Customer Success | 9 MIN READ

How to Ask for a Customer Reference: An Essential Guide

What is a Customer Reference and how do you ask for one politely? Dive in to get insights on how it is done and some interesting statistical notes too.

Simran Mohanty
Apr 28, 2021

Customer-Reference

Customer Reference

People have stopped trusting sales folks altogether. Since they have been ‘programmed’ to convert all no’s into nods, prospects find it hard to trust their words. Let’s face it – aren’t they saying it all to get the product sold out? However, if you give those prospects a little proof of a customer who was absolutely delighted with your product or service, there are higher chances of them buying the belief or the product.

Although the game of customer reference can be a pretty risky venture, you need to know what to do and specifically what not to do. When you play your cards right, there is a golden chance that won’t just add a new customer but also augment relationships with your existing references. Before we dive into how to ask for a customer reference, let us brush up on some basics.

What is a Customer Reference?

The definition of customer reference is a person or a company that is willing to share positive feedback or story about one of your products, services, or overall customer experience at large. They are the ones who at the higher likelihood of spreading a positive word about your brand to their friends and relatives. In the customer success dictionary, they would be tagged as ‘promoters on the NPS scale’.

While we know what customer reference is. Let us now know what it is not. A customer reference is not a favor! Customers who loved your product, staff, or services would want you to succeed and prosper in your business. Further, it gives the customers an opportunity to promote themselves and their success stories with your brand to a peer. It’s nowhere near being persuasion or pressure to air a positive review for your company.

In fact, according to a Customer Reference Data Survey Report by Veeva, it has been stated that 69% of the customers cited the need to improve targeting, segmentation and alignment was one of the top most drivers for customer reference data improvement initiative.

Customer Reference Data Improvement Initiative: Major Drivers
Source: Veeva

How to ask for Customer Reference?

Rope in a real story wisely

Pick a customer who has had a genuinely happy experience with you. The best way to find the ‘one’ is by learning how well they have implemented and benefitted from the product or service in their personal lives. If the answer turns towards a positive note, that means they are the ones who are willing to go the extra mile for you. Their satisfaction and happiness is all that you need to achieve a good customer reference. Once that happens, the rest will automatically fall back into their places.

Steer away from Reference Burnout

You have already worked really hard to get these customer references, so, don’t scare just yet by overdoing what they are doing. Know what makes an ‘overdo’ and check back regularly to ensure that they still want to act as a reference for you on their willingness. One of the best ways to avoid reference burnout is by having a backup. Having a single customer to act as a reference might call upon trouble. Instead, let the brands focus on nominating extra customers as and when required.

Provide some Incentives in return

While getting a customer to give a reference for your brand out of good faith and their undying love for your product is great, it does not mean you should not show them some appreciation of any kind. You can do that by giving them a month or two free of subscription fees. You might also give away a promo code that they can use on their future transactions. It is not necessarily the worth of these incentives that matter, but it rather speaks highly of you as a brand, and how well you value your customers is what gets manifested.

Set proper expectations

Do your customers have complete knowledge of how you intend to use their references? Will the names and quotes of the customer air on the website and on collateral materials? Will the reference be asked to speak directly with future clients? And most importantly do the references know of these clauses and have agreed to them? Getting approval and meeting these set expectations ensure that you do not overstep those preset boundaries and establish a successful and long-term relationship with the references. Putting them in a situation where they aren’t well aligned with the expectations can lead to some serious issues.

Consider automating your Customer Reference Program

Sometimes it can become cumbersome to manually track and manage the interactions and activity of the references with spreadsheets and stuff. There are several technological solutions out there that you may want to consider that keep your program, productive, systematic, and organized. If you happen to have substantial references, it might just make sense to take to the reference program to better streamline your actions, solves challenges, give a backseat to the manual notes and improve your overall results in no time.

Don’t be a Pushover

While it might seem triggering to let your customers do the ‘selling’ on your behalf, you should not take a backseat and rely on them entirely. Simply put, refrain from being a pushover. If you can learn how to suppress your need for their approval and genuinely answer the customer’s need for a reference, you will soon start to earn respect.

Best Tips to get Customer Reference

  • Turn the tables around: Ask them what questions they would like to ask your customer. This way, you can refer to the right customers only and lessen the chances of failure. Also, if they are not prepared with a list of questions, ask them if there are any top concerns about a particular product or service. For instance, you can ask them – ‘Is there any product that you used in the past and had an issue with?’ Further, be ready to give them a few specific questions to address if they cannot come up with one.
  • Render Research reports and Case Studies: One of the best ways to deflect those early reference requests is by deploying published proof of your good services via case studies. Also, you may take to research reports which are a great way to address the customer’s doubts and apprehensions. If not that, you can always ask your best customers to drop a review on some of the relevant sites as well. Review sites are slowly gaining trust and interest in the customer’s hearts.
  • Recorded Video Testimonials works too: For this, all you need to do is get your most trusted customers on a video conference call, say on Zoom or Google Meet and record their valuable testimonials. This way you can feature a multitude of customers from different spheres and showcase their love. Additionally, for smooth functioning, you may hire a transcriber and an editor to present the aforementioned in a refined manner.
  • Form a Customer Advocate’s Community: To handle a huge volume of reference requests, it is advised to form a group of such likeminded customers who are willing to speak to the prospects. As and when you form a community of these customer’s advocates and provide them a purpose to do so, they will be happier to connect with them. It could be possible that many of them would want to make newer connections and expand their social circle with similar interests.
  • Send out invitations to events where the customers are present: There is nothing better than getting your prospects to interact with your customers. Try to host a virtual or in-person event and ask your customers to publicly state how well they have been helped by your products or services. This way, you can convince the prospects better. In fact, this can work better than some of your best sales trick up your sleeve.

Customer Reference Templates that Work out

1. The Professional Way

Not all of your customers might like a casual tone of email communication. For the ones who fit that list, sending out a professional-toned letter email would work out just fine. Have your senior managers write these out to the customers, something like this:

Customer Reference Template-The Professional Way
Source: boast

2. The Casual Way

And for the ones who would want to see you talk to them like a friend, there is another way out for addressing them. Ensure that your team is all set to collect testimonials from the customers when they are already having a conversation with you. It can go something like this:

Customer Reference Template-The Casual Way
Source: boast

3. The Wrong Way

When a customer finds such a request where there is nothing in it for them, why would they want to do it for you anyways? Note that, it is you and your business who will eventually get benefitted by this gesture, therefore iron out all possible errors that might come your way. Specifically, something like this:

Customer Reference Template-The Wrong Way
Source: influitive

4. The Incentivized Way

Since a customer is giving you a big help, you might as well favor them back with something you can. To begin with, how about a 10% off coupon, maybe a promo code or perhaps a month free of subscription fees. This way, the customers would refrain from taking a backseat from helping you out.

Customer Reference Template-The Incentivized Way
Source: boast

Parting Thoughts

A customer reference is often seen as the ‘hot potato’ from the lenses of different teams of a company. But when infused in the right manner, it can help close sales quicker, add more credibility and trust factor to the brand’s name, entice more media coverage and pull in more prospects to do business with you. So, why is the wait? Go for the ask. And strive to do so on a personal yet professional front. What you will soon realize is that you are going to get a lot more referenceable customers rooting for you than you could ever imagine. Know that there is nothing more powerful than an army of brand advocates to boost your revenue.

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Originally Published April 28th, 2021, Updated May 26th, 2021

Simran Mohanty

Simran hails from the content marketing backdrop with extensive knowledge in blogs, articles, and technical whitepapers in the non-fictional domain. She uses her 'gift of the gab' to explore new possibilities on her way and to make an exquisite impact on her readers. In her spare time, she likes to read journals on artificial intelligence or play with her cute kittens.

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