By picking up this book, you have already taken a huge steps toward get more referrals for your business. Realizing that you need to get more referrals is the first step on the path to actually getting more of them. The problem I have found with the many practices I have worked with is that most dentists and orthodontists do not truly understand their referrals. Sure, they realize they need them and that they do get referrals sometimes, but that is where their knowledge of the issue both begins and ends. But you can do better than that.
In fact, you must do better than that if you want to grow your practice to the level of success you have been dreaming of. In case you have figured it out yet, referrals are essentially like gold in the dental field; they are highly valued and desired by everyone. You just need to know how to get them in order to tap into the wealth of business they can and will bring to your practice. Most practices I have worked with have no idea if their patients are referring them or not. And if their patients are not referring, they rarely know the reason why.
Without this information, it’s impossible to know what is or isn’t working in your practice. Referrals are a gold mine that you need to tap, and you can only do so by knowing the information and putting it into action. Through both dental and individual referrals, you are going to be opening your doors to patients who are both in need of and ready for your services. If you are not getting the patient and dental referrals you would like to get—or you don’t know if you are—it’s time to put some serious time and energy into changing this. Referrals are a proven way to grow your practice.
What are Referrals? Over the years, I’ve spoken with many people who own and run their own orthodontic or dental practices. I’ve come to realize that a common thread among all of us is that we often don’t identify what referrals really are, and we rarely ever name them. We use a variety of words to describe what really boils down to being referrals. You will commonly hear people talk about word-of-mouth recommendations or reviews, but you rarely hear them identify what they really are—referrals. These word-of-mouth recommendations are your referrals.
Perhaps you haven’t been identifying and tracking them as such until this point, but that’s what they are. These word-of-mouth referrals may come your way through a friend, an online review, your marketing piece handed off to someone else, another doctor, or even a coworker. There is no limit to the number of places the word-of-mouth recommendations can come from, but they all add up to being referrals. The more you know about where the referrals are coming from and how you are getting them, the bigger impact they can have on your growth.
In order to have an effective referral system, it is important to know who your referrers are, to have the right tools to help make it easier for them to refer you, and to track where your referrals come from. When you have this information and a system in place, you will feel confident and comfortable, and you will reap the benefits of a continuous influx of new patients. Chances are referrals have been your best source of getting new patients all along, but if you are like most doctors, you just didn’t realize it.
Your unplanned referral system has been quietly working in the background, with you getting referrals from a variety of sources, but you didn’t realize how powerful it was—or that it could and should be powerful. Now that you are going to harness the power of that referral system and take control of it, you will see clearly just how powerful it really is and what it can do for your business. Once your referral system is in place, you will no longer overlook its significance and how vital it is to your practice.
Referrals and the Return on Investment One thing that doctors have concerns about when it comes to creating a referral system is being able to track their return on investment (ROI). For the most part, it’s common knowledge that you should know if you are getting a good ROI for your efforts when it comes to advertising, marketing, and public relations. But if you are focusing all of your efforts on tracking the ROI for advertising, marketing, and public relations, you are missing a large part of the equation—your referrals.
Sure, you can keep track of how much money you spend by placing some advertising, or sending out a special marketing message through traditional mail. But where people get a little confused is how you track the ROI for a referral system. If all of your efforts have been going toward putting money into advertising, direct mail, and promotions, then you may feel comfortable because you have something you can track. You can even create a spreadsheet and see how much was spent and how many people responded, letting you know exactly what your ROI was.
It’s a little different when it comes to a referral system—but different in a great way. A referral system is going to lower your costs, so you will not have to spend as much money advertising and marketing your office. Your costs are now going to include things like having the right marketing tools on hand to give out, keeping a stash of gift cards on hand to surprise your patients with, and throwing little after-office parties and events. The numbers you are going to create are not going to be as clear-cut as they would be for placing an advertisement and tracking how many people respond to it.
But it will bring you far more quality new patients and will cost you far less in the long run. A mother once told me a story about a pediatrician who advertised everywhere in her county. She would see his office in magazines, newspapers, and even on billboards. The pediatrician was paying to have his office name plastered everywhere. New to the area, one day her son needed to see a pediatrician for a spider bite he had gotten on his leg. She hadn’t yet lined up a pediatrician, but remembered seeing his office name all over the place, so she gave them a call and got an appointment.
Unfortunately, the doctor had such poor customer service that for her it was one and done; she did not want to go back there a second time. Had this doctor provided better service he would have maintained a new patient. Had he provided service that was above and beyond, he would not only have maintained that new patient, but he would have likely gotten referrals out of it—and he would have saved money because he wouldn’t have had to spend so much in advertising his office.
That pediatrician had to continuously spend a lot of money on advertising simply because he wasn’t providing the type of patient service he should have been. It was costing him far more than he will ever know. Meanwhile, his competition down the road was a pediatrician who was so busy she had to turn new patients away. Word-of-mouth advertising—which is referrals—had sent more people her way than she could accommodate, but she was aware of her capacity and strived to maintain it and keep everyone comfortable.
Making Referrals Your First Priority You are not alone if your referral system needs some help. Most practices are busy focusing on their advertising, marketing, and public relations, and they let the chips fall where they may when it comes to referrals. They continue to get some referrals—they may chalk it up to word of mouth from this person or another—but they haven’t done anything more organized to encourage them. Up until this point your top priorities have likely rested with advertising and marketing or management and clinical care.
But you can save a lot of money and get more business by making a good referral system your top priority—and you don’t have to sacrifice clinical care to do it. In our profession we’ve been led to believe that high volume correlates with poor quality. But there’s not a single study in the literature that supports that premise. In fact there are hundreds of medical outcomes articles that show exactly the opposite. You can welcome more new patients into your practice, and the most efficient way to do that is to increase the number of referrals to your office.
If something is happening by accident in your practice—like referrals who show up without any system in place—you can make the same thing happen on purpose with the right strategy. When it comes down to it, we always have to remember that the customer is in control—or the patient in our case. When we provide service to them that goes above and beyond and surprises them with its quality, we stand out in their mind. When we are anything but boring, they want to talk about us and share their experience with others. Patients are the driving force and are in control.
But there are things we can do to help steer that energy, work to leverage the power of it, and ensure that our message is consistent. When we do that, our practices will flourish. Having an effective referral system in place is crucial to the growth and success of your practice. With that in mind, I’ve uncovered what I think are the top five reasons that patients and dentists don’t refer. These five reasons are ones I have discovered through my own experience, by asking others about their experience with referrals, and through helping numerous others in their practice.
I’ve seen the process firsthand, I’ve inquired about it, and I’ve taken it under serious consideration. Throughout the first section of this book, I will be sharing these top five reasons with you. Hopefully reading about these reasons will help you identify why you may not be getting the dentist referrals you would like to have, and need to have, in order to take your practice to the next level. With each chapter you read you will come one step closer to making it happen. Once that effective referral system is in place, you will wonder how you ever managed without it.