How exceptional customer service can lead to referrals

I saw something rather unusual happen a couple of weeks ago. Something that would have been a common sight just five years ago but you almost never see now.

A friend of mine was walking around the pub armed with paper, a pen and an envelope full of cash. He approached his friends and asked each one to sponsor him for a forthcoming swim designed to raise funds to repair his church roof.

Of course, there's nothing unusual about someone asking for sponsorship these days. We are inundated with requests for our money to support people as they swim, cycle, climb, abseil, run, walk or, in my case last year, stand up.

What was unusual was seeing someone ask for sponsorship in person, inviting people to write down their pledge and pay up on the spot. Nowadays we turn to JustGiving and similar sites and make our requests by email or on social networking sites.

Interestingly, pretty much everyone pledged some money in response to my friend's request. Whether or not we subscribed to the cause (there were quite a few people who felt that there are much stronger claims to our charity than church roofs), we sponsored him.

*How many of the requests that you've seen recently have you supported? 10%? 25%? 50%? *

I would be very surprised if you answer 'all of them', unless you are tremendously philanthropic or have a small network and don't get swamped by such requests.

If you've asked for sponsorship recently, how many of the people you have approached, or who your message potentially reached, came forward and pledged their support?

If you've relied on email and social networks to get the message out, I'd be surprised if the figure even got close to the percentages above.

*So why was my friend so successful? *

It's simple, he asked people individually, in person, face to face. It's a lot easier to delete an email or ignore a social media post if it's not addressed personally to you. Not so simple to turn your gaze away from a specific request made to you.

One of the most popular ways of asking for referrals is to ask our network en masse. We send out letters to our clients asking if they can refer us, health clubs and shops put up posters asking for introductions, email footers proclaim how important referrals are to our business and inviting recommendations.

And few of those approaches have any impact at all. Why? Because it's easy for people to avert their gaze and say, "That's not specifically directed at me, someone else can respond".

Among the growth of modern technology and the availability of tools that give us greater reach and which make our communication far more efficient, there's a lot to be said for old fashioned approaches and the personal touch.

You might not walk around a pub asking people to pledge their referrals, but you will certainly achieve much more success if you identify your Champions individually and then ask them for their help in person.