The best way to grow your practice is to increase the number of new patients you see each month, but how to attract new patients requires a strategy. One strategy is dental referrals from your existing patients. Making a dental referral program a part of your marketing plan influences your current patients to influence their friends and family to receive dental care from your office. But how best do you make that happen? Let’s take a look at a few ideas to boost dental referrals and, in turn, increase your patient list.
What Is a Dental Referral Program for Patients?
A dental referral program is when you offer a current dental patient an incentive reward for referring a patient to your dental practice. Basically, you encourage existing patients to give their friends and family dental referrals to your office. This is word of mouth marketing and is an important mechanism in increasing the number of new patients you see each month. It’s a powerful tool to have in your marketing arsenal.
According to a study by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, 63% of patients find out about a dental practice through word of mouth. Such a large percentage cannot be ignored. Dental referrals attract new patients to dental offices more than any other marketing strategy, including internet searches, direct mail, paid advertising, or signage.
There are several things to take into consideration though while designing and implementing a strong dental referral marketing strategy.
Things to consider
- Patient Experience
- Social Media Strategy
- Your Dental Website
- Dental Referral Guidelines
The foundation of your dental referral program is for existing patients to refer your dental practice to new patients. If your patient experience is lacking, then your dental referrals will as well. Low patient referrals usually equals poor patient experience.
Of course, you want your dental referrals to center around the excellent care received from your practice, but when an existing patient feels that visiting your practice is difficult or inconvenient, they will be less likely to refer others. They may even quit coming themselves. High patient attrition means that you will need even more new patients each month. So, improving patient experience is the foundational step in creating a successful referral program.
To improve your patient experience, examine it from end to end, analyzing its effectiveness. Then, take the needed steps to keep what works and change what doesn’t.
Ideas to improve patient experience
Make it easy
- Offer online scheduling
- Send appointment reminders and confirmations
- Remove communication barriers
- Vary your hours to accommodate different work and school schedules
- Make it simple to know how to get to you and park near you
- Design a mobile-friendly, easily navigable website
Make it pleasant
- Update your waiting room décor, including lighting, to create an inviting atmosphere
- Train your front desk staff to welcome the patient as they approach
- Allow patients to play their own music choices
Make it considerate
- Develop quicker intake procedures
- Design wait-times to feel shorter
- Provide free wi-fi
Make it informative
- Communicate clearly and effectively without confusing jargon
- Encourage your patients to ask questions
- Create informative web content with a patient perspective
- Ask for patient feedback with quick surveys
Social Media Strategy
We have looked at examining and improving your patient experience. Now you need to let future patients know about it. Coupling a referral program with a strong social media campaign empowers dental referrals into a new patient generating engine.
When it comes to social media, friends and family share more than photos. They share stories and experiences. They share not only the bad stuff but the good stuff too. And this good stuff influences the people they share it with. 81% of respondents in a study conducted by Forbes magazine said that their buying decisions were directly impacted by social media recommendations from family and friends. That’s a lot of sharing, a lot of influencing, and a lot of referrals.
The goal is to stay connected with patients and continue to build trust and community during the times they are not in your office. Social media helps you do this. Then, patients make recommendations even if they are not in your office, which is most of the time. Promoting your referral program through social media channels encourages this behavior even further.
Social Media Marketing Ideas for Dentists
Choose your platform
- Platforms change over time. Currently, the hottest platforms are Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Nextdoor, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn.
- Research the demographics and audience for each platform.
- Choose two or three that fit your patients or those you want to reach. Meet them where they are at.
Choose your content
- Produce content that fits the platform and the audience.
- Maintain a regular presence. Content loses relevance quickly. Keep up on it. Stay engaged, and your audience will too.
- Use a conversational tone. No one wants to be preached to.
- Share experiences and expertise. Make it useful and informative.
- Make it personal, not a sales pitch. Show who you are and what makes your practice stand out, but if you’re only making a pitch, no one will listen.
- Provide value. Give solutions to problems based on your dental expertise and experience.
Choose your medium for posts
- Photo ideas: your business, patients using products, your staff,
- Video ideas: tour your business, FAQ’s, patient testimonials, information sessions, answers to questions, staff highlights, montages
- Share posts: recent blogs published on the website, answers to patient questions, quote of the day, patient reviews, unusual facts about dentistry or teeth
Your Dental Website
You want your website to be among the dental websites that surface when a potential patient types in search criteria in a search engine. The best way to do this is through search engine optimization (SEO).
Dental website SEO needs to underlie the design of your website. This is not a one-and-done proposition. Your website SEO needs to be kept up to date to remain relevant. How Internet searches are conducted evolve over time. The trend is that searches are becoming more complicated. For example, potential patients may not only be typing “dentists” or “dentists near me” in their searches but perhaps “highly recommended dentists near me” instead. Keeping on top of keywords and phrases keeps your site on top of the search list.
Using your website to turn dental referrals into leads is another important website consideration. A patient referral does not have any value if it doesn’t turn into a patient visit. Turning a patient referral into a lead helps move them from a potential patient to an actual patient.
A referral becomes a lead when you capture the information that makes it possible for you to nurture the relationship. This includes name, email, and other relevant information needed to continue to build on the connection made through the referral. Develop your website to be an easy, convenient and efficient place to capture that information.
Ideas to capture the lead
- Newsletter sign up
- Contact forms (pop-up, sidebar, homepage)
- More information via a blog post
- Simplify landing pages for a clear call to action
- Contests through social media posts that include information sharing
Once you have captured the lead, you need to use it to build the relationship through lead management. Contact information is useless if you don’t use it. Investing in lead management software and creating a lead management plan is essential.
Dental Referral Guidelines
Ask and you shall receive
Ask your patients for referrals. It may feel uncomfortable, but sometimes patients have not given a referral because they haven’t been asked.
Develop a tracking system and put someone in charge of it
Without a tracking system, it is difficult to know if your referral program is working. The best way to track consistently is to have someone responsible for it.
Thank your referral source
A reward is one thing, but overall, patients make dental referrals because they feel compelled by a positive experience with your practice to tell someone else about it. Acknowledging that action extends the positive experience and continues to build the relationship.
New Patients Equal Successful Growth
Influencing your existing patients to make dental referrals is a growth strategy for your dental practice. You can successfully boost your patient list by improving your patient experience, utilizing social media marketing, optimizing your website, and utilizing basic dental referral guidelines.