Growing existing customers' revenue streams through customer referral programs

Ina Garnefeld, Andreas Eggert, Sabrina V. Helm, Stephen S. Tax

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

123 Scopus citations


Customer referral programs are an effective means of customer acquisition. By assessing a large-scale customer data set from a global cellular telecommunications provider, the authors show that participation in a referral program also increases existing customers' loyalty. In a field experiment, recommenders' defection rates fell from 19% to 7% within a year, and their average monthly revenue grew by 11.4% compared with a matched control group. A negative interaction between referral program participation and customer tenure reveals that the loyalty effect of voicing a recommendation is particularly pronounced for newer customer-firm relationships. A laboratory experiment further demonstrates that referral programs with larger rewards strengthen attitudinal and behavioral loyalty, whereas smaller rewards affect only the behavioral dimension. This article contributes to our theoretical understanding of the roles played by the commitment-consistency principle and positive reinforcement theory as mechanisms underlying the effectiveness of customer referral programs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-32
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of marketing
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2013


  • Commitment-consistency principle
  • Customer loyalty
  • Customer referral program
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Propensity score matching

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Marketing


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