Designing a Better Referral System

At Designer Fund we believe sharing design best practices is essential to getting better designed products and services in the world. Below is the first in a series of design case studies from our portfolio companies and partners that we hope you can use to improve your products and services.

ZenPayroll helps businesses easily handle the very complex and often frustrating task of running payroll – paying employees and properly handling the taxes associated with these payments. In late 2014, with a solid product and healthy traction, the design team decided to build new ways to get more customers onto ZenPayroll.

Turning Customers into Advocates

After looking at the various ways they were acquiring customers one thing really struck them: despite a really devoted customer base few existing customers were referring new customers. This seemed like a big opportunity to explore.

There was some obvious low hanging fruit since ZenPayroll rarely asked their customers to promote their product. By simply asking their customers for a referral they’d already be making meaningful strides towards the goal.

Next, the designers at ZenPayroll asked themselves: how might we make even this a delightful experience? They believed if they designed an effective and beautiful experience it would not only drive referrals but bring them closer to their customers. They kept four principles in mind –

  1. Timely – They would make the request after ZenPayroll had done something great for their customers to increase the likelihood that someone would promote the service.
  2. Easy – Give their customers multiple channels, authentic language, and even an incentive for sharing.
  3. Personal – They would use it as an opportunity to connect with their customers by having the message come from ZenPayroll employees.
  4. Unexpected & Fun — If the customer shares the referral link they are rewarded with a fun animated gif of the sales team doing a dance.

The Solution

A personal and timely message to refer a friend after a customer completes a time-saving action with ZenPayroll.

The referral request is designed to come from a real person to create a sense of connection between ZenPayroll and their customers.
After a customer shares the referral link they are treated to a dance from the sales team.

Sweat the Details

There are a few details in this execution that are also worth pointing out.

  1. Show them love – At the top of your dashboard, instead of simply showing the company name ZenPayroll has “We ❤️️ Your Company”. It is a quick way to create an emotional connection with their customers.
  2. Be considerate – ZenPayroll doesn’t show the referral request every time. By being thoughtful about when they make the request they show respect for their customers and make the times they do show it more impactful.

A Few Dead Ends

Throughout the design process the design team also explored many solutions that didn’t work out. For example:

  1. Ask customers on their dashboard – This always felt like an advertisement no matter how they designed it.
  2. Integrate the call to action on the final confirmation page of great actions – This approach created a very manual integration process to implement on each page. It also detracted from other primary actions on those pages.
  3. Email the customer and request a referral since they have no control over when someone opens an email it ultimately wasn’t timely enough on a consistent basis.

The Results

In one month referrals to ZenPayroll increased more than 200%. At their scale this already translates to nearly $100,000/year and will only compound and grow over the years to come.


Get occasional updates on news,
events and opportunities