Remember the old shampoo commercial that started with one girl who tells two friends about the product, “ . . . and they told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on . . .”? Word-of-mouth marketing is still very much alive and well, even in this digital age. Imagine what would happen to your practice if each of your patients told two people about you! Referrals should be a part of any healthcare provider’s growth plan, so knowing how to ask for them is critically important. Let’s take a look a ten excellent strategies for building your business from referrals and how you can begin implementing these in your practice today.
1 - Talk to Your Patients. It’s easy to assume that patients know you want referrals, but the chances are good they really haven’t thought about it. At the close of each procedure or visit, make sure you’re clear that if your patient is happy, you’d love for them to spread the word to their family, friends, and acquaintances. Not only should you tell patients you’d like their referrals, but reinforce the message with signs at both your check-in and check-out stations. Don’t leave it to chance, step up and ask.
2 - Talk to Your Staff. Make sure that your staff is professional, caring, personable, and inviting. They are the first impression new patients get, and part of what determines whether patients will refer someone to your practice. Be sure, too, that you encourage your staff to remind patients that you are looking for referrals. This is why it’s important your staff is likable and friendly. If they are going to talk to your patients about encouraging friends and family to come in, the message needs to be sincere and come from someone your patient feels comfortable recommending.
3 - Think Strategic. Design a strategic plan for creating referrals. Include your staff, and invest the time, energy, and money to help make it successful. Don’t tape up paper signs from your copier, invest in quality signs that speak to how important referrals are to you. Look at all the areas that impact potential referrals and identify those things which are a priority, then follow through on them.
4 - Include Your Patient Newsletter. Regular communication through a patient newsletter can have a far-reaching impact. Highlight your staff, talk about your outside interests, and provide meaningful information on new trends or technology in your area of practice. A newsletter allows you to build a relationship with your patients beyond their regular visits and serves as an additional opportunity to share the message of how much you appreciate their business, and the referral of their friends and family.
5 - Messaging and Notices. The advent of automated messaging has revolutionized office communications with patients and made it easier than ever to reach out to them throughout the year. From birthday messages to special reminders, reaching out to your patients is easier and less expensive now that it ever has been. Even if you’re not reminding them that you love referrals, you are building solid reasons for them to provide referrals anyway. Those seemingly simple communication moments demonstrate the care and concern you have for your patients, and this adds to their desire to share their experience with those they know.
6 - Online Visibility and Access. Do your web page and Facebook page have a “Schedule Now” option? How about a referral button? Social media is an excellent means of simplifying access for your patients as well as encouraging referrals. Integrating patient acquisition tools with your social media and online presence is a quick and easy way to encourage existing patients to share their experience with others.
7 - Be a Great Host. Hosting an event at your office is a great way to get your existing, active clients to bring family and friends to meet you. Consider holiday parties, or showing off a new or redecorated office as ways to encourage visitors. Back to School Night, community fairs, or other community events also encourage your patients to bring friends or family to meet you and your staff. Creativity is key here, as is a genuine interest in meeting new people who may become patients.
8 - Volunteer. Even if it doesn’t include promoting your practice, volunteering in your community is a great way to build a favorable impression of you, your staff, and your practice. It can also be an excellent team building opportunity for you and your staff, and it sets a wonderful example to others in your field.
9 - Provide an Incentive. To encourage patients to offer referrals, consider holding a drawing that gives them a chance to win something valuable. You can offer a monthly drawing for movie passes or gift cards to local hot spots for each referral provided, of hold a quarterly drawing for an even bigger prize such as a weekend get-away or a sporting event. You set the prize, the number of referrals needed for a patient to be entered to win, and how frequently you hold the drawing. And make sure you announce it in your patient newsletter!
10 - Recognize Referrers and Referrals. Use your monthly patient newsletter or email to recognize those people who have given you a referral as well as the name of your new patients. Everyone likes to feel appreciated, and acknowledging those who do you the favor of referring new patients. A simple thank you can go a long way to making people feel good and want to help you with your quest to find new patients.
Making a connection with your patients requires an investment of your time, your energy, and sometimes your money. But the return on investment for these things can be exponential and can mean an exceptional growth in your business and your reputation. Reward your patients for their loyalty, thank them publicly for their help in growing your business, and in a very short time you should be reaping the benefits of your efforts.
Need more time to think about things like referrals? Check out the Eight Opportunities to Increase Office Efficiency.