By Misty Absher Clark
STOP! Yes, stop what you're doing - or not doing - and shift your thinking. Quit investing in external marketing when your existing patients are not referring. START maximizing your return on investment in your marketing by starting from within. The power of a referral can make new patients become forever patients. Your existing patient base is basically your mini sales force. Like any sales force, they need information about the product or service they're soliciting. So how do you motivate your patients to send their friends, families, and colleagues to you?
Your own built-in sales force, and you didn't even know it
Yes! Your patients are your sales team. Understanding that is half the battle. In order to get your patients to effectively refer, you must teach them about you. Help them to see why you're different by arming them with lots of information about you so that when they refer, it is powerful. Tell (and show) your patients what makes you different by keeping your patients up to date with what you offer.
Equip your patients with the tools to talk about YOU
Tell your patient family what makes you different from other practices - and tell them over and over again. People need to hear, feel, see, and experience a message five to seven times before they remember it. Perhaps what makes you special is that you keep appointments on time. Tell your patients that. At the end of their appointment say, "We're done and on time. You should be able to make it back to work as promised!" Also, use that key differentiator when introducing new equipment, such as your new PlanScan CAD/CAM unit. Tell your patients about the new equipment through an email blast using your patient communication software such as SolutionReach or Demandforce, a letter, social media posts, internal signage, information on your website, and a hygiene handout. Repetition is the key to learning, remembering, and even sharing.
Ask your patients what you want them to do
When you want your patients to brush and floss - you tell them. When you want them to have a crown placed - you tell them. When you want them to refer friends and family - tell them! If you don't ask, they won't refer. Assuming that they will refer you to others will get you nowhere. Next time a patient says thank you for staying on time, respond with, "Thank you for the great compliment. If you know anyone else who would appreciate on-time appointments, send them to us. We'd love to have more patients just like you!"
Appreciate a job well done
Like any good sales team, your patients want to be acknowledged that they did what you asked and it worked. Sometimes the most tried-and-true methods never change, such as expressing gratitude with a simple handwritten thank-you note. It is most personal and best when written by the doctor and not a team member. But before you even write the note, you need to know that the patient referred someone to you. Be sure your team is tracking this by asking the right questions of new patients and documenting it.
That means asking not only, "Whom may we thank for your referral?" but also follow-up questions such as, "What led you to our website?" Patients may give credit to the website even if they first heard about you from their best friend. Also, if they say a friend referred them but they will not tell you who, dig a little deeper. Say, "I would love to write your friend a personal note to thank her for her confidence in us." This will leave a lasting impression with new patients and may even encourage them to refer others to the practice.
Go forth and conquer
Start thinking of your patients as your mini sales team. Take care of them, treat them well, inform and educate them, and then ask them to do what you want them to do. They will share the message if they ultimately see value in the care you provide. In return, you will have new patients from the best referral source available. The next time you participate in external marketing, feel confident that each of the patients who come to you will send two or more your way. That is maximizing your return on investment and minimizing your cost of external marketing.
Misty Absher Clark is vice president of creative services at Jameson Management, which she joined in 2007. Jameson bought Dental ImageWorks, the marketing/consulting firm Clark founded in Dallas. Clark has developed effective marketing plans for hundreds of dental offices, and trained teams to become strong marketing champions. She shares her knowledge of social media, marketing, and branding through numerous articles, blogs, webinars, and lectures. Contact her at [email protected] or (877) 369-5558.