You don't need the latest referral marketing statistics to tell you that word-of-mouth marketing and customer referrals are crucial to the success of your business.

While building strong rapport with your customers is key to earning repeat business, it is often the existing relationship your customers have with their contacts that can really catapult the success of your company.  

But how do you tap your existing customer base so that they refer your business to their friends, family, colleagues, and/or networks?  

  1. Don't Force It

When you become too focused on who's referring you and how often, it generally comes across in how you interact with people — even when you don't mean to.

Resist the urge to give people a discounted service or product if they take the time to give you a referral. The best ones come from people who are genuinely impressed with your service or products, and simply want to pass the information along to benefit the people in their life.

  1. Be Specific

You won't bore people if you quickly work into the conversation facts about your other services.  

Even something as simple as "I see a lot of companies with this problem which is why I customized my menu or range of products" can go a long way. This will help jog people's memories about other people they know of who could use a helping hand, or it can have your specific business stand out should they meet someone who needs a different service.

Don't ask if they know of someone directly or you can risk turning a customer off that way.

  1. Timing is Everything

Businesses are happy when they make a sale or close a deal, but it's not necessarily the customer's favorite time of the transaction.

Your time to push or ask for referrals should be after you've proven to them that their purchase was the right one - and you're confident that the customer is 95%+ happy with their purchase decision.

Read: Why Your Time Management May be Hurting Your Business (and how to fix it!)

If you discover that a customer is not at that satisfaction rate, then use the opportunity to flex your customer service skills. You'll not only repair the relationship, but you'll also increase the likelihood that they'll refer your company.

  1. Say Thank You

Seems obvious, right? Well, you'd be surprised how often this step is missed.  If you're not going to incentivize the customer to give you referrals, then the least you can do is show your appreciation for their stamp of approval. 

If you can, send a personal thank you card or note. But if email is the only option you have, then that's ok too. Keep it brief but sincere; and definitely don't ask for anything more .

The point is that you take the time out of your day to address the customer for their kind recommendation - letting them know how sincerely grateful you are.

  1. Listen and Change

Once in awhile you reach out to your customer base with good intentions, and you end up unearthing a whole slew of issues that you didn't know were present.  

But that's ok! You need to know how your customers feel about your products, services, and overall experience.

If you do set out to earn referrals from your customers and end up in a whirlwind of negative feedback, consider yourself lucky.  You can know work through each issue, improving the relationship with that client while improving the overall future potential success of your business.