David Samuel – Developing an Effective Referral Strategy
When I speak to practice owners about their new patient growth plans, many will site referral word of mouth as their most important source of new patients. When quizzed, most however do not have a strategy for amplifying this, instead leaving its success largely to chance.
The general default position and thinking is that happy and loyal patients will refer all their friends, family, and colleagues to you. It is interesting to challenge this assumption and consider how true this really is. How many of your patients refer to you and how can you amplify this effect on your business.
Also, it is worth considering where else referrals can come from and what other sources of referral might add even more value to the practice.
To develop an effective plan for each referral source, you need first to understand what will trigger someone to remember you when it really matters. Your referral strategy needs to be developed to work in your practice and like any effective strategy, is best developed by you and your team, so there is buy in from everyone in the practice.
Whilst there is quite a bit of work to get the strategy developed, once embedded, the benefits can be felt for many years. Here are some of my thoughts for developing your referral and recommendation strategy: –
Patient referrals are an incredibly effective and cost-effective method of promoting your business. Without doing anything, you would hope that you will find patients referring you to their friends and colleagues when they have experienced a level of service which exceeds their expectations. Whatever that level naturally is, can be amplified to even greater heights by considering just a few ideas: –
- A small incentive may be the difference between someone referring and not. You may feel that there is a fine line between incentivising and bribery. Hence what incentive you decide to offer, will need to fit your thinking. Examples of incentives that work are a voucher, donation to local charity or loyalty points.
- In this technology-driven age, you can decide to set up a web-based referral system, whereby patients interested in the referral program have a unique link which they share with the person they are referring. This enable you to see who is referring so that you can recognise them.
- In terms of the benefit, it is essential that your system is sustainable, affordable and is still worth the cost if the uptake is higher than expected.
New v Existing Patients?
One thing to bear in mind is that often patients who have been coming to you for years are so used to your service that is no longer a “wow” experience. Also, they may have already referred you to everyone they know who they would be happy to refer.
On the other hand, a new patient, who has been totally blown away you your service may be delighted to refer and bring a fresh community to your practice. New patients are often overlooked when practices are developing their referral strategy – so it’s perhaps sensible to note this when developing your strategy.
Who knows your practice better than your employees? You team know all your practice’s benefits and they can use their unique knowledge and loyalty to help recruit new patients.
Your strategy for encouraging staff to refer people from their network to you may be different from your patients. Rather than having a straight cash prize, you can have more “fun” with this, perhaps with an entry into a prize draw each quarter for each referral, with a prize draw. Prizes could range from diner at a local restaurant, cinema tickets or some other local gift. You also, for example, ask the team to choose a particular local charity annually and make one of the prizes a donation to that charity.
Employees feel good when they can offer a “friends and family” discount to patients they recruit. If it’s feasible, offering an initial first visit discount for referred patients or an added value benefit to boost employee referrals.
In your career and daily work, you will have built a network of professional relationships. You probably take these relationships for granted so it’s a good idea to brainstorm with your team all the people you know as you may be surprised how far and wide your network spreads. From local coffee shops and traders, to landlords, doctors and other healthcare professionals, schools and colleges… the list goes on.
Once you have your list, look at how you might be able to find ways to help them. Here are a few tried and tested examples: –
Local florist – Build a relationship with your local florist. Have your fresh flowers on display together with their business card to give to patients who comment on them. In return ask the florist if they would recommend you to their regular customers.
Local schools – offer to give a talk to the staff about spotting when a pupil may be having problems with their vision. Run a lesson on eyes and vision in conjunction with the school or offer to have a stand at a parents evening where parents can talk to you and ask you questions about children’s eyecare.
Local healthcare providers – Build a list of local healthcare providers to whom you would be confident in referring your patients. Get to know them so that when they have someone who needs your services, they will refer to you and vice versa.
Test and measure
As with any marketing activity, understanding how your referral strategy is working is essential if you are to make changes to keep the system working for you. This means having a method of measuring the results against your targets and goals.
When implemented properly, a referral strategy can be an invaluable asset in establishing a steady rate of growth for your practice.
To find out more about how SightCare can help you take the step towards finding the right business coach to help you take your business forward please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01256 781522.
First published in Optician June 2021