15 Tips to Boost Your Referrals
Create a great patient experience and always over deliver
From contractors to real estate agents, service professionals from a variety of industries will tell you that “A referral is the best compliment you can receive.” Many small businesses survive and thrive on referrals. As the owner of a private dental practice, referrals should comprise 40% to 60% of your new patient numbers.
Although there are many ways to increase referrals, this is one of the biggest missed opportunities we see in offices. Common to most of these approaches is an underlying “patient-centric” theme. It's really all about the patients. When you put your patients first and create a great experience for them, you not only increase your referrals, but also your patient retention. Here are 10 tips to boost referrals at your practice:
1. Just Ask
This seems obvious, but if you aren't directly asking patients for their referrals, they might not think referrals are that important to you. Some doctors won't ask for referrals because they think it is inappropriate or offensive. It isn't. You or your team can easily weave a request in at some point during a patient's visit. For example, when a patient is leaving, the front desk team can inquire about his or her visit. After receiving a positive response, they reply, “I'm so glad you had a great experience. We'd love to have more patients just like you. If you have any family or friends who would like to have an experience like yours, please be sure to tell them about us.”
2. Make It a Lunch Date
How cool would it be to squeeze your dentist appointment in during lunch and arrive to find lunch waiting for you? One of my clients has taken patient appreciation to a new level. For every appointment scheduled between the hours of 12 PM and 1 PM, he provides a boxed lunch for the patient. I'd be willing to bet that every single one of the patients who experience that go back to work and tell their colleagues and friends that their dentist just bought them lunch. It's downright brilliant.
3. Over Deliver
I learned early on that the best way to become rich is by over delivering. This means that you provide more in value than you get financially in return. Dentistry is a profession that profits from the value it creates for patients, so there is a great opportunity to over deliver to them. If your patients perceive that you provide more in service value than you take in money, you create loyalty and trust in your relationships and keep people coming back—and bringing their friends. You and your team need to go above and beyond for your patients so that they feel like they get more than they pay for. Many of our clients who successfully over deliver offer “comfort menu” amenities to their patients such as hand paraffin treatments or massages and warm blankets or neck pillows. Some provide coffee bars and fresh baked cookies, and others offer a special game or movie room for children. Over delivering means offering more than patients would expect to find in the “typical” dentist office.
4. Give Away a Car
I know; that's big. But the car doesn't have to be new or extravagant, and it makes an incredible statement. We give away at least one car a year, and it usually goes to the winner of a video “success story” contest. Our clients and their teams get really creative and engaged in the process, and we get a library of hundreds of video testimonials that we can use in marketing and promotional efforts. Take it one step further by wrapping the car with your logo and contact information and having team members take turns driving it around town. You've just turned your prize into a mobile billboard.
5. Assign One Person to Own It
We have a saying at Scheduling Institute: “When everyone owns something (eg, a stat or result), no one owns it.” In other words, it falls through the cracks because everyone thinks someone else is going to handle it. Choose one person to be responsible for increasing your referral numbers. Do you have a former cheerleader on your team, or someone with a lot of energy? Make this individual responsible for creating the referral programs, promotions, and statistics as well as updating the team, reminding them to ask for referrals, running contests, etc. Find that one person who will take ownership and lead the team.
6. Address Patients by Name
Your front desk team needs to know exactly who is coming in and when, so they can appropriately greet them by name when they walk through the door. If I walk into a place where I have an appointment, and I'm greeted with an impersonal, “May I help you?” I want to turn around and walk out. A better way to greet your patients is “Hello, Mr. Smith. It's great to see you. We have you set for your 3 o'clock appointment.” If you've ever been to the Ritz Carlton, you know that they use your name as often as possible. They are a great model for customer service.
7. Reward for Referrals
Because there is only one winner, not everyone responds well to contests. Establishing a referral program that rewards patients every time they refer someone can have greater appeal. Create a tiered system in which the reward increases based on the amount of individuals that a patient refers. For example, you could offer a $25 Starbucks gift card for the first referral, a $50 gas station gift card for the second referral, and $75 Visa gift card for three or more referrals. Again, prominently display your prizes in the office and be sure to publicly acknowledge patients who refer in your newsletter and on social media. Regulations on referral rewards vary from state to state, so be sure to check with your state's guidelines before implementing your program.
8. Expand Your Hours
To be a patient-centric office where the patient comes first, you need to be open when it's convenient for them, not just for you or your team. That means early in the morning, at lunch, and in the early evening. You may also want to consider expanding your hours of operation to include Saturday. Twenty-five years ago, I worked in a large private practice and started answering the phones during lunch when we were normally closed. This resulted in scheduling approximately 50 extra patients.
Most dentists don't accommodate patients who can't get time off from work during the day, so expanding your hours is a great way to set yourself apart from the competition. Need an end-of-year bump in new patients? Give expanded hours a test run during the holidays when so many other offices are closed.
9. Only Accept Great Attitudes
If you have someone on your team who has trouble with his or her attitude, you need to have a direct conversation with him or her to address the issue and offer an opportunity to improve. If they can't improve, they can no longer be on your team. Patients are acutely aware of poor team dynamics, gossiping, and bad attitudes, and if you have a team member or members who eye roll, over share, or look like they don't want to be there, you will start losing patients and any hope for future referrals. This applies to the doctors, too!
10. Double Your Collateral
Many retailers have figured it out. They don't just market to their customers, they reach their customers' friends as well. When they send coupons, they send two: one for the customer and one for a friend. When a patient leaves your office, give them two gifts with your practice's name on it—one for them to keep, and one to pass along to a friend. It could be a coupon or discount offer or something more tangible, like an oral travel kit.
11. Email Newsletters
Send out a monthly newsletter to stay top-of-mind with your patients. For those who only come in twice a year for cleanings, a newsletter reminds them that you are interested in their oral care year round. Be sure to include educational content as well as mention any contests, specials, or office activities they might want to know about. Email these newsletters with the option to pass along to or share electronically with friends.
12. Leverage Social Media
In this day and age, if you aren't leveraging social media to engage your current patients, you are missing the cheapest way to stay connected with them. The more engaged they are with the practice, the more likely they will be talking about you with their friends and family. In addition to a current and updated website, you need to be active on Facebook and Twitter. Assign this role to someone on your team who recognizes the value of social media. Be sure to promote your referral program contests and special offers on this platform as well.
13. Improve Your Office Environment
Is your office space warm and welcoming? Are your furniture and accessories updated? Is the carpet clean? Walk around the office as if you were a patient. Sit in the operatory chair, and look at the ceiling. Hire a professional decorator or designer to come in and evaluate your space and accommodations and give you objective feedback and suggestions on how it can be improved.
14. Streamline Your Front Desk
The key to this is efficient and effective scheduling. You need to reduce the time the front desk team spends on the phone with new patients to approximately 2 minutes. The more time that is spent on each call, the greater the potential for missed opportunities from unanswered calls. Many patients hate being put on hold or getting an answering machine, and hang up without leaving a message. There are just too many other options for people. Get new patients scheduled quickly and conveniently and they will be happy to send their friends to you. If you're scheduling more than 2 weeks out, work on freeing up some time. You should always have available space on the schedule for new patients.
15. Wow Your Patients When They Walk In
When your patients walk through the door, they should feel like rock stars. You and your team need to provide an experience like none other. When your patients arrive, are they greeted by name and with a smile? Do you have refreshments available and a play room for children? From the greeting and refreshments to the gift for new patients and the comfort menu, it has to be all about the patient. When you create an exceptional patient experience, you are over delivering and correctly positioned to increase your new patient referrals.
Remember, the number of referrals you get is a direct reflection of the value that you provide for your patients and the experience that you create for them. We've spent the last 20 years in the new patient business and have helped thousands of dentists improve their new patient numbers by providing the best possible patient experience—from the moment a new patient calls to the moment he or she walks out of the office.
About the Author
Jay Geier is the president and founder of the Scheduling Institute. He is the creator of the world-renowned five-star new patient generation training program that has revolutionized the way dentists attract new patients to their practices. Learn more by visiting www.schedulinginstitute.com.