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Referral Programs Starter Guide

  • How to grow your business with highly-converting referral program?
  • What limits to use and how to build an effective referral flow?
  • See the best practices and examples of refer-a-friend programs done the right way.
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18 Surefire Ways to Get High-Quality Referrals
Karolina Kmita
Karolina Kmita
July 25, 2023
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18 Surefire Ways to Get High-Quality Referrals

So you've launched a referral program with high hopes of seeing a steady stream of new customers, but somehow your results have fallen short of your expectations. There's no need to abandon ship just yet.

In this article, I will go over 20 tested referral strategies you might have missed. From building a strong brand image to implementing better-converting referral rewards, after reading this piece you will be better equipped to improve your customer referral program and increase your engagement rates. 

What are customer referrals? 

Customer referrals, also known as word-of-mouth referrals, happen when existing customers recommend a product or service to their friends and family based on their positive experiences. These referrals are essentially personal endorsements or recommendations that can greatly influence the purchasing decisions of potential new customers.

Statistic on the impact of referrals on brands' marketing strategy

Customer referrals are powerful because they carry a level of trust and credibility that traditional advertising or marketing efforts lack. When someone receives a recommendation from a trusted source, they are naturally more likely to trust that recommendation, leading to a higher likelihood of conversion. But how to get quality customer referrals without straining your neck?

{{Referral Programs Starter Guide}}

How to get more quality customer referrals?

In an age of so many shopping options, gaining quality referrals may seem like Referral Olympics. However, there are a few shortcuts that can help you run the distance in a shorter amount of time, bringing your brand closer to the podium of customer satisfaction. In order to gain more customer referrals, there are several steps you should take into account:

1. Choose the right referral software 

Referral software is the foundation of your refer-a-friend campaign. If you are seeing low ROI on your referral campaigns, perhaps it is high time to reconsider your provider or look for a more suitable referral solution. 

You should look for a referral solution that:

  • Supports multiple referral reward types and workflows. 
  • Is easy to manage and customize. 
  • Offers fraud prevention mechanisms and referral limits. 
  • Can be quickly integrated with your marketing stack, preferably via APIs. 
  • Has omnichannel capabilities.

Learn more: 14 Best Referral Management Tools for Enterprises in 2023

2. Meet your perfect referrer

Get a complete picture of your ideal advocate. Take a closer look at the customers who refer to your brand most often and tailor your campaign to their specific needs and preferences. Your referral program does not have to be directed to everyone. It is actually better if the campaigns is targeted only at highly engaged users, for instance repeat shoppers or members of your loyalty program. 

3. Spice up your referral program with gamification

Have you ever though about integrating referral gamification to make your program more fun? Here are some examples of gamification techniques you can use to encourage potential advocates to spread the word about your brand: 

  • Tiersreferral levels generate excitement and group referrers to distinguish the most precious brand advocates. You can use tiers to motivate and engage with an increased reward value as a referrer comes to the top of the referral ladder.
  • Leaderboards – Adding a leaderboard to your referral program is a fantastic way to encourage a spirit of amiable rivalry among participants. Customers derive immense satisfaction from knowing their rank on the referral leaderboard, and the visual element acts as a compelling incentive, propelling them to refer more.
Example of referral gamification: leaderboard from Tesla
  • Badges – by awarding badges to customers for achieving specific referral milestones or demonstrating exceptional effort, you create a sense of accomplishment and recognition. 
  • Progress bar with milestone rewards – this approach not only creates a sense of accomplishment but also encourages participants to continue referring more people to unlock exciting milestone-based incentives, resulting in increased program participation and a stronger sense of motivation among users.
Example of referral gamification – milestone rewards from Harry's

4. Consider a double-sided referral program

If you are seeing low engagement rates, perhaps the formula of a single-sided referral program was not attractive enough for your audience? In double-sided referral programs, both referrers and new customers are incentivized. Thanks to this, recommendations are much more than just a word-of-mouth from your happy customers. They give referrers a real value to endow their friends and family. Ultimately, referral programs aren’t about the number of recommendations, they’re about the conversion growth.

5. Offer a unique reward experience

Diversified and surprising referral rewards can make your refer a friend campaign stand out. Below you will find a list of creative rewards you can consider in your program:

  • Free products – by giving participants complimentary products for successful referrals, brands create a sense of exclusivity. This approach also allows potential new users to try-out the brand's products or services risk-free. Remember that the product you select should be economically viable to provide for free, considering your typical customer acquisition expenses. Additionally, it should hold enough value in your customers’ eyes to make it a desirable incentive for them to refer their friends.
Example of a referral reward – free toy
  • Mystery boxes – mystery boxes add an element of excitement and intrigue, making the rewarding experience more memorable. However, you have to keep in mind that, just like with free items, you should make the content of your mystery box offer worth the hassle both in the sense of your budget and from the perspective of your customers. 
Example of a referral reward – a mystery box
  • Branded swag – branded swag serves as an enticing incentive in referral programs, offering a tangible reward that customers can proudly use and display. By providing referral participants with branded merchandise such as t-shirts, mugs, or bags, you not only reward their efforts but also strengthen brand loyalty and visibility as they incorporate the items into their daily lives. 
Referral reward example – branded swag from Jam
  • Charity donations – instead of rewarding participants with traditional incentives, brands can offer to donate a certain amount to a charitable cause or organization of customer’s choice for each successful referral. This approach not only motivates customers to refer others but also aligns the brand with a purpose, making the referral program more impactful and socially conscious.
Example of a referral reward – charity donations

6. Go omnichannel

Omnichannel referrals help you adjust a referral process to different generations of consumers and their specific habits. They’re vital to making outstanding and personalized customer experience possible at scale. Each day consumers use numerous technologies and devices changing to the channel that suits them while looking for promotions or shopping online. It matters if your referrers can share codes via your mobile app, website, or email. 

What's more, can they seamlessly change from laptop to mobile phone and still refer to a friend with ease? The multi-channel technology is not enough to offer an omni-channel experience. You need to make sure that switching from one technology to another doesn't affect the customer journey at all. 

 7. Ask for a referral at a right time

The process of asking for a referral should come off as natural as possible without resembling a cold call or email. It's important to establish a relationship with the customer before making the request, rather than leading with it during initial interactions. It's always a good idea to ask for a referral after a successful purchase. After ensuring customer satisfaction, it is appropriate to ask for a favor, but it's crucial to avoid seeming desperate and instead subtly suggest the idea without obligating them to act upon it. 

8. Use gentle reminders 

Have you ever thought that perhaps your program does not work well because it lacks proper promotion and automation? If you want your referral program to perform properly you need to prepare a set of visuals, copy, various messages and workflows. It is not enough to send one email with a referral code. You need reminders in the form of follow-up emails, notifications, social media posts, in-app messages and pop-up windows. Incorporating referral messages and/or links in your re-engagement emails may also be another valuable strategy to maximize the visibility of your referral program.

9. Utilize other forms of customer advocacy

Referral programs are not the only way to generate positive word of mouth. Instead of referrals, you can focus on collecting positive reviews or other forms of user-generated content (UGC). 

10. Make it easy to refer

User experience is key to a successful referral campaign. A seamless and intuitive referral process increases the likelihood of customers engaging with the referral program and making referrals. By prioritizing UX, businesses can create a positive and enjoyable experience for participants, increasing their satisfaction and motivation to refer others. 

Here are some quick wins you can incorporate to make your referral process more user-friendly:

  • Prepare a dedicated referral landing page – make your referral landing page the primary hub for all information about the referral program. It should comprehensively explain the program to customers and entice potential followers. Place it as the main referral center in your menu or banner ads and include links to it in your messages. The landing page should feature a user-friendly form for customers, encouraging them to  download and share referral links. It should also clearly outline the referral process while visually showcasing the enticing rewards awaiting your customers.
Example of a referral landing page
  • Come up with a clever CTA – your entire referral program landing page should direct attention towards call to action (CTA). To make the referral CTA stand out, consider making the text bold, underlined, or in a different color, and some designs to make your referral button more eye-catching. 
Example of a good referral CTA
  • Prepare success and error messages – add appropriate referral tooltips and messages to guide customers through the process. You can, for instance, display success messages after a referral code has been copied to clipboard or right after a successful referral sharing process. 
UX of referrals: tooltips and guides
  • Allow social media sharing options – offer a variety of sharing choices tailored to your audience's demographics and preferences. If they favor social media over emails, enable direct sharing of the referral link or code on social platforms. For app-based referral programs, utilize the built-in sharing function of mobile apps, granting referrers easy access to their phone address book, email lists, and social media accounts from the get-go.
Example of a seamless referral sharing process

Learn More: Referral Programs UX and UI Best Practices

11. Make your customers feel appreciated

Expressing your gratitude for engagement is a good idea before and after a customer actually recommends your brand. In practice, each message with an invitation to join a referral campaign should mention your ‘thank you’ for every good word shared. In the case of ‘after-recommendation’ thank you pages, they're worth even more effort. 

12. Think about offline touchpoints 

Offline touchpoints can be powerful in promoting a referral program because they leverage direct personal interactions to drive word-of-mouth recommendations. Promotional materials like flyers or business cards serve as tangible reminders, making it easier for customers to share a given referral program with friends and family. Additionally, offline touchpoints can reach individuals who may not be regularly engaged online, expanding the program's reach to a wider audience.

13. Allow for a referral code customization 

Allowing for referral code customization is vital as it empowers customers to personalize their referral links, making them more likely to share with their network. This personal touch enhances the referral's effectiveness and engagement. Even the form of the code matters, i.e. avoiding confusing characters like O and 0 or I and l. Make your referral code easy to share. Whether it’s a referral link, code or a deep link that directs your customers to your app – all of it is important.  If you send the code in an email as a png image and your customer has to click it out manually, it reflects poorly on your user experience. 

Example of referral code customization process

14. Offer customer support across channels

By providing support through multiple channels like email, live chat, and phone, you cater to different preferences and make it more accessible for customers to get help. This proactive approach fosters trust, enhances the overall experience, and encourages customers to actively participate in the referral program in case of any doubts or hiccups. 

15. Ensure social media integrations

By allowing seamless sharing of referral links on various social platforms such as, for example, Facebook and WhatsApp, you tap into the vast potential of word-of-mouth marketing and organic growth. This not only increases the program's visibility but also encourages more participation, as customers find it easier to share their experiences with friends and followers. 

Example of a social media sharing for a refer a friend program

16. Let advocates track their progress

By providing visibility into their performance, referrers can gauge the effectiveness of their efforts and make necessary adjustments to improve outcomes. Moreover, tracking progress fosters a sense of ownership and accountability, ultimately leading to more successful and engaged referrers.

Example of a notification informing the advocate about his referral status

17. Choose altruistic wording 

When we refer a friend to something, we usually do it out of kindness, thinking they will like it. But if we offer a selfish financial reward along with it, the two motives clash and cause problems. It's like trying to mix oil and water, which don't really go together.

To make it more digestible, we should describe the referral as an act of kindness, which helps reduce any guilt the person may feel about getting a financial reward. So, when asking customers to refer others, it's better to use a selfless approach like "Invite a friend to give them $20 off" instead of a egocentric one like "Invite a friend to get $20 off."

18. Cover any FAQs

By providing clear and comprehensive answers, the FAQ section empowers referrers to share accurate information with their friends and family, boosting the chances of successful referrals. Additionally, the FAQ section saves time for both referrers and the brand representatives. 

How to get more customer referrals with Voucherify?

Voucherify is an API-first referral software, making it easy to plug into your existing workflow. As a user you have full control over the referral process and design of the program on the frontend side. This way, you get an opportunity to experiment with your referral campaign, release different iterations of the program in no time and adjust the settings to the market and overall performance. 


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