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Build a Referral Engine

A girlfriend talking to a girlfriend about how great you are is now, and will always be, the most direct route to a new cash-paying patient.  Just like a referral engine that keeps bringing in new leads. So, the question becomes, how can you make that happen more often?

Some surgeons have a “one and done” mentality so they spend a fortune advertising for new patients. Their staff spends a crazy amount of time working those “leads” to find the diamond in the haystack who is ready to move forward with surgery. Other surgeons realize it’s smarter, easier, cheaper and faster to provide consistent customer service. Which creates a great experience for their patients so they, in turn, refer you to others who also become surgical patients.

How to Build a Referral Engine for your Plastic Surgery Practice

Neither is the right way; however, creating a referral-based system teaches your practice to market itself for free. That way, you energize your staff, attract more of your ideal patients. You will deepen your patients’ engagement with you and solidify your own commitment to build a practice worth talking about. 

You also save a ton of money on advertising because you are getting it for free from your patients who love bragging about you to others they know.

Because here’s something to know….cosmetic patients are wired to make referrals. It’s a deeply satisfying way to connect with others when they are recognized as a source of good information.

Referred Patients = Healthy Practice

The health and success of your practice can be gauged by this simple factor. How many patients refer you to others they know. 

Turn your cosmetic practice into a Referral Engine

If you don’t know the answer, pull a report called “revenues by referral source”.  

I have surveyed top cosmetic practices all over the US and the average mature practice gets 45% – 70% of their revenues from referrals. That’s good to know and tells you where to spend your time, money and efforts proportionate to external advertising efforts. 

And, if your percentage is less than 45%, that indicates you spend a lot more time, money and effort attracting new patients to replace these “one and done” patients who are NOT bragging about you.

But here’s what we know… referred prospective patients are more likely to convert to paid procedures. They also are more likely to pay a premium price for the added social proof of a referral.

That leads to lower advertising costs as well as labor costs since these are highly qualified leads convert. Leading to increased staff satisfaction and morale when they are not chasing flaky leads.

Disappointed with Your Referrals?

By the way, if you’re not sure how you’re doing or you are disappointed in the low number of referrals you’re getting, something in your practice may be off. So, send out a digital patient survey asking for feedback. 

Conduct a simple survey asking your patients what they value the most and what else you can do to improve their experience. It is a great way to refine your processes, so patients are excited about bragging about you to their friends.

The caveat is to send this survey to patients who gave you money, but also those who came in for a consult and never booked. Wouldn’t you love to know why they didn’t move forward? 

Here are strategies to grow your own referral-based practice…

Develop a Referral Mindset, Team, and Process

This starts at the top. Your staff probably treats your patients about the same way you treat your staff. And, if you have a customer service mentality, then your team will likely adopt one as well.
Think about ways your everyday behavior might be affecting your practice’s ability to generate referrals and adopt this mindset:

“The surgeon takes care of the staff, the staff takes care of the patients, the patients take care of the practice”.

Expect and believe you deserve referrals. Your staff also has to believe it because it’s everyone’s job in the practice to focus on providing excellent customer service.

Referral Engine

In the business of referrals, trust is the most important reason a recommendation is made. Conversely, lack of trust is the single greatest reason referrals don’t happen.

And some of this is so subtle that you don’t realize you have a patient-deterrent system rather than a referral engine. The following examples are from my own observations of visiting practices to do a practice assessment. I might add, that the staff knows who I am so you would think they would be on their best behavior:

  • Don’t acknowledge the patient when they first enter the practice and continue to look at their computer
  • Don’t greet the visiting patient with a genuine smile, making eye contact and welcoming them
  • Fail to offer the visiting patient direction as to what to do next; i.e., help themselves to the restroom or tea/coffee/water and where to sit
  • Patients can overhear staff gossiping and complaining at the front desk
  • Long waiting times
  • Leave patients in exam room for long  periods without checking in on them, and so on.

Visiting prospective patients must be treated like guests in your home so they are acknowledged and made to feel comfortable, relaxed and welcomed.

Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill

This all starts with hiring the right team. You can train someone to do the tasks required; however, you can’t train them to be naturally friendly, kind, and compassionate. Hire those innate characteristics and people skills.

Never-Ending Improvement 

Customer service training isn’t a one-time event. It’s ongoing, so regularly meet with your staff to remind them of your vision and the standards of behavior you expect. And how important customer service is to the survival of the practice. 

Get your team engaged. Have them read your reviews, both good and bad. Review before/after photos of great results and make a big deal out of thank you gifts and cards you get from your happy patients. Then brainstorm ideas to improve even more.

Conduct standing morning staff huddles to review the schedule for that day. The resources needed and end with a high-5 or practice cheer you’ve come up with. It will set your team’s mindset to have a fantastic day and truly enjoy serving your patients.

Offer ”Braggable” Service

Everyone in your practice is part of customer service. This idea must be drilled into everything you and your staff do, say and think.  

The trick is to balance the necessary “This is how we do it here” with the “Whatever it takes” flexibility that can put out a fire before it gets out of hand. Be sure your staff stays vigilant about customer satisfaction while patients are visiting, emailing or calling. 

Give to Get Mentality

Rather than focus on “How can we can get this patient to say yes to surgery?”, focus on the question, “How can we better serve our patients?”  This question makes your mind think of how you can add value to your patients’ lives and that changes everything. Find ways to empower your team to create, deliver, mend, and extend the total patient experience. Examples include offering a warm blanket and lip balm for dry lips during laser treatments.

Exceed Expectations

Identify every potential touch point of a patient’s journey with your practice. Do a patient walk through with one staff person focused on visual, and another on smell. Then another on auditory and another on kinesthetics. 

Now brainstorm: How do we make this experience with us even better? and How can we simplify our process, so we are easier to do business with? are great questions.

Surprise & Delight

Everyone loves surprises, so how could you incorporate them into your practice?  For example, when a patient puts down their deposit for surgery. Thank them with a goody bag with pre-surgery products to help with scarring and/or faster recovery.

Be Different to Stand Out

Look at what your competitors are doing and do the opposite. Examples include “No wait”, “Starbucks is on us”, “We want you happy – guaranteed”, giving patients the morphed computer print outs and anything else you can think of that would differentiate you as a cut above the others.

Get Social to Get Referrals

I just read from statista.com that by 2025, 56.7% of the world’s population will be active on at least one social network, so I recommend your efforts above be highlighted on your multiple social media platforms. 

The practices that are very social are easier to refer to. They educate and entertain and that makes it easier to be talked about. 

They interact with their audience and encourage them to participate by asking questions and getting feedback. They engage their audience by inviting them to tell their stories and show off their results.

So, I recommend you create engaging and authentic content worth sharing to grow your reach exponentially. Feature happy patients telling their story about their own journey, while showing off their results. 

Interact with your audience and encourage them to participate by asking them questions, getting their feedback and inviting them to share their thoughts and their selfies!

referral engine for your plastic surgery practice

Influencers

A note about influencers: Influencer marketing has become increasingly popular because it allows you to tap into someone else’s following (and leverage their credibility to gain exposure). 

However, like anything else, there are different qualities of influencers so you can get spotty results.

What I have seen works best is when you already have a relationship with someone who has a big following, such as a patient who came to you as a patient, loved their experience and result and is now willing to introduce you to their followers. 

This has become a good enough marketing strategy that I know a surgeon who asks on his patient in-take form how many followers the patient has on their platforms. Another surgeon has an entire web page devoted to influencers completing a form and attaching their analytics and stats to prove their range of influence.

If this sounds interesting to you, there are tons of influencer platforms that can partner you with the most effective influencers for your particular audience. A few are upfluence.com, traackr.com, and socialbakers.com.

Be a Referral Engine – Put Referrals on Autopilot

The trick to getting more referrals is to ASK for them in a fun way. 

Make it part of your patient journey process. For example, offer your happy surgical patients a post-op goody bag with instructions and copy they can use to post on their own social media platforms and be sure to encourage them to, “Tell your friends where you got it”. 

You can also use my KiSS Loyalty Club to creatively encouraging referrals by offering kisses towards Free cosmetic services so check it out.

So to recap, here is what it takes to build your own referral engine:

  • Provide great results
  • Conduct a patient survey to get feedback and identify your weaknesses
  • Hire friendly, kind and compassionate staff
  • Meet with them regularly to reinforce your standards
  • Offer Braggable Service
  • Exceed Expectations
  • Surprise & Delight
  • Be different to stand out from your competition
  • Get social 
  • Connect with influencers
  • Put referrals on autopilot using the kissloyaltyclub.com

This is how you grow a referral engine that is cheaper, easier and faster than playing the “One and done” game. Just sayin’…

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Catherine Maley

Catherine Maley

Catherine is a business/marketing consultant to plastic surgeons. She speaks at medical conferences all over the world on practice building, marketing and the business side of plastic surgery. Get a Free Copy of her popular book, Your Aesthetic Practice: What Your Patients Are Saying View Author Profile.

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