's Referral Program Opens a Window of Opportunity

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The online window covering company introduces a program that refers prospects to people, not just a brand. knows a thing or two about customer loyalty: Sixty percent of its customers are repeat or referred buyers. While referrals are essential to any brand, they’re especially important for this window covering company. It sells its products exclusively online and waits, on average, seven years before a customer makes a repeat purchase.

“We sell a product that is, quite honestly, perceived as a very tricky, scary, [and] expensive purchase,” says Katie Laird,’s director of social marketing and PR. “And not only is it scary and expensive sounding, but we’re asking people to do this on the Internet, not with someone in their home or in a traditional home setting. So for us, it’s all about helping people overcome their fear and their worry about making a purchase like this online.” wanted to find a way to thank its customers for referring their family and friends and incentivize them to keep these referrals coming. It also wanted to get a better sense of who was referring whom and reward its design consultants (who also serve as its sales staff) for closing deals. So in 2014, it implemented Extole’s advocacy platform and launched its first referral program.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Laird describes’s initial referral program as “vanilla” and “run-of-the-mill.” The company invited customers to refer family and friends to in exchange for receiving a gift card when those referrals purchased. It promoted the program via direct mail, email, and the company’s website. While Laird says saw “some success” from the program, she also acknowledges that the referrals “weren’t quite as spectacular as we hoped they would be.” So, she and her team reevaluated the program and decided to start utilizing their best assets: their design consultants. Instead of having customers refer their friends and family to, customers could now refer their peers to the same design consultants who helped them with their own home projects.

“It’s that personal connection,” Laird says. “People referring friends to other people that they like—not just the brand.”

Adding that personal touch

Here’s how the program works: Customers who want to refer their friends to (in general) can send them a link to a microsite via Facebook, Twitter, or email. The microsite will present those friends with an offer for $ 20 off an order of $ 175 or more. If the friends make a purchase of that qualifying amount, then the customers who sent the referrals receive a $ 20 gift card.  

If customers want to refer friends to a specific design consultant, then they need to ask the consultant for a separate microsite link—one that features the consultant’s name and contact information. The customers can then forward that link to their friends via Facebook, Twitter, or email, and, like in the first scenario, the microsite will present the friends with an offer. This time, however, it’s $ 50 off an order of $ 299 or more. If the friends make a purchase through the consultant, then the customers who referred the friends will get a $ 50 gift card and the design consultant receives a reward, as well; although, according to, the company is still finalizing what exactly the consultant’s reward should be (e.g. a payment based on referral volume versus a percentage of commission based on method of conversion).

Even if an existing customer converts a new customer and the design consultant never spoke to the new customer, the design consultant still gets credit for the initial sale, Laird says.

Design consultants are encouraged to market themselves to promote their personal link, she adds. In addition, she says both the consultants and the customers can track how many people opened their emails, clicked on their link, and made a purchase to gauge their success, such as how many gift cards they can expect to receive. 

A test-and-learn strategy for success

The referral program has been a test-and-learn experience for The company experimented with different calls-to-action, campaign creative, and gift card rewards. For instance, tried offering customers a Tango Card—a digital gift card product in which customers can choose the type of reward credit they receive, such as a gift card for a particular retailer or a donation to a specific nonprofit. The problem was that people weren’t familiar with the Tango Cards and struggled to explain them to their customers. As a result, the company switched to using Visa gift cards and increased efficiency of referral by 50%, according to Extole.

“Your customers’ attention is so precious and hard to come by sometimes,” Laird says. “Even just simplifying that little element of our program really made a big impact.”

However, it seems like’s efforts have paid off.  Laird says that when customers refer a design consultant to their peers, 75% to 80% of them convert. The company reports that it’s looking to revamp the program through testing again starting early this quarter.

It looks like this referral program has opened a window of opportunity.

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