Referrals, like all word-of-mouth marketing, begin at the same place.
Forrester Research estimates that 500 billion word-of-mouth impressions are created daily on social media. And McKinsey and Company reveals that approximately two-thirds of the US economy is now driven by word of mouth.
Let that sink in!
- 500 billion word-of-mouth impressions every day!
- Two-thirds of the US economy driven by word of mouth!
Word-of-mouth and referral success
Quality referrals are driven by face-to-face interaction. In your instance, satisfied patients tell family, friends, co-workers, and others how much they like your treatment and services.
Deliver what they want and need. They’ll naturally talk about it.
Also remember that the internet has changed the narrative somewhat. Before the web, a literal conversation was how we described an impression made by a product or service.
Face to face.
In the backyard.
Over a beer at the bar.
Those days aren’t gone but the conversation is amplified by social media, online reviews, and chat or texting platforms.
The real reason referrals work
As with most conversations among “friends” – trust plays a huge role!
- Nielsen research data shows that 92% of consumers believe what friends or family tell them more than they trust advertisers or advertising.
- 88% of people trust online reviews written by other consumers equally as much as recommendations shared by family and friends.
Basically, when patients say “nice things” about you the impact can be greater than what is spent on paid advertising.
“Genuine word of mouth builds both awareness and trust.” 1
People talking about their experience with your products or services do not sound like paid advertisements.
And certainly, authentic!
People use everyday language to tell their story about your services. Thus, it’s essential to give your patients motivation to talk about them.
This demands strategic effort because your patients are busy and often distracted. Frankly, until the subject of their smile or most recent dental appointment comes up in a conversation…don’t count on them talking about it.
But when they do have an opportunity they’re more likely to respond based on your level of service encouraged by your request for a referral.
How to ask for referrals from your dental patients without feeling awkward about it
1. Start your referral conversation with the assumption that dentistry isn’t part of their everyday life
Sure, your patients brush and floss. Yet that’s different than talking about you (their dentist).
Perhaps your patients assume that you’re doing quite well and have more than enough customers. For example, how often do you exit a restaurant and give any thought to whether or not they’re looking for more diners? You’re more focused on food quality and your dining experience.
And there-in lies the next principle of more and better referrals…
2. Give your patients an undeniable urge to tell someone about their positive dental experience
There are some patient experiences that you want shared and others…not so much.
This is a red-flag for primarily using templated, push-button, or otherwise automated referral platforms. If your patient gets a ping five minutes out the door…you may (or may not) want them “talking” about their experience.
It might have nothing to do with your service. It could have everything to do with their general attitude toward dentistry, you (the dentist), or life in general.
”Every person on your staff must understand that the service they provide now affects referrals you’ll get later. That means answering inquiries promptly, having an informative and easy-to-use website, making patients feel at ease, and – of course – providing them with the best possible dental treatment you can.” 2
This calls for a more tailored approach to referral requests.
Give the referral “mic” to your “fans” (not your critics).
- Track your referral-stars. Ask every new patient, “How did you hear about us?” When they’ve been referred by a current patient make a note in theirs and the referring patient’s file.
- Help them identify something worth talking about. This starts with listening to their comments, requests, and the general response to their appointment (before they leave your office). Ask, “How was your appointment today, etc,” Stay quiet, let them talk, and listen!
- Prompt them to share their experience. Say, “You just mentioned…that seems to be something a lot of people are interested in…, etc… We’d appreciate you sharing that every opportunity you get.” That’s a subtle yet direct way to ask for a referral.
It’s easy to sound scripted when you ask for referrals too. Make it a natural sounding part of your patient conversations. This puts them more at ease and willing to share their experience.
3. Train a referral mindset into your staff and practice the conversation
Keep the focus on natural and contextual interactions with patients. This requires training your team to recognize the moments that referral requests are appropriate.
If their request is part of a templated check-out script, it’s more likely to sound insincere and come-off that way.
- Stoke the value of referrals during each team meeting.
- Give the mic to those skilled at referral conversations during your meetings. Have a “five minute referral training,” give them the opportunity to showcase their skills.
- Encourage shadowing at the front desk. Pair a team member with one of your “stars” to eavesdrop on conversational referral requests during check-outs.
Not all team members will be effective at asking for referrals. But everyone can improve.
Also make sure that you’re tracking referral data. A tracking mindset is equally as important as the the asking mindset.
There are a variety of referral management and tracking software solutions. The following are top rated and have application for your dental practice.
Also, an article from ReferralRock.com compares 30 platforms and includes an insightful infographic.
However you manage or track your referral strategy remember…
Every referral starts with an “ask.” And that “ask” will produce results when it’s part of a natural, well-timed, and authentic patient conversation.