Customer Acquisition & Growth Referral Marketing
August 10, 2023

Streamline Referrals: Best Practices for Referral Programme Automation

Referral Program Automation

Welcome to our blog post on referral programme automation. You’re in the right place to learn everything about automating your customer referrals process. We’ll look at:

  • The benefits of an automated referral programme vs a manual process

  • Which parts of the referral process can be automated.

  • The best strategies and practices when implementing and designing an automated referral programme.

  • Choosing the right automation tool for your business. 

It’s our aim to have you in a more informed position by the end of this blog. So that you’ll be primed and ready to at least begin the process of automating your own customer referral programme when the need arises.





What is Referral Programme Automation?

Referral programme automation refers to the process of automating the main functions of your customer referral programme. This often involves tasks such as:


  • Email marketing and communications.

  • The methods your brand advocates use to refer your brand to new customers.

  • Enrolment of new sign ups.

  • Customer relationship management.

  • Rewarding brand advocates and newcomers.


The majority of businesses that automate their referral programmes, use SaaS software and even outsource the maintenance, operations and optimisations to third-parties. Third-party SaaS companies typically offer flexible services, tailored to the needs and preferences of their clients. 

Back to top



Customer Referral Programmes: Automated vs Manual 

The process of transitioning a paying customer into a brand advocate takes hard work, patience and persistence. There needs to be a marketing strategy in place that promotes the referral programme. Rewards that incentivise your customer base to participate. Not to mention a customer journey and acquisition funnel optimised for referrals. 

Once the groundwork has been laid out, the next involves managing relationships with brand advocates, distributing referral links and much more. However, with an automated referral programme, all of the maintenance and operational requirements for full functionality are taken off your hands. 

There’s no competition when it comes to manual vs automated customer referral programmes. The latter will always be the sensible choice due to the benefits it offers to businesses.  


13 Benefits of Automated Referral Programmes 

Let’s take a look at all the benefits an automated customer referrals programme offers compared to operating the programme manually. 


1) Scalability 

As your customer referral programme grows in size, it will demand more attention due to a larger volume of brand advocates, referrals and new programme participants. An automated referral programme accommodates all the components of a successful programme without the need for additional manual effort. 



2) Accuracy

Manual operations are always susceptible to human error regardless of experience and training. Eventually mistakes will happen. Automated systems have been shown to reduce errors by 37%. That’s essential for a referral programme if you want to avoid attributing rewards incorrectly and distributing incentives too late. By automating the referral programme, your tracking and monitoring becomes even more accurate. 



3) Real-time tracking

In addition to offering exceptionally accurate tracking automated referral programmes provide real-time tracking and reporting of relevant activities. You can instantly monitor the number of referrals, conversions and other key metrics in your campaigns. Allowing you to maximise the impact of critical adjustments and optimisations to the programme. 



4) Consistency

Inconsistently enforcing rules is sometimes the result of an employee’s incorrect interpretation of rules. An automated referral programme consistently enforces pre-defined rules and parameters with true and false binaries instead of incorrect interpretations. 

Whilst they shouldn’t be restrictive, rules should act as the core spine of the programme, supporting the entire framework and day-to-day operations. If the central pillar of the programme is inconsistent, the whole thing can quickly fall apart as participants will become confused and frustrated at being told different things by multiple people. 



5) Time and resource efficiency

An automated referral programme software saves teams substantial amounts of time and resources. This allows the team to invest their efforts where needed most. 

According to a Zapier report, 2 out of 3 knowledge workers say automation has increased their productivity. This is essential for a referral programme as you will need specially trained employees and experts to enhance customer engagement and guide future strategy developments. 


6) Enhances personalisation

Personalisation is the future and many consumers prioritise it over traditionally expected conditions they expect brands to meet before purchasing from them. Your referral programme is no different. For it to be a success, it needs some degree of personalisation, and that’s where automation demonstrates its value. 

Automated systems can segment your audiences and personalise referral rewards based on behaviour, preferences and demographics. Customers must want to participate in the referral programme for it to be successful. An automated programme that delivers highly personalised, relevant-to-individual experiences, generates higher levels of engagement. 


7) Significantly Reduces Fraudulent Referrals

Some automated systems integrate anti-fraudulent mechanisms in place that instantly detect suspicious activities. Security is integral for a successful referral programme and should always be maintained around the clock.



8) Highly integrable 

Automated customer referral programmes are also highly integrable. Allowing businesses to integrate them with existing CRMs, email marketing tools and other software systems. 



9) Facilitates quick reward redemption and distribution 

Quick and reliable distribution of referral rewards ensures experiences are positive for programme participants.

In an automated referral programme, distribution of rewards occurs after activation of referral triggers.

This helps businesses to overcome one of the main challenges of customer referral marketing; promptly rewarding brand advocates and newcomers to the brand.   



10) Scope for A/B Testing

A/B testing for automated referral programs is typically easier than for manual referral programs largely due to consistency. Automated referral programmes ensure a consistent process for tracking and measuring performance. With manual programmes, human error and inconsistency in execution can affect test results.

See here for more further information



11) Flexibility

Whilst manual referral programmes offer almost the same level of flexibility as automated options, configuring different types of rules, programme structures and incentives is time-consuming. The flexibility of manual programmes adds to the workload. An automated programme however, offers greater adaptability without the extra work. Freeing up more of your time to experience and find the most effective strategies for your referral campaign. 



12) 24/7 availability

Manual referral programmes typically allow brand advocates to make referrals outside of business hours. Their shortfall of not having 24/7 coverage is more apparent from a business and operations point of view. Critical maintenance and customer support services aren’t available outside of work hours. 

An automated customer referral programme could monitor all referral activities during team absences. Plus, bots and FAQs on apps and the website could help the target audience resolve problems.



13) Offers better user experience

Since automated referral programmes can accommodate users more effectively, they offer smoother and user-friendly experiences. Consistent rules make the programme easy to follow and fair. Security measures ensure sensitive information is protected and referrals remain genuine.

Round the clock maintenance and customer service guarantees peak referral programme performance and persuades satisfied brand advocates to continue championing your brand to others. 


Automated referral programmes v Manual referral programmes Scorecard

Referral Programme Automation v Manual Process

Back to top




Which Elements of a Referral Programme can be Automated? 

Most elements of your customer referral programme can be automated. The end result of the automation process should be to deliver a streamlined and efficient referral programme. Here are some key areas you should consider automating: 



Tailoring communications to specific points of the customer journey is time-consuming. Yet, personalised messaging is essential for nurturing customers towards brand advocacy. 

A customer advocacy journey allows you to set up triggers for certain behaviours (e.g., repeat purchases or writing reviews) that kick referral marketing automation tools into action – for example – automatic email sequences promoting the programme. 

Automating communications ensures consistency and clear messaging across the board; from rules, terms and conditions to eligibility criteria, reward structures and expiry date reminders.




Automated systems even have the ability to segment customers and participants into different groups based on specific behaviours and referral activities. This further enhances your personalised messaging and tailored communications.

As we’ve already seen, split testing can also be automated alongside segmentation. This is particularly useful as it facilitates granular optimisations in other elements of the programme. Some of these include communications, experimenting with different reward incentives, and the process of onboarding new brand advocates. 



Referral tracking 

Tracking referrals in real time is essential for success but can delay or obstruct progress in other priorities. Luckily, monitoring key metrics in your referral campaigns can also be automated. This helps your team identify brand advocates that source the majority referrals and the referral status of newcomers (i.e., pending, completed and disqualified) without manual operations bogging them down.   



Reward distribution 

Automated systems can also generate unique referral links, helping to improve referral tracking and the distribution of rewards. Automated systems calculate rewards based on predefined parameters, which are then distributed to qualified accounts via various payment channels.




The registration process can also be automated should your referral programme require new participants to sign up. Keeping the experience just as seamless, frictionless and highly convenient for newcomers, as automatically generated referral links do for brand advocates. 



Front end

All elements in the front end of the programme should also benefit greatly from automation. Before new programme participants sign up, they must learn about your referral programme. Your website, app and other means of communicating with customers, should be a well of information that participants can draw from any time and place.

Giving your existing brand advocates a way to easily share referral links should be a top priority. Some software providers offer full integration of social sharing buttons and other features that expand awareness on social media channels. In addition to 24/7 customer support (i.e., FAQs and bots). 



Fraud detection

As discussed earlier, one of the great benefits of automated referral programmes is their ability to detect fraudulent referrals or suspicious activity. Your fraud countermeasures can be fully automated using AI and advanced algorithms that keep vigil over your referral programme. In the meantime, you and your team can focus on other priorities, and instantly react to any potential threats in real-time. 


Back to top



Best Practices for an Automated Referral programme 

Here’s some best practices that you should consider in an automated referral programme. 

Now that we’ve looked at some elements of a customer referral programme that can be automated and the benefits of doing so, it’s time to consider best practices.


Define your goals

Consider your goals before the automation process. Why do you want to automate customer referrals? Do you have an existing manual referral programme? If so, what are its current main issues or challenges? Which benefits above resonate with your objectives and have you identified an opportunity to automate a specific element of your programme e.g., the onboarding process or reward distribution. 


Promote automation benefits

Highlight the benefits of automation in your marketing efforts. If automation has streamlined the onboarding process, market that in a way that resonates with brand advocates. For example, telling them that signing up friends has never been quicker and simpler. 

Automating your referral programme helps you but you need to consider how they benefit brand advocates and new customers. Market the referral programme through various channels. These include email, social media, your website and in-app notifications. 


Segment your audience

We’ve already explored the benefits automated referral programmes bring to segmentation. You can attach specific activities and behaviours to triggers. For example, if a customer signs up to the referral programme, they should receive a welcome email. This will contain vital information, clearly presented and worded, with instructions of what to do next. 

The process will be a (preferably!) short sequence or series of steps that the new brand advocate follows. It could be a “Submit” button on a form page that acts as a trigger and automatically adds the person as a new member. It could be the customer responding to a post-purchase email asking whether they’re happy with the product. After they’ve submitted a positive review, a trigger is activated to reward the customer. This action also places them into a segment list of promising candidates potentially on the cusp of advocating the brand. 

By planning out steps and setting them up as automatic data capture points, you gain better understanding into the behavioural patterns, preferences and pain points of your existing segments. Using these insights gained from automated processes will significantly boost successful referrals


Track and measure

Analytics should track the performance of your referral programme across all the platforms you use. Automated referral software syncs data between email correspondence and CRMs. Conversion pixels can be implemented to track analytics on landing pages and ads. The most important thing here is to ensure all data points collectively make up a cohesive story of the advocacy journey. 

Track acquisition channels where customers sign up to the referral programme. Set up metrics to track number of referrals, conversion rates of successful referrals and total rewards earned by brand advocates. Set up new contacts lists in your CRM of every newly referred customer and repeat the process of nurturing them along the path towards advocacy.


Create compelling rewards

You’re in the perfect position to create compelling rewards after setting up segment lists and automated data points. That’s because you’ve got a clearer understanding behind what makes customers transition to brand advocates. Or, why certain segments aren’t converting. 

Understanding the whys behind what prompts a customer to take another step on the path towards advocacy without a doubt informs your rewards structure. A gift card for example, won’t be as effective at the beginning of a customer’s journey with your brand. There’s simply not enough data to know their favourite brands. A brand champion on the other hand, will have a long trail of past purchases and engagement metrics. 

Use these to inform your rewards selections. Rewards should increase in value and personalisation the further you go down the path of advocacy. You could offer discounts on their favourite products, exclusive access to new launches, and cash rewards for every successful referral.


Encourage social sharing

Encouraging social sharing is a fantastic way of promoting your referral programme. You can include a share button in your correspondences with brand champions. First off, understand the sentiments a brand advocate feels towards the referral programme. Are they happy with the rewards they receive? Was the process simple? In response to positive reviews, issue an email with a “new” feature. A button that shares a link that is unique to the referrer that they can share on their socials. 

This, again, can be automated using segment lists and tracking analytics. Simply set up a list for repeat brand advocates. Set up a qualifier (e.g., five successful referrals) and set up a trigger that sends out an email offering them their own unique link. The benefits of using this link to refer others to the brand could be something akin to a tiered loyalty programme. Certain, special rewards locked behind parameters. 


Encourage customer feedback

Every so often you want to catch up with even your most loyal brand advocates. Incentivise them to share their views on the referral programme. Even if you don’t want to bother customers with feedback requests, you should at the very least have a trigger set up that activates during high rates of churn, drop-offs and low engagement. 

Contingency triggers should be identified through data analytics for winback campaigns. We’d highly recommend setting up impromptu feedback requests too though. As these ensure you’ve got an ear to the floor with your existing customer base. In other words, you’re always plugged into the thoughts and sentiments of brand advocates. That way, from automated feedback requests, you can plan improvements and enhancements to your referral programme. 



User-friendly interface

Brand advocates should find the process of making referrals hassle-free. Otherwise, you risk causing friction in the process. This can be enough to deter brand advocates from championing your brand and sharing poor UX experiences with others.

Design of the user interface should be clear, simple and easy for participants to understand and navigate. A consistently simple design philosophy should guide all of your efforts. Interfaces should clearly present useful information, such as progress bars that track referral milestones. In addition to viewing rewards, programme rules, and eligibility criteria. 


Clear programme guidelines

Automated referral programmes add consistency to programme rules and these should be explained clearly in a concise manner. Knowing that your rules are consistently enforced should make you confident in being fully transparent. Therefore, clearly explain eligibility criteria and how rewards are earned through referrals without being ambiguous. Transparency is key for building trust with brand advocates and customers. In fact, without trust referrals are impossible. 



Personalise the customer and advocacy journey wherever possible. Your referral marketing programmes should always start communications with the names of your brand advocates and new customers. Leverage data and the technology of automated referral programmes to personalise the experience of advocating and signing up to your business. 

Personalised experiences make 76% of all customers loyal. Customer loyalty is the beating heart of any referral programme. 


Mobile optimisation

Many customers will use your referral programme on their mobile. In this day and age, the average customer opens apps at least 11 times a day. Using push notifications and consistent, personalised messaging, ensures your referral programme remains front of mind. Therefore, consider optimising your referral programme to mobile phones via apps. 


Gamified elements

Gamified elements inject fun, competitiveness and memorable experiences in customer referral programmes. Setting up leaderboards that brand advocates can climb anytime they refer a friend, drives high levels of engagement and retention among participants


User education

Educational content has been shown to improve purchases by 131%. That percentage could increase significantly for referral programmes. After all, the brand advocate is already a paying customer. Their rapport with your brand is much more advanced. Couple that with great experiences and the brand advocate is definitely more open to try the referral programme. 

User content can be automatically issued to customers interested in the referral programme. 



Back to top



Optimisation of Referral Programme Automation through A/B testing 

Since automated referral programmes use software and algorithms to manage and execute the referral process, it's easier and more controllable than a manual process to optimise various elements and achieve the best results.

Here's how A/B testing can be used in automated referral programmes:

Criteria A/B Test and Optimisation


Referral Programme Setup

Test different configurations and settings for your referral programme. For example, you can experiment with the referral reward structure, referral limits, and eligibility criteria.

Messaging and Communication

A/B test the automated messages and notifications sent to referrers and referees. This can include email invitations, in-app notifications, or SMS messages. Determine which messages have higher open and conversion rates.


User Experience (UX):

Optimise the user experience within the referral programme interface. Test the design, layout, and ease of use of the referral widget or dashboard. Ensure that the referral process is intuitive and frictionless.


Reward Mechanisms


Experiment with how rewards are delivered automatically. Test whether instant rewards are more effective than delayed rewards and whether the method of reward delivery (e.g., credits, discounts, cash, points) influences user behaviour.


Automation Rules

Test the rules and triggers that govern the referral programme automation. For instance, you can experiment with adjusting the criteria for when a referral is considered successful or when a reward is triggered.



A/B test the level of personalisation in automated messages and recommendations. Determine if personalised referral suggestions or tailored rewards perform better than generic ones.


Frequency and Timing

Experiment with the timing and frequency of automated referral reminders or prompts. Test whether sending reminders immediately after specific user actions or at particular times of day results in more successful referrals.


Channel Selection

Test which channels are most effective for automated referrals. For example, if your referral programme has integration with social media platforms, assess which platforms generate the most referrals.

Segmentation and Targeting

Use A/B testing to determine if segmenting your user or customer base and providing different referral incentives to various segments improves the overall performance of the automated programme


Testing Algorithms

If your referral programme uses recommendation algorithms to suggest potential referees, test different algorithms and refine their parameters to increase the quality of recommendations.


Testing for Fraud Prevention

Implement A/B tests to evaluate the effectiveness of fraud prevention measures in your referral programme. Ensure that the programme is protected as much as possible against abuse or fraudulent activities.


Performance Metrics:

Identify key performance metrics (e.g., referral conversion rate, user engagement, ROI). Continuously track and analyse these metrics to assess the impact of A/B tests.



Automate the success of your referral programme today 

Want to automate your referral programme today? Contact us for a free, live demo of our automated customer referral programmes. Or, if you’re still weighing up your options, why not try out our ROI calculator here




Related article

July 25, 2023

Welcome to our blog on the importance of tracking referral marketing campaigns. Referral marketing...

Start your customised Propello journey today

Explore the platform's scalability, features and customisation options and get answers to your unique questions.

Request a demo >