect people to put on there best at the first meeting......what does that say about your contractor?

    I always enjoy your posts ~ you make the point well.

    1. Thanks, Caroline. That's my thought exactly. If this is how we're starting the relationship, how on earth will things go when the work actually begins?

      And thank you. Some (most of it) is common sense... but as the saying goes, common sense isn't so common. Glad you enjoy my posts!

      Annette :-)

  3. Hi Annette,
    My personal take and hope for your first contractor is that, given that you were his 9th call of the day, he needs to hire some help to fulfill expectations and his ability to deliver work or not accept the appointments.


  4. I've always felt like referrals need to be taken extra special care of because if you fumble your relationship with that one customer it could negatively impact your existing relationship with their friend that referred them in the first place. When I get referred somewhere I base my expectations on what others have told me and expect the company to live up to that expectation.

    1. Joe, thanks for reading and for your comment. Apologies for my delay in responding. I agree 100%. It's bad for any business to ignore a referral. Clearly the business did something to earn the referral, and that lack of consistency breaks the trust chain in a few places.

      Annette :-)