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10 Proven Ways to Build a Strong Customer Referral Programs + Examples (2024)

Mathew Maniyamkott

Last Updated:  

9 July 2024

9 min read

Are you ready to unlock your business’s most powerful marketing tool?

Your current customers hold greater significance than any novel digital marketing trend or software. They are the cornerstone of your prosperity.  They are more than just receivers of your services; they’re potent partners in your growth journey.

In our 2023 guide, we explore the ’10 Proven Ways to Build a Strong Customer Referral Program. With concrete examples, we are here to show you how to turn your customers into your most powerful marketing force.

If unlocking a cascade of leads and propelling your profits sounds like a dream, it’s time to awaken to the power of customer referrals. Ready to revolutionize your business strategy? Let’s dive in!

What is a Referral Program?

Customer referral programs are all about finding win-win equations for both your customer and you!

A referral program encourages employees to recommend qualified individuals from their network for job openings. Referral marketing is a method where you promote your products or services to new customers and reward them for each referral. You can create appropriate customer referral programs to influence your customers with the help of incentives. Some customer referral programs are so good that you can’t help joining them!

What are the Benefits of a Good Customer Referral Program?

Unlock the power of word-of-mouth marketing with a well-structured customer referral program. Witness exponential growth as happy customers become brand advocates, generating a ripple effect of leads and loyalty. Here are some of the benefits of a good customer referral program.

  • The incentive is clear and enticing enough for the customer to participate.
  • The customer referral program is specific and targeted.
  • You have brand advocates who will help spread the word about the customer referral program.
  • You use incentives that are relevant to your product and target market.

Customer Referral Programs that really work

There is no standard customer referral program because each company’s values are different. Thus you need to create a program that makes sense to your business. Like most marketing techniques, effective campaign management is a must since half-hearted attempts at customer referral campaigns can turn out to be a major embarrassment. Ensuring that your loyal customers participate actively in the customer referral program should be one of your most important goals during the campaign.

One of the most popular and successful customer referral programs was Dropbox’s refer-a-friend feature. It increased sign-ups by more than 60%! Their customer referral program was a success because it offered rewards for both the referrer and the referee.

How to Make Your Customer Referral Programs Effective

Target the right kind of customer:

Make sure you target the right customers before you create a customer referral program. Create customer segments for targeted messaging, and A/B test your campaign, CTAs and incentives to figure out what will work best. Regularly reviewing campaign data – such as the number of registrations, referrals and redeemed rewards – can help you identify areas for improved targeting.

With the help of tools like SurveySparrow, you can choose the right target audience using market research surveys.

Select the right rewards:

When you launch your customer referral programs, you can opt for a cash or non-cash incentive. However, a study by the University of Chicago found that non-cash incentives are 24% more effective than cash incentives. Consider ideas like offering points that can be exchanged for cash or products when the points accrue over time. You can also offer an experience that your customers will value – like a free product/service upgrade, store credits, a subscription or a mystery gift.

Build a program strategy:

Done right, customer referral programs are one of the best ways to acquire new customers. Done wrong, it is one of the quickest ways to lose existing customers because they lose trust in you. Establish a clear-cut strategy and reward delivery process before you go all out on marketing, and ensure that you can deliver on what you’re promising your referrers. In the worst case scenario, being unable to deliver the promised rewards might make your company look like a fraud.

Promote the customer referral program:

The customer referral program should be easy for your customers to discover. They should be able to find information about the program at all customer touch points. So make sure to promote the customer referral program in email communications, your blog, social media handles, website, in-store and more.

Make your program easy to share:

The most important thing about a customer referral program is that it should be shareable. Apple designed its earphones in white when the majority of them were black –  but don’t just restrict your shareability to product or packaging! Build in easy ways to share referral links, such as email CTAS that lead to the referral page, in-store QR codes or in-app links. Find out what works for you with real-time trackable online forms by SurveySparrow.

Engage deeply with your customers:

This part is easier than you think. Customer referral programs are effective because people who get referred are usually friends of your customers. Thus, there is a lot of trust riding on it. Once customers sign up for the program, the next step is to provide information about what the program entails, incentives that they get and more. Keep them engaged and remind them periodically about the program’s benefits.

Customer Referral Programs need to be measures to keep it relevant

Measure the effectiveness of the customer referral program:

A successful customer referral program measures its effectiveness at regular intervals. Use the statistics to fine-tune it for the end customer. The four most important metrics for this type of program are the participation rate, referral rate, referral reach, and referral conversion rate.

Explore ways to generate customer-centric content:

It does not have to be about incentives always. Customer referral programs are also an excellent source of user content ideas like the following:

  • A photo upload-and-tag contest on social media
  • Unboxing the incentive, which can be a mystery gift
  • A chance to visit the company’s office with all expenses paid, and capture it on video.

Such content is a great way to engage more customers and generate referrals.

Make the customer referral program easy to join:

If it takes a lot of steps for your customer to be a part of the customer referral program, you can say goodbye. Customers don’t want spend more than a minute on the signup process. The easier you make it for the user, the better it is for your customer referral campaign. Hire a good copywriter to make the messaging, content and benefits clear and easy to understand.

Customer Referral Programs should be easy for customers to join.

10 Customer Referral Program Ideas

1. Referral to Friends and Family

This is one of the most popular customer referral campaigns around. It harnesses a natural human tendency to share likes and dislikes with friends and family. When a brand rewards customers for this kind of referral, it only strengthens the relationship of the customer with the brand. By incentivizing each referral, you are tapping into and encouraging your customer’s natural instinct. One good example of this is Dropbox’s customer referral program – they offer you more cloud storage when you refer new users to them.

2. Two-Sided Benefits

People love to send gifts to their loved ones. So design your customer referral campaign in such a way that the person who refers gets a reward along with the new customer as well. This way, the referrer feels good because someone else is also sharing the benefit from the referral. This brings them closer to the brand. Uber is famous for this two-sided incentive where each rider gets a personalized referral code from the program. Every time someone signs up with the code, both parties get their next ride free.

Customer Referral Programs quote about people are 4 times more likely to buy when referred by a friend

3. Community Benefits

There are a lot of organizations that deserve your support. Your business can partner with a non-profit, and support their cause with customer referral programs that donate a percentage of the proceeds. For example, for each referral that your customer does, 10% of the business proceeds will go to the non-profit organization. This not only benefits the organization but your brand as well. Your customers will be motivated by the program and share it with their contacts, thus generating positive word-of-mouth.

4. Higher Percentage for the First Referral

A lot of customer referral programs offer a uniform referral rate that is usually $5-10. However, there are companies that offer a high percentage on the first referral. This works better because it brings a lot of folks onboard and encourages them to refer more people. As an example, you can offer $25 in the first referral, and the next referrals can be $5 which is still a good amount for a referral.

5. Rewards for the Top Referrers

If there are customers who you see referring often, make it a point to appreciate them. Some of the rewards can be handwritten notes, a call from the CEO, cash rewards, a shout-out on the company’s social media handles, and more. In fact, a campaign where the best referrers will be given an extra reward will motivate customers to refer as many of their friends as possible. Make the reward as substantial as possible so that they do not feel slighted.

6. Company Swag

If it is against your policy to offer cash or any of the rewards we mention here, then there is another way for you to make your customers happy. You can offer them company swag – from T-shirts and coffee mugs to caps and coasters. The offer can be based on tiers where for the number of referrals, the customer gets company swag according to the program policy. Not only is this a low-cost method, this also converts your customers into defacto brand ambassadors because they have a branded product – a reward that they can see every single day. Company swag is one of the easiest methods to make your customers feel as if they are ambassadors of your company, and it is very effective in customer referral programs.

Customer Referral Programs quote about how a trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising.

7. Offering Discounts as a Part of the Customer Referral Program

Discounts are one of the most popular rewards because they are so easy to devise. The best option is to reward both the referrer and referred person so that both have something to gain. It not only encourages loyal customers to refer more, it is a persuasive technique to make the referrer come back to your store. Don’t go overboard with discounts in your customer referral programs throughout the entire season. Your customers might feel like they are being taken for a ride or worse, they won’t value your products like before.

8. Gift Cards

Gift cards are easily one of the best ways to amass referrals as customers will appreciate its flexibility. You can offer a wide variety of gift cards. It could be an Amazon gift card, Home Depot or a Walmart gift card. Even better, you can partner with these companies and offer an option for the referrer to choose their preferred gift card. What’s more, if you have an online store, branded gift cards can increase brand awareness along with referrals.

9. Exclusive Access

Everyone likes to be part of an exclusive club. Remember, not all rewards have to be in cash. You can offer your referrers exclusive content that they can’t access otherwise – like the latest industry-specific statistics or e-books. It could also be access to a private or invite-only community with exclusive content, such as Clubhouse, Facebook groups or Slack groups. People love to be a part of community where they can share their ideas and feel valued. When you use it wisely in your customer referral programs, you can see the traffic pouring in.

Customer Referral Programs quote about one customer, well taken care of, could be more valuable than $10,000 worth of advertising.

10. Offering Early Access as a Part of the Customer Referral Program

Allowing your top referrers early access to new content or features is something that a lot of loyal customers will appreciate. We are all competitive – early access works in your favor because it is an ego-booster to the referrer. As an additional tactic, you can gamify the program with a leaderboard so that all the referrers know where they stand. This will create a competitive environment and provide a fillip to your customer referral program.


Building a customer referral program can take a lot of time and effort, but the results are worth it. Don’t hesitate to try anything innovative or even something that might look ridiculous at the outset. Find new opportunities to work with a newer set of people.

Referral marketing is important for every business. But it’s up to you to decide what program to implement for your business.  A reward program should not be chosen according to one’s whims and fancies, but it should have a clearly well thought out strategy. Learn how your customers behave. Ask a few of them what kind of reward programs they would like to have. Take the popular opinion, go back to your drawing room, find out if it is the best option for your business and then start implementing it if the answer is ‘yes’.

Mathew Maniyamkott

Guest Blogger at SurveySparrow

Regular contributor to various magazines. Passionate about entrepreneurship, startups, marketing, and productivity.

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