In 1957Fortunemagazine detailed how aerial photographs of Philadelphia were used to determine the spread of air conditioning. Almost 5,000 homes were mapped and plotted in several neighborhoods to uncover purchasing patterns. Results revealed one block of homes might contain 15 units while the next block had only one or two. The survey drew two interesting conclusions: Dense air conditioning clusters resulted when neighbors talked about their new air conditioner and the people who installed it; without word-of-mouth referrals air conditioning ownership was uneven or nonexistent.

If our HVAC pioneers had a planned referral process in place, air conditioning use and distribution would have skyrocketed. Key elements of a planned referral process are:

1. Start with quality.

2. Exceed expectations.

3. Encourage complaints.

4. Make planned referrals a team sport.

5. Never stop asking.


It is impossible to get planned referrals from inferior products and me-too service.

A planned referral program lets HVAC contractors choose exactly the type of customers they prefer to do business with. Folks who purchase premium equipment and the accessories needed for maximum comfort and minimum energy bills provide better and more abundant referrals than those who buy minimum solutions, want big discounts and complain they're not comfortable. If your goals are growth and prosperity, focus on premium products and the people who buy them - that's where your future is.

The more extraordinary the solution, the more people go out of their way to talk about it — referrals can skyrocket on customer satisfaction.


A leading cause of planned referrals is unexpected extraordinary service.

It takes a lot more to "wow" today's buyers into providing a steady stream of presold referrals. People measure new purchases by past experiences. In the HVAC industry there are five distinct opportunities to be better than their best experience. The five customer expectation "touch points" are:

First contact: Did a caring person put them at ease?

First meeting: Did the comfort consultant call ahead, show up on time and wear an ID badge and shoe covers?

During sales call: Did the customer feel appreciated? Were all desires and concerns revealed and addressed?

After sales call: Did the consultant send a thank you card and all information promised?

After sale: Did installation team leader and owner/manager send a thank you card? Did the comfort consultant return for a quality assurance inspection? Did the customer service rep call to assure satisfaction?

Referrals can be planned but they can't be pushed. Because their reputation is on the line, today's buyer will only recommend a company that meets or exceeds their expectations.


When planned referrals become habits, problems can become new business. Sooner or latter problems happen. The ones you don't know about can be deadly. According to the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs, as few as one person in 26 who experiences a problem will complain. Instead they'll tell up to 20 people about the problem and the firm responsible for it.

The study also revealed people who complain produce more revenue than those with problems that don't complain. When problems are quickly resolved, buyers become more loyal and more likely to buy from that firm again. On average, satisfied buyers refer five people by telling about the fair treatment they've received.


A team environment can motivate people to a level of success that can't be achieved by individual effort alone.

The planned referrals process has all the elements of an exciting team sport. The rules are simple, it's easy to score and the more you play the better you get. The team scores with each referral. One strategy each team member can use to influence up to 1,000 planned referrals is the rule of 10/10/10. Ten people know 10 people who know 10 people. Players simply ask customers, friends and acquaintances, "If you know someone we can help, would you give them my card?" Sharp looking business cards imprinted with each player's name and "pass-it-on" coupons on the back help make 10/10/10 a winning play.

Anyone who provides a referral is a fan. Fans make the game fun and exciting. Each fan is identified by what "wowed" them and how many people they've told. Letters of praise are encouraged, logged and added to the Website. When fans receive something special (like "front of the line" service) they are much more likely to provide a steady stream of high-quality referrals.

The better the coaching, the better the team. Team meetings make coaching fun and provide a great opportunity to share successes, praise outstanding performance and discuss opportunities for improvement. When planned referrals become an enjoyable game instead of a necessary process, sales, closing ratios, and profits all soar.


In the late 1920s Henry Ford bought one of the largest life insurance policies in America. It was so large it was the subject of a front-page story in the Detroit newspaper. A close friend who happened to be a life insurance agent called Ford and asked "Henry, why didn't you buy that new policy from me?" Without hesitation Ford said, "You never asked."

Sidebar: Straight Talk

1.Planned referrals are the result of buyers showing friends the benefits of better comfort.

2. Buyers love referrals because the personal experience of others minimizes their risk.

3. By cutting through advertising clutter and information overload referrals make the buyers selection process much easier.

4. People tend to buy products equal or better than their neighbors - planned referrals presell premium products.

5. The more extraordinary the solution, the more people go out of their way to talk about it.

6. Companies lose referrals when they substitute e-mail for person-to-person conversation.

7. Referrals are objective - the more objective the message, the more it is believed and acted upon.

8. People are six times more likely to rely on the judgment of others than on advertising.

9. Eighty percent of all consumer choices are the result of personal recommendations.

10. Sales success is influenced by referrals more than anything else.

Publication date: 03/13/2006