No dental practice can survive without referrals. In fact, referrals from current patients account for nearly two-thirds of most practice’s new patients. That’s not a statistic you can afford to ignore.However, getting patients to refer their friends and family is harder than it sounds. In an ideal world, you could count on every patient to offer referrals naturally.It’s not that easy.The key to getting the patient referrals you want is to ask – and not just in one way. Since each one of your patients is unique, the marketing strategy that appeals to one patient and encourages them to refer friends and family may not strike the right chord with another.For that reason, a multi-tiered approach is the best answer. If you implement a variety of strategies, you’ll be able to encourage the majority of your existing patients to refer new patients – whom you can then entice to make referrals themselves.We’ve assembled a collection of the best methods you can use to encourage patient referrals. Use as many as you can, and you’ll be sure to have a practice that continues to grow and thrive.
1. Offer Amazingly Unbelievable Service
This first technique is probably something you’re already doing, (or think you are) but it’s important to mention it anyway. You can’t expect your existing patients to refer people if you don’t provide top-of-the-line service on every level.
Delivering great service is about more than what you do when a patient has a cleaning or undergoes treatment. It starts with your website and response to leads and carries through billing and booking a new appointment.
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.
Every person on your staff must understand that the service they provide now affects referrals you’ll get later.
2. Talk about Your Services
When a patient is in your office, make sure that they know about all your services and treatments – even those that don’t apply to them at that time. You don’t have to talk their ears off, but you can certainly mention those treatments that are most likely to appeal to new patients.
Do you offer a revolutionary tooth-whitening treatment or provide free oral cancer screenings? Letting existing patients know about those things might inspire them to mention your practice to the people they know.
This technique is one that should be used by everyone on your staff. Everyone from the receptionist to the dental hygienist to the billing coordinator should be ready and able to talk about your services to existing patients.
The key here is not to overdo it. You don’t want to bombard patients with information. However, looking for opportunities to mention things that might inspire them to make a referral is good business practice.
3. Ask Patients for Referrals
With long-term patients, you may want to consider asking them if they’d be willing to refer people to you. Long-term patients are the most satisfied with your services. Therefore, their referrals are viewed as some of the best endorsements.
You might not want to try this technique with new patients, but sometimes the direct approach is the best way to get people to do what you want them to do.
One way to make this technique manageable is to look at your schedule and choose one or two patients to ask for referrals. You can start by asking them how their visit was, then ask if they offer recommendations. If they do, you can say something like, “I hope you’ll consider mentioning my practice to your friends and family in the area.”
4. Offer New Patient Incentives
Some of your existing patients might be reluctant to make a referral without a compelling reason to do so. Since many of us like the idea of being seen as generous and altruistic, one way to encourage referrals is to provide a free cleaning or evaluation to new patients.The benefit of offering something free is that it triggers a cognitive bias known as reciprocity, a sort of mental glitch that makes people want to do something for you when you do something for them. That can work in your favor in more than one way.
- First, your patient knows that you’re offering something free to their friends, and they might imagine that their friends will be grateful to them for the referral since it means they’ll be gaining something by coming to see you.
- Second, it helps cement in patients’ heads that you’re someone who cares about them and the people they care about.
- Third, for new patients, the offer of a free cleaning may be enough to inspire them to make a follow-up appointment, book a whitening treatment, or refer their friends to you.
As you can see, the simple process of incentivizing referrals in this way can help encourage existing patients to help you grow your practice.
5. Make Referrals Fun
While it’s a good idea to offer new patients an incentive to come to you, it’s also important to reward existing patients for taking the time to make a referral in the first place.
There are a few ways to go about it. Here are some suggestions:
- Run a social media contest where you link to your referral page and offer a chance to win a free cleaning or whitening treatment to everybody who refers a new patient to you.
- Incentivize people to share your social media posts by giving away a small, appropriate gift. For example, you might offer a free tube of toothpaste or a nice toothbrush to anybody who makes a referral.
- Send a personalized thank you note to any patient who refers someone to you. This sort of personal touch underscores your gratitude and makes it clear that you value your patients.
These are just three ways to incentivize referrals, but there are other ways, too. Anything you can do to make patients want to help you is a positive when it comes to growing your practice.
6. Create Physical Aids for Referrals
Sometimes, patients feel awkward about telling others about their dentist. You can make the process easier by giving them a way to ease into the conversation (or, in some cases, to avoid the need to say anything.)For example, say that your receptionist is checking a patient out and running their insurance card. You might have them ask the patient if they’re happy with the services they received. When they say yes, the receptionist might say something like this:You know Dr. Jones really cares about her patients. I’m going to give you one of her cards, and I’ll put my direct line on the back so you can call with any questions. Would you like a few extra cards to hand out to friends? We always appreciate referrals from loyal patients.A simple gesture like this one is a way of asking for referrals and providing an easy means for patients to spread the word about your practice. A business card is an ideal referral tool because it has your name and contact information, reducing the amount of information your patients need to pass on to their friends.
7. Use Your Website to Turn Referrals into Leads
The first thing a prospective new patient is likely to do is check out your website. Whether they receive a verbal recommendation from a friend, see a social media post, or take a business card, they still need to be convinced to use your services.
What do they see when they land on your website? Is it doing everything it can to help you turn a prospect into a lead – and then turn a lead into a patient?
Here are some things you can do to make sure that your website is up to snuff:
- Have a professional-looking site that loads quickly and is easy to navigate.
- Put an opt-in form on every page of your site, so it’s easy for people to sign up for your list or schedule an appointment.
- Consider offering a free eBook or another incentive to get people to opt-in.
Think of it this way. Your website should do everything possible to reinforce the positive impression a referral has of you. If it’s not, then it’s time for an update.
8. Be Active in the Local Business Community
While your current patients are certainly a rich source of referrals, they’re not the only one. Being an integral and active part of your local business community can help you build a referral network.
If you haven’t already done so, join the Chamber of Commerce and get involved in local events. You may also want to consider offering your services to local charities. For example, offering free cleanings to people at a shelter – or to veterans – can help you raise your profile and do something good for the community at the same time.
Another option to try is to connect with other businesses and try to set up a mutual referral program. A local doctor’s office, for example, might be willing to put your brochures in their reception area. Likewise, a salon might be willing to refer clients to you for teeth whitening and other cosmetic services.
9. Send a Monthly Newsletter
Do you send out a monthly newsletter for your practice? If not, you may want to start. Email marketing is proven to be one of the most effective marketing channels from an ROI point of view.It’s a great way to provide existing patients with useful information that they can easily share with their friends and family in the areas.If you decide to try this method of generating referrals, make sure to include an explicit call-to-action at the bottom of your newsletter. You don’t want to leave referrals up to chance, so ask for them and provide a link to the landing page where you want new patients to go.
10. Host a Social Gathering at Work
Many dentists have offices in medical buildings where they share space with other medical practitioners. If you’re in a building full of dentists, this idea won’t work. However, if you share space with doctors and other healthcare providers, it’s a good way to build camaraderie and attract new referral sources.
The event you host doesn’t need to be elaborate. However, having a small receptionist where you serve drinks and appetizers is a good way to get to know your neighbors. As you chat, you can propose an arrangement where you refer patients to one another.
If you have new patient incentives such as a free cleaning or oral cancer screening, make sure to mention them. Even better, print brochures or cards that mention the service you want to promote and ask the providers you talk to if they’ll display them at the reception desk.
11. Hire a Part-Time Marketer
Our final suggestion is to consider paying someone to help you increase the number of referrals you get. Most dental practices don’t have an in-house marketing department, but you don’t need to have a full-time person to manage your referral chain.
Hiring someone to work on marketing for just eight or 10 hours a week is enough. The benefit of doing so is that it takes the legwork of generating referrals off your plate. The person you hire can write your newsletter, manage your social media strategy, and help create marketing materials to distribute to your referral sources.
If you want to grow your practice, you need to have new referral sources coming in all the time. The 11 suggestions in this article can help you get in the habit of asking for referrals, incentivize existing patients to spread the word about your practice, and create a chain of referral sources that will help you attract new patients and turn your practice into the success you want it to be.