Where do your best patients come from? Most dentists say from word-of-mouth referrals. Word-of-mouth referrals are ubiquitous. We love to share information with other people. It makes us feel good to be "in the know." In fact, research indicates that the average American engages in 16 word-of-mouth conversations every day.1 So, if people are talking, how can we get them to talk about us, their dentists? This article will serve as a recipe for you to launch a powerful word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing campaign that will help you increase revenue in your practice.
Have you ever tried a Bluetooth headset? I have, and after using it I swore I would never use one again because of the poor quality. That is until a friend told me about his remarkable wireless headset. He explained that the device is lightweight, has crystal-clear sound, and sounds as if he's on a landline phone.
He added, "It's not cheap, but it's so good I've told nearly 50 people about it." So I spent my discretionary income on a little electronic gadget. That's how word-of-mouth marketing works. As a matter of fact, research by Villanueva, Yoo, and Hanssens confirms what we already know-customers acquired through word-of-mouth marketing add two times greater value to your business than customers acquired through traditional marketing techniques.2
We know patients talk about their experiences with other people. So how can we really turn it on and compel those highly coveted referrals to talk about our offices? I've tried many different techniques to drive WOM campaigns. For more than a decade our practice lived on "care-to-share" cards. We gave away flowers, then brownies, and then gift cards before moving to cash.
But with new laws, regulations, and just pure ethics, we cannot depend on enticements or rewards campaigns in our practices. Current research supports that samples and coupons are not linked to increased word-of-mouth referrals.3 So why do we proceed with capricious WOM campaigns without knowing what makes them successful? In effect, we know that WOM works and if we can harness its power, we can grow our practices. WOM is twice as effective as radio, four times more effective than personal selling, and seven times more effective than print advertisements.4
Recognizing that the science behind WOM is not completely understood, a body of knowledge is surfacing that will allow us to deploy WOM campaigns with greater success. The essentials are that an idea, product, or service must have what Jonah Berger has identified as social currency, triggers, emotional components, visible awareness, practical value, and stories.5
What we say influences what others think about us. Our unique experiences and the knowledge we share are all forms of social currency. In dentistry today, this can be achieved easily through technology. As a patient you get to take home photos of all your teeth, thanks to the latest technology from companies such as Sirona. Digital impressions with a CEREC versus traditional alginate impressions are certainly extraordinary. What is remarkable is you showing patients their CEREC impressions on a virtual articulator that matches perfectly with their anatomy because you used a Sirona 3D Pano. Regardless of how you create social currency, you want people to talk about you in a way that makes them appear in the know.
Cues or triggers in the environment influence our decisions. As a dentist looking to market your dental business, you must create triggers for your patients to think about you. It could be a catchy tagline such as, "When you have pain, think of Dr. Crane." Or it could be as simple as integrating well-placed, well-timed color schemes in your office and marketing pieces. Nevertheless, you need a trigger to have an effective WOM marketing campaign.
Going to the dentist is a very emotional event, and you can capitalize on all the great stories that bring that emotion to life. Share the many stories of satisfied patients. When you increase the effects of satisfaction, WOM increases.6 Also, if you focus on the positive emotions, you'll see higher social activity and greater satisfaction.7
Creating awareness about your dental office requires making your office visible. From yellow wrist bands to socks, having a visible presence can catapult social behavior and drive a WOM campaign. We participated in a Susan G. Komen Run and made shirts that read, "Save your ta-tas and your teeth" and included our office information. The shirts were a huge hit and became a visual for our office, and even served as a referral source to our practice.
Research conducted by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research indicates that adults have an average 24.9 teeth.8 You could argue that most people need a dentist; therefore, dentists have practical value.
For example, if you perform same-day crowns with a CEREC, it would be important to quantify this for your patients. Say something like, "It used to take two hours to perform this procedure and you had to come back two weeks later. But because we've invested in the latest technology, we can now do it in one appointment." Time, therefore, has practical value for our patients.
Anderson and Simester proved that items merely marked "on sale" increased demand by more than 50%.⁹ People love to pass along information, and a sale is just one example. If you want to make your dental office contagious, make it important to other people, highlight what you do, and give people a reason to pass along information.
Our office also uses the OralID oral cancer screening device. This is a very visible process of checking for oral cancer, and when patients see us using it, they know we care. When our patients know we care, they share. Creating value is about saving our patients time or money, and helping them have good experiences.
A group of marketers recently conducted an experiment in which they purchased items at thrift stores for an average of $1.25. They then fabricated stories about each item and sold them on eBay. The items, along with their fictional stories, sold for 2900% more than their purchase price. The researchers found that the value of a product lies in its story as much as how much it costs to produce and sell.10
What is the story that you want people to tell about your practice, and how can you craft that into a vessel that can be carried on by your patients? Listen to your patients and tell their stories. In this age of social media, a story can be told very quickly. Are you the caring dentist, the quality dentist, or the educated dentist? Find stories that convey your message.
One of my patients lost his dentures when he went scuba diving. He came to me for implant-retained dentures. The way he told his story, and concluded that he could now scuba dive with confidence, made his story relatable, memorable, and funny. As a result of our office sharing it, we saw our implant treatments soar. Stories are the vessel that carry your message.
If customers added to your business via WOM marketing offer a twofold greater value to your practice, it's reasonable to suggest that your efforts should be directed toward fostering your word-of-mouth marketing. Dentists are in a unique position to give people something to talk about. By creating a framework for your WOM program, you can create social currency, triggers, emotional components, public awareness, practical value, and stories. Give your patients something to talk about, and grow your practice.
Andrew M. Goldsmith, DDS, FIALD, DICOI, practices dentistry in Minneapolis and is the past chief dental officer and vice president of vendor relations for Smile Source. He speaks internationally on the topic of practice management and offers coaching to practices. Visit andygoldsmith.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
References are available in the online version of this article.