You can advertise your dental practice in any number of ways to attract new patients, but no marketing strategy is complete – or fully effective – without a referral program. This is as true for well-established practices as it is for a newly-minted dentist. You need a referral program no matter what type of dentistry you practice.
Why are referrals so important?
When patients help market your practice – which is what they’re doing when they talk you up to family and friends – you’re reaching a broader audience, many of whom might not have found you otherwise in spite of all the marketing you do.
Word-of-mouth recommendations have always carried tremendous credibility, because they are unbiased. The trust factor is enormous. In fact, in one Nielsen survey, 92% of consumers said they trust personal recommendations from family and friends most.
Referrals are essentially free. It is not difficult to create an engaging referral program, and what time you do invest – and whatever you spend on incentives — will be returned you many-fold as the new patients you acquire turn into lifetime loyalists. Asking patients to personally help bring in new patients strengthens your personal relationships with them, too.
Studies show dental patients who were referred by another patient have higher retention rates. That means you can expect a higher lifetime financial value from them and they are more likely to become referral marketers for you, too.
To get the most referrals, you need to overtly ask for them and reward patients who follow through – as long as the new prospect actually makes an appointment, of course. A formal “program” makes it easy to track progress.
Creating an effective referral program is as easy as 1-2-3.
1. Here’s how to set up your program:
- Determine the rules of your program. Will you offer an incentive for every referral? Will they have to refer 5 patients to get a reward? The better the incentives, the more participation you’ll get. Consider creating a tiered program with graduated-value prizes.
- Decide how you will reward patients who provide referrals. You could offer discounts on cosmetic procedures or other special services, free X-rays, the latest electric toothbrush or gift cards for local restaurants, movie theatres, stores, etc. The most meaningful rewards will be relevant to your practice as well as your audience.
- Train your staff, so everyone knows how the program works. That way they can encourage patients to participate and intelligently answer any questions they may have.
2. Here’s how to promote your program:
- Post a sign at your reception desk that says “Join our Referrals Rewards Club.”
- Create a poster or display for your waiting area that describes the highlights of the program.
- Add a link to your website patients can use to refer someone.
- Include a note in the goodie bags you give patients.
- Hand out referral cards patients can give friends and family.
- Hold a contest among your Facebook followers to see who can generate the most referrals in a month. Post a picture of the winner. (Post their picture in your office, too.)
- Add a line to your email marketing that promotes your referrals program. Include a link to your website page that explains the details.
3. Reviews are another form of referrals.
As a corollary effort to creating and maintaining your referral program, be sure you’re doing everything you can to encourage patients to post online reviews about you and your practice. That’s even faster and easier for them to do than personally bringing in new patients.
Reviews are just another form of word-of-mouth testimonials, and given the fact that most people rely on reviews to make dental buying decisions, you cannot underestimate their value.
As a matter of ethics, you can’t reward patients for posting reviews, but you can certainly thank them. They’ll like that.