by Dean Witherspoon   Dean's profile on LinkedIn  

No Matter How Good Your Services and Promotions, You Need Referrals

It’s a good bet employees know the actions that constitute a healthy lifestyle. Yet, if they’re like most groups, 10%-20% smoke, 60% are overweight, 45% or more are inactive, and 20% or more have high blood pressure.

So why aren’t more of them taking advantage of your services? They’re afraid of failing, don’t have time, feel the programs aren’t convenient, don’t trust you or the organization, or any number of other valid reasons. And even if you address (and you should) all of these concerns, there’s often another that gets in the way. You’ll reach a point where using your services can’t get any more efficient, easy, or confidential. You need referrals.

Who are your most satisfied participants?

At HES we record every comment about how our campaigns and services help others. You should too — for positive input, as a nice pick-me-up, and an opportunity to seek referrals.

We’ve found, in almost all instances, that people who say nice things about what you do are eager to give you names of others who could benefit as well. Although you could find these people yourself, until they hear "So-and-so said you might be interested in ABC service — do you have a minute to talk?" you may not get anything more than a polite "No thanks."

Here are suggestions for soliciting and following through with referrals:

  • Train everyone to be alert to compliments (and complaints) and get in the habit of recording them. 
  • Call first. Inform referrals that their colleague suggested your services might be of interest. If appropriate, work in specific positive comments from their friend. Do an email follow-up if you leave a voice message, but don’t start with email; it doesn’t work nearly as well.
  • Use a central database — preferably in, or tied to, the participant’s record. 
  • Ask if you can send or stop by with some information.
  • Encourage staff to draw out details of positive comments with questions like "What, specifically, did you like most about..." 
  • Ask immediately if they know a coworker who might be interested in the same or another service. Then request their permission to contact the individual using them as a reference.
  • Share comments at staff meetings. Continuously reinforce the importance of participant feedback.
  • Be sincere. Although you want a process, you don’t want it to be mechanical or quota-driven.
  • Respect their time. Don’t press for a commitment, but stay in touch. When they become interested, you’ll know — and then they’ll have all the time you need.

Asking for referrals is personal and is ideally done voice to voice (or better yet, face to face). The anonymity of completing an online form may produce some candidates, but it can handicap your ability to build a relationship, thereby limiting quality referrals.

Remember to thank your references. A card, LinkedIn note, free massage coupon, program T-shirt, or other simple gesture of appreciation — whether the referral becomes a regular participant or not — is the way to keep quality referrals coming.

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