How to increase patient referrals
Looking around in magazines and online, it’s easy to find cheery, upbeat pieces about how easy it is to snag patient referrals. Well, sure, until you start. And then stop.
While word-of-mouth remains the gold standard for building a patient base, this age of webpages, marketing and social media can make the way forward seem a bit more complex but it’s not out of reach.
Like most endeavors, a little time thinking about goals, methods and planning is time well-spent. There is a formula, but there’s plenty of room to improvise and to adapt strategies to fit your personality and practice that can pay off with an uptick in referrals.
The first method – tried and true – is simply to ask and reward your existing patients for passing on your name to family and friends. These are likely loyal patients of long-standing who are pleased with the care they receive and have cultivated relationships with you and your staff.
The secret is practicing a script to make the “ask” sound not forced but natural and casual. It may take some prepping with your staff, likely starting with your hygienists and assistants who spend the most time with patients. After making the next appointment, reviewing treatment and instructions and answering questions, the staffer can ask whether the patient was happy with their visit. This could dovetail into an exchange that mentions the practice is always pleased to grow on the word of its satisfied patients. If the patient has a chance to pass along the dentist’s name, the staffer can continue, the practice would be grateful, perhaps with a sweetener like a “reward” card that offers $25 off a next appointment or cosmetic visit if a referral comes through. “Friends and family” discounts are widely used in retail marketing, and response is always solid to a “reward” of some kind.
On the more unconventional side, DentistryIQ carried a piece recently about a dentist, during a visit with his family to a frozen yogurt shop, picked up the tab for everyone in the store. He called the clerk aside, presented his business card and asked to be contacted with the total he owed. Think of the impression that made! Customers no doubt were delighted at such an unexpected and kind offer. They asked the clerk for his name, and three customers called the following week to make appointments. That earned a big return for a small investment of yogurt.
Making the most of community business group memberships and relationships is another avenue to grow patient referrals.
Patient News Dental Marketing, a marketing consulting group, urges dentists to join their local chambers of commerce or business associations. There are multiple benefits: membership provides a way to give back to the community where you practice, opportunities to network with other business owners and the benefit of a listing in the local business directory.
Some other ideas to pursue with local business owners are ways to “cross-promote” one another, perhaps through an open house or community activity, like a recycling or shredding event. It’s a “soft” introduction that allows other business owners and visitors to learn more about you and your practice.
Direct or indirect, techniques to increase patient referrals can take many shapes and forms. Whether you rely on motivation or imagination, finding ways to boost referrals pays off with a healthier practice.
Photo by Eva-Katalin/istockphoto.com.
The views expressed in this column are those of the writer and not necessarily the opinions of the Chicago Dental Society.
CDS presents Front Desk, a column addressing issues facing dentists and staff members experience in the office.
Front Desk is prepared by Stephanie Sisk, a freelance journalist.