Finding (and fixing) gaps in your referral system


In the floating industry, we give a lot of talk to the importance of word of mouth and referrals.  But if the only way you could fill your tanks was through current clients spreading the word of your services, how full would your tanks be?

I believe word of mouth appears deceptively simple on the surface.  Outside the float center, I spend a lot of time teaching both massage students and currently licensed massage therapists at all different points in their practice.

When I ask them about their word of mouth I usually get something along the line of “I give good service and they tell their friends”, or sometimes they will tell me about referral cards or how they put an ask in the follow up “thank you” email post-service.

But things start to fall apart when I begin to question the process.  What is the actual chain of events that lead up to someone new coming in?  Explain to me exactly how your word of mouth works.

Do I trust that my tanks would stay full at current capacity if all I did was depend on clients telling other people?  This was the question posed to me earlier this year by a former business coach and friend.  The challenge was issued.  Find gaps in my current referral system and fix the hell out of them.

Gaps, simply put, are omissions or black holes in the system that prevents the process from getting the desired results.  And we all have them.

I am going to share with you my process.  It’s simplified, but it’s an excellent place to start.  Using these same questions, reports from my booking system, about 2.5 hours and some critical thinking, I found and began fixing some gaps that are allowing me to strengthen my relationships with my clients and adding money to my bottom line.

Let’s start at the beginning.

The first step is reviewing the obvious. Is your service from the first contact through the receipt coherent with the experience you want to give and the feelings you want to evoke in your customers?  And are the people in your target market confirming this is true through positive feedback and high return rates?

This is a big process in and of itself.  And it’s one that needs frequent review.  If you don’t have regular system checks built into your schedule, I highly encourage it.  If done regularly, it doesn’t take much time and it can have a big impact both financially and logistically in your float center.

Referrals start with an amazing experience from start to finish that reflect you, the culture and values of your float center.  Creating natural word of mouth by wowing clients, makes the next few steps a lot easier.

If you find that you close gaps in your referral system and you’re not seeing an increase in new clients, I always suggest coming back to review the alignment and cohesiveness of the experience you are giving from start to finish.  Often the gaps that happen here have a big impact in every other system you create.

1.  Feedback

Your clients can be your ally and tell you when you have gaps in your service with a good feedback system.  And make sure you have more than one way for them to communicate to you not only what they would like to see changed, but also what they love about you and the float experience you provide!

Surveys are a place to start, but I tend to look at them as a way to open the door to much deeper conversation.  I have begun to ask if I can call and follow up on the questions, promising not to take more than 5-10 minutes of their time and sticking to that time limit.  Most people are happy to help!

We find some of the best feedback we get comes from clients post-float, sitting in our lobby, eager to talk.  Obviously there are many who don’t want to be bothered post float, but that is definitely not everyone.

Be diligent to quickly recognize and fix issues.  When you act on feedback, let your peeps know!  People want to help and want to be heard.  A sincere thank you can go a long way in these circumstances.

2.  Recognize your raving fans who find great value in your float experience.

I bet you can list five to ten of your floaters right now who love what you do.  They frequently make themselves known!  Use these names to start your VIF (Very Important Floater) list!

And I am sure you have a lot more.  They’re not too hard to find!

Who’s responding a lot to your social media posts?  When you check the tracking on your newsletters, who’s opening every one, clicking on links, and forwarding to others?  Who is asking to take a handful of brochures to work or their doctor’s office or to an event?  Who is already sending you referrals?

Keep in mind, some of these VIF’s may not have even floated as of yet!

We have one physician who had one of our highest referral rates and yet had never stepped foot inside of Float Nashville.  But he’s seen the results of floating in several of his patients.  This is an opportunity to reach out and see if you can take them referral cards or brochures and additional educational material.

Have you been part of the Fibromyalgia Flotation Project?  Doctors who send their clients in are often curious.  A follow up letter with additional information and a big thank you has often gained us additional clients from the same office.

Make a point to reach out to your biggest referrers personally.  Be in the office when they come to float, send handwritten thank yous, and make a point to have one on one conversations with them.

They are a wealth of information.  You can often glean some great ideas for improving service as well as discovering new avenues of referrals and business.  Our VIF’s have played a big part in getting us write ups in the media and invitations to promotional opportunities.

As I write this, a client’s glowing word of mouth got us invited to a skin care launch party.  Many of our target market will be at this paid event to benefit one of our favorite charities.  There will only be 3 other wellness companies represented (which may open opportunities for additional joint ventures) and it cost us nothing thanks to one of our VIFs.

3.  Are you making it easy for your raving fans to refer people to you?

What is your system for receiving referrals?  If you provide a space on your intake, does the new floater remember the name of who referred them?  Or is this a gap that needs to be fixed?  This initially was an issue for us until we added referral cards that are pre-printed with the referring client’s name into our system.

If you give out referral cards, how do you get the cards into the hands of your float fans?

Is the raving fan who is a yoga instructor getting cards so he can introduce some students to the meditative benefits he is receiving in the float tank?

Do your fans even know you have a referral program?  Or is it just an obscure link on your website?

Confirmation emails, thank you emails, receipts, newsletter links, flyers hanging in the office or stuffed in thank you notes and planned social media posts can let be part of the multiple exposures it takes to get your future VIF to take notice.

This may also make a great topic for a Facebook live video and a great reason to cross promote your social media platforms.

4.  Are you teaching raving fans how to best use your referral cards?

We recognized that we had a big gap here.  Some people are great at referring people who will love our service as much as they do!  Some people are not.   It takes some education.

Sure, they love floating because it helps with their workout recovery, but they may not think to share their referral cards with an elderly friend or relative who’s aches and pains could benefit from the float tank.

Or your floater who comes for relief from her Fibromyalgia, may not think to share some cards with a friend who works at the VA hospital in town.

Gentle guidance on who to refer can mean big changes to your bottom line and your impact on the community. It can be as simple as creating a packet with a pre-printed postcard with ideas, or a follow up autoresponder full of info on who can benefit from floats and what kind of opportunities you are looking for.

5.  Are you rewarding fans in a way that keeps them motivated?

People who truly love what you do may not need anything to motivate them to spread the love.  But to ramp up your program you may want to look at the marketing costs at gaining new clients.  A solid referral program can be an inexpensive, effective and a rewarding way to gain new qualified clients.

The system we use allows us to award a point for each referral.  We originally decided that six points (or six referrals) would result in a free float.  But we found people weren’t getting to their free float reward quickly and the concern was this would frustrate them.

To fix this, in addition to the ability to save up six points for a free float, we also added the ability to use points at any time during checkout with each point counting towards $10 off a float.  This gave them the ability to experience immediate rewards for helping us introduce more people to floating.

There are many ways to reward and thank people for their referrals.  Get creative!  Let it reflect your float center’s personality.

6.  Regularly review your referral system

Systems for producing the results we want are living things.  As your business goes through ebbs and flows, the systems should be reviewed and tweaked to make sure it is working smoothly.  What works now, may not work six months from now as your target markets shift or change with the seasons.

Measuring growth, such as keeping track of how many referrals you are getting and where they are coming from, can be valuable as an indication of a gap to plug.

I have added the review of my referral system to my quarterly calendar.  You may find you need more or less frequent reviews.  You alone are aware of the rhythm of your business.

I think we can all agree word of mouth can be a powerful tool in keeping our tanks full even in the slower times.  Combine that with a working referral system and you will see happier clients and higher conversion rates.

This is my personal referral review process. It touches on the surface and will help you find the big gaps.  Each pass through I encourage you to dive deeper and begin to tweak it to fit your system.  Mold it into an effective tool that will keep the referrals rolling in and harness the power of word of mouth.

I would love to hear more about your referral system, gaps you found, and your fixes that made a difference in your referrals.  Share in the comments and benefit the community or email me at

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