How to Attract Positive Referrals Online and in Social Media

When it comes to growing your practice, referrals are your bread and butter.

That’s because the industry is still, in many ways, a word-of-mouth business. You need to know where your potential clients are and how to reach them. Leveraging the three Rs can help you do just that.

The value of referral marketing cannot be overstated. The return on your effort here will far outweigh the return on traditional forms of marketing.

"People influence people. Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend. A trusted referral is the holy grail of advertising.” (Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook)

Are your customers satisfied

The heart of referrals to your firm is customer trust and satisfaction. That satisfaction is often measured in two different ways, either by a perception metric (where customers tell you how they think or feel), or an outcome metric (where customers tell you what they are going to do as a result of their experience). The latter metric is called the Net Promoter Score or NPS. To find this metric, first you need to ask your customers this question:

“On a scale of 0–10, how likely is it that you would recommend our company to a friend or colleague?”

For these purposes, those who rate you 0–6 are considered Detractors; 7–8 are Passives; and 9–10 are Promoters. The score is then calculated like so:

  • Net Promoter Score = % promoters − % detractors

You’ll notice the scale is skewed more towards the Detractors. This is tied to certain factors, including human behavior in answering questions. But it can also help you find out who was really wowed by your service and who was, in fact, dissatisfied.

You will end up with a score between 100% (everyone loves you) and −100% (everyone loathes you). The best-in-class are often in the 50s and above (for example, USAA tops the charts at ~80%) while those in the 20s, 30s and 40s are doing well but could probably be doing a little better.

What’s really important about this question is finding those people who are willing to rate you 9–10; those are the people you want to approach about getting a referral. For those who rate you 7–8, you want to figure out where you fell short so you can do better next time. Lastly, for ratings of 0–6 you want to figure out what went wrong and what can be done to make those clients happy.

It is critical to understand the root causes for each of these groups in order to accentuate what works or to correct quickly what is broken.

"NPS creates a view of customer loyalty. The absolute score is less important than the trend. We learn from both promoters and detractors. Most importantly, we have been able to associate NPS improvement with growth." (Jeff Immelt, Chairman and CEO of General Electric in a letter to stakeholders in 2005)

The art of the ask

Even if your customer is ecstatic about your performance and service, that doesn’t mean they will offer up a referral or review voluntarily. You have to ask! And when you ask is just as important as how you ask.

When:

  • End of projects. You want to ask right at the end of something—be it a project, quarter or when your customer is experiencing a moment of particular delight.
  • Moments of delight. These are the best times to ask. A moment of delight may be when your team has gone above and beyond to deliver something in a short time frame. It could be after a correspondence that led your client to think about their company in a new light. These times are when a customer will be most willing to spend the extra time to give you that referral or review

How:

  • Be proactive and up-front. An unhappy customer is more likely to write a bad review because they are motivated to put in the extra effort. A very happy customer may not be nearly as motivated to go out of his or her way. As such, it’s important to be proactive about asking a happy customer for a referral or review.
  • Do it in the moment. Remember to capitalize on those moments of delight.
  • Just ask! It never hurts to ask. If they’re not interested, they just won’t do it. But if you never ask, they definitely won’t.

How to get referrals

Typical:

  • Request in email signatures and newsletters. Time and time again you will see something in an email signature to the effect of “There’s no better way to grow my business than a referral. Can you please refer me to someone else?”
  • These signatures are so ubiquitous that they’re hardly ever read, let alone acted on. So while they don’t hurt, you shouldn’t rely on them alone.

Tips:

  • Approach immediately at the end of completed work. Again, it’s important to strike while the iron is hot. Be sure to ask right after a project is finished and the customer is happy. If you delay and ask the next day, their delight will have waned and your chances of having them follow through are dramatically diminished.
  • Ideally face-to-face. Hopefully it is right after shaking hands during a face-to-face meeting. When someone agrees to do something in person, they are dramatically more likely to actually do it.
  • Get an intro (if possible). After your client has agreed to give you a referral, see if they would be willing to introduce you. This introduction is worth its weight in gold. An introduction transfers the trust your client has in you directly to their contact. The contact trusts your client’s judgment and will be more confident in your abilities from the get-go.
  • Follow up immediately—and then once more. Again, time is of the essence. You want to act on this referral as soon as you return to the office. Send your client a thank you and ask again for an intro. You may also want to send along a bit of text describing yourself and your services for your client to copy and paste to their contact. Don’t rely only on that communication. Follow up again a few days later, or the following week to remind them.

Ratings and reviews done right

While the primary effort should be to garner referrals, ratings and reviews are important outcomes as well. They increase the likelihood that those who are shopping for your services take the final step to reach out and contact you to learn more. It helps validate your presence in the market.

The basics:

  • Make it as easy as possible. For the client, writing a review isn’t always simple. Where should they post it? What should they say? Are they going to need to create an account? These questions can feel like hurdles that make following through that much more difficult. Your job is to make this process as easy as possible for them. Give them clear, simple, step-by-step instructions on what to do, how to do it and how much time it will take (e.g. “less than a minute”).
  • Direct the customer to one site. While there are a number of sites you may want to use it for your reviews, pick just one for your client to visit. The goal here is to curate the kind of footprint you want. Take the sites you have in mind and order them by importance. Fill the most important site first. Once you have the review site’s URL, shorten it using a service like bitly.
  • The key is the review commentary. The key to a good review is in-depth commentary. You’re hoping for that sweet spot of one to two paragraphs of specific details in a review. Often a well-written four-star review will be given more weight by a prospective client than a five-star review with little to no commentary. You will want to offer suggestions of what the client could write about from your engagement with them. Look to their moments of delight for specific details.
  • The curse of the five-star review. While five-star reviews are great, have you ever seen a product that only has a few five-star reviews without much commentary? You begin to wonder if the reviews are legitimate. Having in-depth reviews and even some four-stars reviews can add a kind of legitimacy potential clients are seeking.
  • Respond immediately to a bad review. Bad reviews may happen. If they do, immediately contact the reviewer directly. Find out what went wrong and what you can do to fix the problem. After you’ve done all you can, ask them to edit their review to reflect your efforts. If they are still displeased, comment on their review stating what you did to try and rectify the situation. Remember that a bad review is not the end of the world. As long as they are few and far between, your positive reviews will still outshine them.

Review sites to consider:

  • Google My Business reviews. The great thing about this site is that it pops up first on a Google search below the clearly marked ad spots. Their sheer visibility should make Google My Business reviews a priority for your practice.
  • Yelp. Yelp is also a well-used resource for reviews. There have been some complaints about Yelp not accepting reviews from people’s clients, so be diligent and follow up if a client review is flagged.
  • QuickBooks Find-a-ProAdvisor. No matter what line of business you’re in, if there’s a site with glowing reviews from people searching for specific expertise, it is key to have your footprint there—if you possess that expertise people want.
  • Angie’s List and others. While you probably want to focus on the review sites above, you will also want to have a few reviews across some other properties to increase your online presence and visibility.

Be sure to close the loop!

If someone gives you a referral or a review, follow up and thank them. Write them a letter or give them a phone call. They’ve already shown that they love you; you want to make sure that they keep loving you. If someone is willing to give you one referral, it’s possible they may give you a second or even a whole batch. So make sure you’re positively reinforcing behaviors that help support your business even when a referral falls through. Your customers have gone the extra mile…make sure they know you appreciate it.

"One customer, well taken care of, could be more valuable than $10,000 worth of advertising." (Jim Rohn, Author and Speaker)

About the Author

Ian Vacin

Ian Vacin

With more than 25 years of experience in technology and over 15 years of leadership experience in the accounting industry, Ian is passionate about helping accounting professionals be as successful as possible in order to positively impact the businesses they serve. He is currently a co-founder and the vice president of product marketing at Karbon. Prior to Karbon, spent almost 10 years at Intuit (where he led the QuickBooks ProAdvisor Program and was the Offering Leader of Intuit's Mac Financial Software).

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