It’s almost cliché to say it, but “referrals make the best new patients.” We’ve all heard it and more or less know it to be true. Referred patients are more apt to keep their appointments and accept comprehensive treatment plans. Even better, referrals cost little to nothing to obtain.
We recommend a “multi-pronged” marketing approach with clients (i.e. both internal and external) And while we find that most new clients are somewhat familiar with external marketing (with attempts prior to MGE not turning out so great) very few are familiar with any workable internal marketing strategies (other than “good customer service.”)
At MGE, one of the internal marketing programs we teach is the “Care-Enough-to-Share” program. (Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a free copy of this program.) It’s a program that involves your patient base and your staff. Depending on the size of the practice, this program typically costs only a few hundred dollars over a period of a few months!
Result-wise, I’ve found some practices have more success with this program than others. Examining each situation – I’ve found a couple of basic points that can mean the difference between success and failure.
Now, assuming you deliver top-notch clinical treatment, have pleasant customer service, and maintain a nice, clean office, the biggest reason I’ve found for a poor result is lack of communication about the program and how it works. If no one is clued in (staff or patients), nothing is going to happen!
A patient just finished his or her treatment and is checking out. They walk up front where the staff member who does their walkout statement simply puts a referral card along with a few other items (toothbrush, floss, whatever) in a little plastic bag. No communication is exchanged between the staff member and patient about referrals and what the card means. So the patient doesn’t really know what to do with these Care-to-Share cards and eventually forgets about them.
The staff member does not know what to say and/or feels embarrassed and nervous about asking for referrals and explaining the purpose of the referral card. The outcome is – nothing, no referrals.
How could you handle this so that this (or any referral program you’re using) produces more new patients? I recommend three steps:
Hold a meeting with all of your staff, and introduce the referral program as a part of your internal marketing campaign. Go over all the details of how it works and answer any questions from the staff about it. (How to do this is included in the Care Enough to Share Program Write-Up you can get for free as stated above).
Get your staff to partner up and practice what to say to the patients when handing them referral cards. A conversation from the staff member to patient could go something like this:
“You know, you have been a great patient, and we value having you here. You probably have friends and family who need dental care and could use our help.”
Emphasize that you want to help the patient’s loved ones and the people that they know. Go at it from a viewpoint of caring and wanting to help, rather than just asking for new business. You could even pause to wait for the patient to think of someone to refer. Then you could say:
“That’s a great idea. Let’s work together to bring your husband in for an exam, Here’s a card that he can use to save some money off of the first appointment.
Have your staff practice this with each other until they feel completely comfortable doing it because interaction is key.
Once you are confident that your staff has gotten the hang of it, I would work out a reward system for staff when they get referrals in. Each staff member should have their initials or a small color tab on their referral cards, so when a patient comes back with the card, you would know which staff member got that referral in. And keep in mind – your staff doesn’t have to just hand them out in the office. They should keep some on hand to hand out to people they meet. Make it a game and announce the winners during staff meetings. Make it fun for them. And I think you’ll see what a difference this will make with overall new patients.
Attracting new patients is essential to the expansion of your practice. What we covered here is just a taste of what we cover at the MGE New Patient Workshop. You will also learn how to do market research, followed by external marketing (mail, internet, etc.) that is cost-effective, handle the phones to make sure prospective new patients schedule and show up, and do cost-effective external marketing. Basically, everything you need to know to turn your practice into a New Patient Machine!
Dania Williams provides this general dental practice management advice to furnish you with suggestions of actions that have been shown to have potential to help you improve your practice. Neither MGE nor Ms. Williams may be held liable for adverse actions resulting from your implementation of these suggestions, which are provided only as examples of topics covered by the MGE program.