Setting up your own pro-active referral system (*LHF Surveys)

Michael Royal, CEO & Founder, BIR Solutions

BIR Comment:  When we talk to business owners and managers about where most of their new sales leads come from, all but those who work for the major brand companies tend to answer ‘from referrals’ as their first response.  Without getting too far off track, major brand companies have a strong advertising presence which generates market share for them.  Most SMEs do not have the luxury of a large marketing and advertising budget.

But what is often amazing is that most of these businesses do not have a pro-active way of harvesting these referrals.  Effectively, they passively wait for referrals to arrive via the front door.  For every referral which stops at their front door, there are probably hundreds of drive-by’s who have not received a reason to stop and say hi.

Our free plug:  Yes, we have a focus on feedback and on referrals as a proven way to increase your sales.  Not only do you get the benefit of referrals from satisfied customers, you also get the benefit of using feedback from your customers to shape your business in the way they want your business to operate. Right now, we are coaching and mentoring businesses on how to improve their feedback systems.  Everything from face to face to online tools. The process is challenging but it’s also fun (we like fun!).

Now, back to you Michael to show us how….. 

ask for feedback

Setting up a referral system suitable for your business does not mean you should go out there and ask every
customer for a referral (as some do).  This is guaranteed to scare off
even your most loyal customers as they see a dreaded ‘Do you have any
referrals for me?’ conversation about to start, knowing that they have
not delivered on their last commitment to find you more leads. 

No, there are much better ways than that.  One way is to ask your customers 3 questions about what is important to them: 

  1. How well have we delivered what we said we would deliver?
  2. What did we do really well?
  3. What could we do better?
3 questions have a residual benefit: you also get to improve your
business in the way your customers want you to.  At BIR, we call this shaping your business based upon feedback
You can of course ignore your customer’s advice…. and effectively say
to them, “I am not really interested in what you have to say about my
business – I just wanted an intro so you can give me more referrals’. 
Your call….
But, once you have asked them these
questions, you are able to ask those who rate you highly (aka not every
customer), “Do you know of someone who you think might value what we do
well?”  See how naturally that follows?  
How well you handle this process will go a long way to determining how successful your referral process will be.
The key is to put yourself into your customer’s shoes – how would you want to be asked? 

how to ask for feedback

The key is to put yourself into your customer’s shoes – how would you want to be asked? 

are options in terms of the processes you use.  The 3 most common ones are: You can do the whole process
face to face, you can do it over the phone or you can do it via feedback
surveys.  The choice is up to you. 

There are times when
you should ask for feedback face to face (think major issues and
problems) but feedback of a regular and perhaps even repetitive nature
lends itself for a number of reasons to something like an online
feedback process.  Survey Monkey is a common tool used. 

Some things you need to think about before you select the process:

  1. How
    much time do you have to make sure this is done regularly (like a drum
    beat)?  Remember, with today’s traffic, you can, at best, see 3 to 4
    customers a day if you are doing house calls.  Phone calls are more
    efficient but they can often seem to be impersonal and how many times do
    you have to ring back to find a time when you are both free?
  2. How
    consistent do you want the results to be across your business?  Some
    Account Managers will not be as adept as others.  That is just reality.
  3. How
    do your customers like to be treated?  Some might like the fireside
    chat, some may not have the time, some may not even like spending time
    with ‘another sales rep’,  In today’s hectic world, research suggests
    many customers appreciate the convenience of an online survey as they
    can answer it if and when they have the time – not when you have the

Online feedback

If you are considering online feedback, we suggest you need to ensure the following happens:
  1. Your
    feedback survey is well designed and appealing. It should be as short
    and as focussed as possible – not too long and certainly not too boring.
  2. Your questions are worded the right way and in the right order.
  3. It is suited to your business.
  4. Your customers feel they are not just a number in your feedback system.
  5. You
    keep up the communication with your customers (they don’t feel like you
    were only using their time with no feedback as to what you are doing
    with their feedback).
A well structured feedback
process will allow you to gently ask your customers for referrals and
for them to nominate someone they know who might appreciate what you
have done well.
Done correctly, you will multiply
the referrals you receive.  And, your business will grow faster as it is
based upon the feedback of your customers who love you – we call these
customers your raving fans. 
What happens if your
feedback shows you don’t have many raving fans?  Well, that’s even
better news.  At least you now know you have an issue to solve and you
can start to shape your business around what your raving fans, not so
raving fans and outright non raving fans want you to be so they will
come back and buy more and more from you.  More on this another time.
one final tip.  Most of the businesses in your industry will not put in
place feedback systems and if they do, they are not likely to implement
the feedback in a way where their customers feel they are strategic
partners in the development of their business.  They will ask for
feedback then go silent.  Their customers will feel used.
opportunity is to set up an open and transparent process where you show
you are responding to your clients’ feedback.  Now THAT’S a feedback
system worth its weight in gold.

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