This is the fifth edition of TMR’s Ask an Advisor series, a regular column where a team of travel advisors tackles questions from others in the industry. All questions from this series have been submitted by TMR readers and vetted by the TMR editorial team. The fifth question comes from an advisor who wants some advice on asking for referrals and not seeming pushy.
I've been an advisor for two years now and really enjoy being a part of this industry. My background is in another industry and I've been able to parlay a good amount of my contacts from that industry into a decent starting client list. What's surprised me is that I’m not getting the referral business I had expected, and as a result, my client list isn't growing. In my old industry, I never had to ask for referrals. They just came. How do I now ask for a referral without sounding needy?
Annie Jones, Owner & Luxury Travel Advisor, Telos Travel
Asking for referrals can definitely feel uncomfortable, but reviews and referrals from quality clients are what fuel our small businesses, so it’s essential that you cultivate those. I believe there is a common misconception that asking for a referral sounds desperate or needy. We aren’t begging – simply asking that if a client has a positive experience with us, they share that experience with their network! The foundation of asking for a referral starts with having honest and authentic relationships with your clients. The more you build a partnership with them and build their trust in you, the more comfortable you will feel asking for that referral. I’ve personally found it helpful to speak with my clients about how important it is to me that they share their experiences with friends and family, what it could mean for my business by doing so, and how much their advocacy really means to me. Most people will already want to support your business, you just need to show them how.
If you feel awkward or think you sound needy while speaking on the phone with your client, try starting with an email. After the conclusion of every trip, I send my clients a welcome home email with a very short survey to see what they enjoyed most about working with me and where I could serve them better. For a client to even consider referring you to a friend or family member, you need to stick out in their mind as providing exceptional service. If you’re not feeling confident, a short survey is a great way to collect feedback from your clients in addition to having a post trip call. Receiving that positive feedback will give you an easy segue to thank them for their support and ask for that referral. The more you do it, the more natural it will sound and feel! If asking outright still feels strange, incentivize it by creating a referral program where you offer a credit towards their next trip for each referral that ends up booking a trip with you.
Annie Jones created Telos Travel in 2021 to share her deep passion for sustainable luxury adventure travel with clients. Telos is an affiliate of Avenue Two Travel, is based in the Greater Philadelphia Area and works with clients and partners all over the world.
Kyle Stewart, Director, Scott & Thomas Travel Personalized
This is such a good question. I have a tale of two agents, one that gets lots of referrals and great reviews, and another that has very happy customers but they don’t tell anyone. Agent A asks for referrals on a follow-up call after the completion of their trip along with what we can look into for their next trip, what did they like about the last trip, and what will they avoid in the future? Agent B has less formalized follow-up calls.
Reviews are very important to both the agency and the agent. On Google My Business (GMB) almost every rating mentions the same Agent A by name, Agent B has no reviews from their clients. In the case of both these agents, we sent out an email asking for a review and received zero responses initially. Agent A sent a follow-up starting with their best clients and asked if they wouldn’t mind reviewing, included the link, and stated how important it was to them. Agent A’s reviews started rolling in and as you might suspect, when someone sees those reviews all mentioning the same agent, it’s who they ask for when they call.
Like you, I came from outside of the industry and like you, I feel like asking for a referral can come across as needy. But what I realized is that in this industry, consumers need to know they can trust who they are calling and it’s much easier to give a referral in this business. “I just got back from Greece and it was amazing” might be something your client would say to a friend over lunch. By letting your client know (on that post-trip communication) that referrals are important, the next sentence might be, “My agent took care of everything” which will lead to a very natural situation for them to share your details without feeling an obligation or being pushy.
If you don’t get anything back from your clients on post-trip emails or phone calls, I think it’s also okay to ask, “Was everything okay on your trip? We want to make sure you had a great time and that you’re 100% satisfied.” There may be something they are holding back until prompted, but in most cases, clients are just extremely busy and if they sense that it’s important they will prioritize communication with you and hopefully their friends.
Kyle Stewart holds several roles within the travel, miles, and points world. He is a Partnership Manager for BoardingArea.com (and the Freddie Awards), a writer at LiveAndLetsFly.com, and a freelance writer for several publications. He is also the Director of Scott & Thomas Travel Personalized.