Referral marketing can be one of the most effective ways for a business to increase sales and profitability. However, it is also one of the least recognized strategies by small businesses, and physiotherapy, chiropractor and massage clinics are no exception to this rule. In this post, we shall enumerate some of the key advantages of patient acquisition through referrals. The following section will then suggest 3 ways in which healthcare clinics can increase patient referrals and tap into this extremely productive source of new revenues.
Small businesses typically are not in a position to invest resources in a dedicated salesforce. However, just as with any other business, growth is essential to their survival. A strategy to increase patient referrals is a way to turn your existing customers into your sales force. If you can manage to do this, they will likely turn out to be a source of higher quality new business than you would generate from an actual dedicated salesforce. A recent report from the marketing research firm Nielsen Corporation indicates that potential customers regard word of mouth recommendations from friends and family as the most trustworthy, and hence the most influential, pieces of information about a business they are contemplating starting a relationship with.
Advantages Of Patient Referrals
We will first briefly explain why attracting new patients through a referral marketing strategy is much more productive than other strategies that generate leads from scratch. Hopefully, this will convince you that you need to develop a strategy to increase patient referrals as an integral part of your business. If you do decide to take that step, the following section will help you to identify strategies for increasing patient referrals.
Patient Referrals Generate More Loyal & Longer Lasting Customers
Because a patient referral comes from a trusted source, referred patients are likely to act on the referral and contact your clinic for an initial consultation. Once they have become a patient, they are likely to stay with your clinic for longer than other types of leads. Higher patient repeat visits will make them more profitable customers.
Moreover, not only is the referred patient likely to be more loyal to your clinic than new patients from other sources, but the patient that does the referring is also likely to be more loyal as a result of the referral itself. They now have an incentive to vindicate their initial referral by patronizing your clinic more in the future and possibly also by referring more patients. Thus, increasing patient referrals can lead to exponential growth in both your flow of new patients but also in your “salesforce”. A win-win situation.
They Can Be An Integral Part Of Your Relationship Marketing To Existing Patients
Part of your marketing strategy should be a plan to increase engagement with your existing customers (i.e. relationship marketing). You can combine your strategy to increase patient referrals with your relationship marketing efforts so that each helps reinforce the other.
For example, your relationship marketing to existing patients may include regular outreach to them via an email list, social media or even your customer service personnel. You can easily add support for your patient referral strategy to these communication channels. Not only can you use such channels to directly ask for patient referrals, but you can also communicate rewards or commendations to existing patients for their referral efforts. This will serve the dual purpose of increasing their engagement with your clinic and encouraging them to redouble their referral efforts.
Referral Marketing Is Cost Effective
Another reason to increase your patient referrals is that it’s a cost effective marketing strategy. Marketing to your existing patients is much more efficient than trying to target potential patients with whom you have no existing relationship. This is so because:
- An existing patient is much more likely to open an email from you than is a potential patient who may not even have heard about your clinic;
- You can “piggy back” your referral marketing program on top of your other marketing efforts to your existing patients. For example, you can incorporate patient referrals as one of the activities that generate points under your loyalty rewards program. There is no need to create an additional marketing infrastructure to support your effort to increase patient referrals.
- Increasing patient referrals is a “pay for performance” rather than a “pay per click” strategy. You can structure your plan so that its cost is tied directly to the revenues from a new referral. In this way, you are paying only for referrals that actually lead to additional revenues. For example, the referral fee you pay to the referring patient can be a straight percentage of the amounts spent by the patient he or she has referred.
Suggestions For Increasing Patient Referrals
Hopefully, the above has convinced you that the scope for increasing patient referrals represents an important untapped source of growth for your clinic. If so, we hope you will find the following suggestions useful:
Ask For Referrals
Although many referrals can happen naturally if your patients are happy with your level of service, it never hurts to ask for one. You can have your staff ask patients for referrals at the end of each visit, possibly as they are making payment arrangements at the end of each visit. This is a good time to ask, as customers usually are happiest at that time and are most likely to come up with a referral if asked. Alternatively, you can ask for a referral by email together with a copy of the customers’ paid receipt.
If you make this request a part of the checking out or invoicing process, you may be surprised at the increase in patient referrals you will get, just by asking for one.
Show Appreciation To Patients Who Make A Referral
If you can identify the source of a referral, a gesture of appreciation can go a long way towards making them feel valued and encouraging more referrals in the future. Of course, if the referral came as a direct request to an existing customer, identifying the source is simple. However, it can also be productive to ask each new customer (during the check in process) if they heard about your clinic through a referral and, if yes, who the referral came from. Once you know the source, even a thank you note will go a long way to encouraging additional future patient referrals. Even better, you can send the source a voucher for $25 or some similar amount that they can apply against the invoice for their next visit.
Increase Your Patient Referrals Through Top Notch Customer Service
High quality customer support is a must for any business that wants to retain its customer and be competitive in today’s economy. However, when allied with a personal touch, top notch customer service can be effective not only in encouraging patient retention and more repeat visits but also in generating increased patient referrals.
How To Improve Patient Service
These are the elements that will help you provide first class customer service and generate more patient referrals:
- Be responsive to your patients by answering their requests on a timely basis. Set standards for the time frame within which customers phone and email questions are answered, and make sure your customer service personnel are aware of these standards and have the tools necessary to meet them. If necessary, be ready to provide additional training to help your customer support personnel when necessary.;
- Sincerity is also an important component of good service. This is about the tone you use in responding to your customers. Be supportive, respectful and understanding and these will all contribute to a positive customer experience and more patient referrals;
- Try to add a personal touch when possible. Try to get to know your patients as people and show understanding and support for them on a personal level when possible. For example, if a patient mentions a relative who is seriously ill or has died, sending them a bouquet of flowers or even a note of sympathy will go a long way to making them perceive your business as one that is caring and supportive of them as people and not just customers. At the end of the day, people refer people and not businesses, and this is how you want to be seen by your patients.
In this post, we have explained the importance of increased patient referrals as a way to grow your clinic. We have also provided some suggestions as to how you can build this important component of marketing strategy into your clinic’s operations. We will be adding to this post in the future, and welcome your feedback and suggestions in reponse to it.