6 levels of recommendation – how to nurture more customer references

Customer references are one of the ultimate outcomes of a well delivered customer journey – it means that you did a great job, and a customer is happy to report that view to others, building your brand and helping build market traction. Recommendation is the undisputed champion of customer growth, so most businesses focus on nurturing happy customers to take part in referral programmes.  But how do you structure such a programme, and how do you build up a database of valuable and meaningful of referenceable contacts & content?

The best place to start is to understand why you want references – is it validation of your product value & usability; simplicity of your service; speed or quality of your delivery; superiority of your product over the competition?  Make sure that the reason for seeking references is aligned with why you might use them.  At Workshare, we like customers to talk about how we helped them achieve value – saving time, simplifying the workflow and assisting the customers in implementing change.  We carried out research with customers & prospective customers to validate that these aspects were not only important, but constitute lead indicators when choosing products and services.

Next, categorise the formats that you’re seeking and where they might come from.  For example, it you are looking to add customer quotes to your website, you may draw this from customer satisfaction surveys or conversations between your sales folks and the customer.  Understanding who collects the information, where it is stored and where it might be used will help you build an approach.  Careful consideration as to where in your customer journey you will seek that information completes the puzzle.  The overall management of this rich pot will invariably sit with marketing, but the actual recommendations and references could and should come from your customer facing functions.  I built a simple pyramid that feeds ever-more valuable reference material from the most basic start. Here are the 6 levels:Recommendation

  1. Anonymous feedback: Even survey feedback “what a great support team”, “your product is fantastic” is a great start point.  Ensure you’ve included a question verifying survey participants’ permission – you’ll have some zinging comments you can use on your website or in sales pitches
  2. Named quote: whether it’s from surveys, interviews or customer conversations, simply asking if you can quote a customer with their name and company name is a great way to have a more substantiated pool of customer quotes.
  3. Reference call: when a customer has had a successful rollout, and everything is working well, some customers may not want to do joint PR, but they may be willing to share their great experience with your prospective customers.
  4. White paper: this needs a good relationship and a face to face conversation, with well thought-through questions.  This opportunity will often follow on from anonymous feedback or named quotes.
  5. Video: as with a white paper, this takes some relationship cultivation, from customers who expressed positive views on your product or experience, where you and your team have invested time, gone above and beyond and ensured that the customer has achieved value.
  6. Event: to get a customer to speak at an event, you’ll probably have already worked through two or more earlier steps with the customer.  This is a narrow pinnacle, not only requiring a customer to have a really great experience with your business, but also to be a confident speaker in their own right.

When you look at building up your recommendation and referral pool through the 6 stages, you’ll see that there is already useful collateral that you can use right off, but it will also help you think about building a better more structured approach to when & why you ask for a reference.


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