Whenever we get new business, we always start by interviewing the shop owner. In a way, they’re also interviewing us. But really, it’s just a way for both of us to get our head around one another’s business. And we get a lot of the same responses. One of my favorite questions is “how do you handle referrals?” And more often than not, we hear a silence followed by: “that’s something we’d like to do.” Some of our clients already have some great referral programs set up that we’d like to share and are used below.

The Gift Certificate

If you’re not looking to hook more business from the referral–such as an oil change to get a customer in for an inspection–a gift certificate to a local restaraunt is a great way to just say “thanks.” It’s unexpected. Buy a Gift Card to a restaurant and there’s a good chance you’re generosity will be mentioned at the dinner table. Keep a stack near the register: this might be done occasionally for favorite customers. Send by mail! Avoid guaranteeing for every referral.

The Free Oil Change

It’s an old trick, but it works. Give a free oil change to anyone who refers a new customer and then offer a 20-point inspection and there’s a good chance that if they trust you, they’ll see you for their next repair. Even if you don’t find an issue with the car today, it’s a good possibility they’ll remember you next time.

 The Groupon

Consider offering the oil change at a discounted price for new customers via Groupon. It’s not a great way of adding to your customer base but it’s free marketing to Groupon’s enormous audience and 36% of customers who come in with a Groupon will take an upsell. Think of the opportunities!

The discount

This can be scalable so that the more the customer spends, the greater the discount will be. You might offer this as a drawing, allowing referees to enter themselves multiple times for each referral that they make, awarding the winner with, say, 25% off of major body work up to a certain dollar amount.

Set the expectation! Be clear that your referral program rewards customers for bringing in new business, or if you’re in a small town, someone who hasn’t been back in years. Find a way of tracking the program. If necessary, designate a service writer to oversee the referral process. Remember that a referral is sending someone you care about to someone you respect. More as discussed in the video below