There's something stunningly crass about asking for referrals before you've even delivered the most basic service to a new customer. And yet so many people do it.
Known as 'The Columbo Close' after the TV detective who would be on his way out of the door before turning around and, with his immortal words, delivering the knockout blow that would unmask the villain of the piece.
In the sales world the villain of the piece is the salesman who finishes off his sales pitch by asking 'one more thing'. "Who do you know", he'll ask, "who might also benefit from the product/service we've talked about today?"
In 'Recommended' I berated this approach as 'lazy, poorly timed and ineffective'. And one potential supplier to our business proved the point perfectly last month.
We decided to review the supply of our telephone and broadband line and invited one supplier to meet us and discuss what they could offer. After offering a competitive and attractive package we agreed to sign up. Sure enough, shortly after the deal had been agreed, the Columbo Close followed.
"Our business thrives on referrals", the salesman told us, "who else should we contact to discuss what we offer?"
We explained to the salesman why we couldn't refer his company without experiencing their services first and sent him away with his order form...and a copy of 'Recommended' to help him sharpen his referrals strategy!
Fast forward three weeks. The salesman had reassured us that our telephone and broadband services would switch seamlessly from our current provider and we would experience no downtime. However, what was promised was not what happened. We lost our broadband connection on transfer and when we called the company's offices we were at first told that everyone was in a meeting and then, after several more attempts to call, told that it would be up to two weeks before the connection was up and running.
We immediately cancelled the contract and went back to our original supplier.
Can you imagine how we would feel if we had recommended the company when asked? And what are the chances of us recommending the company now?
You can't expect your customers to refer you before you deliver a high level of service that they are happy with. In addition, having a sloppy approach to customer service is simply not congruent with a strong referrals strategy. One feeds the other. In fact, having put word of mouth on the agenda we'd be far more likely to talk about the poor service received and warn people off using the company than we may have been before.
The only 'one more thing' you should be asking when you sign up a new customer is how else you can help them. Go out of your way to ensure that your clients get the best experience possible and then, only then, can you go back and ask for referrals.