Studies consistently show that customers depend on referrals to determine what they buy—and who they buy it from.

In a previous blog post, we addressed why business owners need to change their thinking and learn to ask for specific customer referrals. In this follow-up, we talk about effective ways of asking your existing clients to refer your business to someone else—from the actual words to use to the exact timing of the request.

Five Ways to Get More Customer Referrals

1. Exceed expectations. The first rule of generating more referrals is to exceed expectations. Provide an outstanding product or service and you’ll build customer loyalty. Customer loyalty, in turn, leads to increased referrals. Don’t ask people to refer you until you are certain that you can not only deliver what they need, but also provide them with a stellar customer experience. One way to gauge customer satisfaction is with a short online survey using a service like SurveyMonkey that includes ‘Would you recommend our business to others?’ as one of its questions.

2. Take advantage of timing. The best time to ask for a referral is when you’ve delivered great work and your client is happy. This might be at the end of a project, or it might be when you’ve hit a milestone along the way. Take advantage of the positive feedback and say, “Thank you. It’s been great to work with you and I’m glad that you are happy with the project. Do you know anyone else who could benefit from our services?” If a project has hit a rocky patch, fix the situation as quickly as possible. Often, the best word of mouth comes from clients who value the ability and willingness of a business to make things right.

3. Make it easy. Your clients are busy. Make it easier for them to make an introduction by taking advantage of technology. For example, do your homework in advance using LinkedIn to search for connections that your client may be able to facilitate. When you share non-propriety, value-add content with your clients, add a ‘Share’ link that makes it easy for them to forward your materials to colleagues and friends. Lastly, give clients specific ways to refer you. They will often be happy to use the language that you provide them. It doesn’t need to be more than an email outlining exactly what you are looking for along with suggested verbiage that they can use to refer you to others.

4. Express gratitude. Always thank the person making the referral, whether it leads to a business opportunity or not. A genuine thank-you should never be dependent on a specific outcome. Don’t wait, either. Thank them right away, preferably with a personal card or note. (We use SendOutCards to thank people for thinking highly enough of us to make a personal referral; we send another if the referral turns into a client). Unfortunately, too many business referrals go unnoticed. An unrecognized referral is usually the last that you’ll get from that source. More important, gratitude builds loyalty and strengthens relationships that enrich your life personally and professionally.

5. Refer others. When you give, you gain. It’s a simple as that. One of the most effective ways to generate business referrals is to refer others. It’s also an excellent way to become comfortable with the referral process and to learn what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to building a business through word of mouth.

Get More Referrals by Asking

Satisfied clients are typically more than happy to recommend you to others—you just need to ask them. Let them know that you value them and that you would like to work with more people like them, and soon you’ll have a solid network of connections.