A word of mouth referral is the absolute best advertisement you can get to grow your aesthetic practice. It’s also the cheapest form of advertising that you can invest in and it takes so little time and effort.
The best patient for your practice is the referred patient. It is golden when a friend tells another friend, family member or colleague about you in a positive light. Because the referred patient is already pre-sold on you, they are not as price sensitive and they are more likely to stay loyal to you. Word-of-mouth referrals will also increase your closing ratios, decrease your external marketing costs and grow your practice. Word of mouth referrals are cheap, easy and painless – you can’t ask for more than that.
Word-of-mouth referrals are the passing of information in an informal, person-to-person manner, rather than by mass media or advertising. It’s usually verbal but can now include emails, blogs and message boards. It is highly valued because of it’s so credible. People are more inclined to believe word of mouth referrals than more formal forms of promotion because the communicator (your patient) was satisfied by the services you provided and is unlikely to have an ulterior motive (i.e., they are not out to sell something) Also, people tend to believe people they know.
A patient’s inner circle
Think of it this way. Each of your patient, on average, has an inner circle of approximately 250 people. That includes friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, etc. If each of your patients told only five of their inner circle about you and then they told five and so on and so on, consider how quickly you could grow your aesthetic practice.
When you first start out in practice, you do need to rely on more external marketing so the community gets to know you. Advertising helps to build your brand and your name recognition. However, as your practice matures, 70% and more of your new patients should be coming from your existing patients.
So, how do you get word-of-mouth referrals?
Word-of-mouth referrals must be encouraged and sought after using creative, subtle methods. Sure, you will automatically get some of them from your core group of cheerleaders in your practice. Every practice has that group of patients who just love you and tell anyone who will listen how great you are. However, you also want referrals from the majority of your patients – not just the chosen few.
Make word-of-mouth referrals a priority in your office. Set up some processes to help ensure you have your staff’s commitment to make patient satisfaction your #1 priority. Be sure they understand the importance of treating each patient with a warm and friendly attitude each and every time they are in touch with your practice.
Get referrals from your current database
Spending time now developing relationships with your current patients will grow your prospective patient list later. If your patients like, trust, and respect you, they will be happy to tell their family and friends about you and may even brag about your great work to everybody else they know.
Begin by speaking with your patients. Before you jump right into the medical reason they are there to see you, spend a couple of minutes with them as a person. Ask them about their family, their occupation or anything else that strikes you as interesting from their patient in-take form. They will be impressed if you remember the name of their child or if you refer to something they told you on the last visit. The point is to bond with them personally first so they know you care about them as a person first – patient second. They will relax, open up to you, and talk more about themselves. You can learn so much about a patient if you show you are interested in them. And, you will be surprised what you learn. Perhaps they are a member of the media or they are the program chair this year for their business women’s group.
Remember, like-minded people hang around with other like-minded people so you want your “preferred patient” to bring their friends to you. Be sure to tell your patients that you want more patients just like them and if they send you their friends, family and colleagues, you promise to take good care of them.
Use word-of-mouth communication tools
Use communication devices such as your practice newsletter, special event invitations and email marketing messages so your patients share information you provide with their friends, family and colleagues.
Any written communications coming from you should make a mention of how much you appreciate referrals. Add the phrase, “Bring a Friend” to your invitations, and “Send this to a Friend” on your website and email messages. Add a special note in your newsletters and have a nice reminder sign in your reception area. The more your patients are reminded, the more they will remember you when they are speaking with their friends about cosmetic enhancement.
Look at your alliances for referrals
Look at who you know in your community. Perhaps you are friendly with the dentist down the hall or other non-competing specialties who would be happy to refer their patients to you and visa versa. This can be done informally by exchanging business cards and handing them to the patients who need the services. A physician referral to another physician is powerful since it’s so credible.
Or, perhaps your staff regularly visits a certain hair salon and retail store or your office manager gets massages weekly at the new hip spa in town. You can turn those casual alliances into viable word-of-mouth referral sources by having your staff talk to them and then introduce you to the owners. If you hit it off, you can give them your business cards or a customized poster to display in their place of business. You can also consider participating in some type of cross-promotional event or mailing to both of your databases. You can gain instant credibility and prestige when your colleague introduces you as the expert to their patients and clients. It also gives you exposure to an entire new group of prospective patients who also have their own circle of friends, family and colleagues they can refer you to.
Network to increase referrals
I have watched physicians grow their practices quickly with networking. Remember the adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”? Now it’s actually, “Who knows you” that is so important. If you are good at networking, you can tap into groups of people who can become your preferred patients.
Attend events and connect with as many others as possible. Every person you meet should know who you are, what you do, and the services you offer. If nothing else, be sure your business card says it so you can at least introduce yourself and hand them a business card they can refer to later. You can even follow up with an email or send them your brochure with extra business cards. Tell them it was a pleasure to meet them and how much you would appreciate their referrals to your practice.
Get Involved in Your Community
Giving back to your community shows you care about others. Getting involved in a worthy cause makes you feel good and it’s good for the community. If you don’t have a cause close to your heart and need to find something, think strategically. If you want to be known as the “face lift doc” in your community, perhaps you can offer your services to domestic violence victims. Or, if you want to get into the “in” social crowd in your community, work with the socialites in your area that give considerable time and money to a specific cause and get to know them. Become part of their crowd and they will loyally go to you and send their like-minded friends to you as well.
Frequent Referral Program
Reward, encourage and acknowledge those special patients who offer multiple referrals.
Every practice has those patients who just love them! They visit often, they know the names of the staff’s children, and they go to you for all of their skin care needs. They may live in the same neighborhood, their kids may go to the same school your kids go to, they may go to your health club, or whatever. You have a special group of loyal patients who sing your praises all over town. Whenever the subject of cosmetic enhancement comes up, they are the first to jump in and tell everyone what they have had done, who did it and how happy they are and they can give them your telephone number right now if they have a pen. If they don’t, they will email your name, telephone number and address the next day- and they do it!
It’s the 80-20 rule. Like everything else in life, 80% of the referrals will come from 20% of your patients. You can help those statistics by going a step further.
Implement a frequent referral program but do it with caution. You do not want to get into the game of giving away services if your patients refer a certain number of people. Those patients who are trying to get “deals” from you by sending in their friends may be more trouble than they are worth. They may send you patients you don’t want and may be in it for the wrong reasons. You want the patients who are truly ecstatic about you and want to sing your praises.
“So, how did you hear about Dr. Smith?”
This is one of the most important questions your staff must ask every single prospective patient calling your office and walking through your door.
You can’t really know who your advocates are unless you can track them accurately. It’s vital you have a computer system that automatically tracks referral sources so you know who is really referring people and who just says they are referring. You also want to track who actually books procedures and which procedures they seem to be booking more of from the referrals you receive. Good computer systems will outline, in detail, who referred whom and the outcome in terms of revenues generated. It will also make it easier on your staff if you have a good computer system with automatic reporting capabilities.
Don’t Take Referrals for Granted
Acknowledge and appreciate your referring patients. Send a handwritten thank you note for each referral you get from a patient. Or, if you send a computer-generated form, be sure you handwrite a special note on it so the patient knows you truly appreciate them. The handwritten note sinks in that you sincerely appreciate your referring patients’ efforts. This indicates you acknowledge their support and value their friendship.
You can also invite your best referring patients in periodically for a complimentary, non-invasive treatment that your staff can perform and send them a small gift or card on their birthday and during the holidays. It’s the acknowledgement, more than the “freebies” your referring patients will appreciate and will prompt them to send more patients your way.
The Golden Rule
Patients have to be truly happy and satisfied with the service they receive from your practice in order to refer their friends. Be sure every single patient has a “WOW” experience every single time they are in contact with you, your staff and your office. This will make it much more likely for them to tell others how great you are.
She is a business/marketing consultant to plastic surgeons. She speaks at medical conferences all over the world on cash practice building and trains staff to be converting rock stars.