Referrals: The Secret to Building a Sustainable Business (Part 3 of 3)

When you tell contact center leaders and agents that building relationships are the key to developing a personal and professional network, they often smile and acknowledge the concept without fully appreciating it. Often, they believe that building referrals through relationships with customers is counter intuitive to their business model. Let me review this notion a bit deeper.

If you are working in a customer service inbound contact center, then you may believe your job is to handle customers’ inquiries efficiently and send them on their way feeling satisfied. After all, the customer was contacting you about a problem and you hopefully solved it. Furthermore, if the customer ends the contact feeling satisfied, then you have moved the customer from frustration to satisfaction. You may think “Job well done.” Why would you need to ask for referrals? Consider the following perspective:

Imagine you’re standing in a large room full of people, and I ask everyone to pull out their key rings. Visualize everyone holding up the keys to their dream house, their office and the car that they’ve always wanted to own and as I ask everyone to show them to the room.

Now here’s my question: Would you hand over your keys to that dream car to a perfect stranger? What about those to your office or home? Of course not!

Now instead of a key to a car or a home, imagine you have a key that opens the door to an important relationship with a customer that another person would like to connect with. Let’s say you hold the key to this relationship, but you don’t know the person who’s asking for it. Would you give it to them? Of course not! Why? Because when you give a referral, you give away a piece of your reputation. If it’s a good referral, it helps your reputation; if it’s a bad referral, it hurts. Intuitively, you’ll only hand over the keys to someone you know and trust.

What I love about this metaphor is how it works on two levels. First, you’re not going to hand over the keys to a relationship until you trust a person. But more important, others don’t even know what keys you actually have until you trust them enough to tell them.

It’s not just you; nobody is willing to hand over the keys to important relationships until they know and trust the person asking. When you have resolved a customer’s issue and they are feeling good about the relationship, is there a better time to talk about referrals? Wait, you are a customer service agent and not expected to ask for referrals. What would you do with a referral anyway? You handle inbound calls, right? Only partially correct, what you are missing is the need to build a sustainable business.

Building a sustainable business in our current economic environment requires everyone to be thinking about resolving customer problems. When you are asking for a referral, the proper question is “Mr. or Mrs. Customer, now that we have resolved your concern, who else do you know that we might be able to help?” There are a couple of key components to this question. First, you must use the word “we” versus “I”. You are acting on behalf of your business. Therefore, “we” is most appropriate and also psychologically implies you are part of a team. Second, you must start by reconfirming the customer’s concern was resolved. If the customer doesn’t feel their need was handled, they will let you know. This reaffirmation is critical, because if you believed the issue was resolved and the customer didn’t feel that way, then the customer could have ended the contact feeling MORE frustrated than when the contact began. You certainly would not have completed your job in that case. Third, you must phrase the referral request with your intention to “help” the customer’s referral.

Let’s review, when you ask for referrals, you gain the following benefits:

  1. Affirmation that the customer’s issue was resolved
  2. An opportunity to confirm the customer trusts you and your company
  3. An opportunity to help other people

Building a sustainable business requires everyone on your team to be working together to achieve all the goals of the organization. If you are concerned about your business’ sustainability, reach out to me at:



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About davegregory

Dave Gregory, Chief Learning Officer for Inspired Performance Solutions, Inc., believes in the power of the strengths movement. During the past 15 years, Dave managed the Learning Solutions activities of Qwest’s Mass Markets Group, including call centers, retail stores, indirect retail, e-business, collections, alternative markets and the small business teams. Mr. Gregory graduated from Creighton University’s School of Law in 1993 earning a Juris Doctor. He completed his undergraduate education receiving a BSBA with an emphasis in marketing from the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 1990. Mr. Gregory has more than 25 years experience in business development and consulting.

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