Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Why You Should Never Ask For Referrals

Word-of-mouth seems to be back in fashion, as I’ve recently read a handful of articles on the topic of getting referrals from customers.   And to my way of thinking, the advice that’s being promulgated is dead wrong.   That is, I’m seeing advice to ask customers for referrals right away, upon closing the sale, and providing them with incentives for their next purchase if they send the firm any business.

What makes that advice so wrong is that it is usually far too soon to expect a customer to make a referral: he has just purchased a product, has yet to try it out, and does not know whether he is actually happy with the outcome.  Being pressed immediately to tell others about his experience with a product he hasn’t even take out of the box is inappropriate and uncomfortable. 

What makes word-of-mouth so powerful is its raw honesty.   When a person tells another person about their success with a brand, the person they tell receives this as legitimate and trustworthy information that is well-meant, because the person who is telling them this is concerned for their welfare and is not seeking anything for himself by passing along the information.

So it should be immediately evident that offering customers a premium or discount for spreading the word is immediately harmful to their integrity and the value of their recommendation.   If the person to whom they are promoting the brand knows about this, the integrity of the referring party is called into question – and they certainly will learn of it when they purchase and the brand makes them the very same offer of a benefit to promote to their friends and neighbors.

Even suggesting to a person that they ought to advocate for the brand is an affront to their integrity: they will decide, on their own, whether their experience is worth sharing.  A person who gives a referral is staking their personal reputation on the outcome to others, generally those with whom he has some manner of relationship.  The degree to which he values that relationship governs his likelihood of recommending a brand to the other party – thus an attempt to cajole a person into referring others is interfering in their personal choices, their personal relationships, and their personal brand.

In all, there is likely no proper time and no proper way to ask others to advocate for the brand, and word-of-mouth is entirely out of the brand’s control – but for one thing: a brand can earn word-of-mouth by actually delivering value to the customer.   Customers will give referrals when they are ready, and not sooner.

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