Secrets of Harnessing the Mighty Power of Word-of-Mouth Marketing for Your Practice
Wait! I’m right here in front of you …
This has happened to me more than once. I’ll be telling somebody all about a great new restaurant. While I’m still singing its praises, the person will pull out a smartphone and start thumbing through reviews of the place.
I can’t help thinking, Wait, I’m right here in front of you and you’re looking at what total strangers have to say online? Don’t you trust me? Do you really need to verify?
But I get what is going on. The other person is just tapping into channels of opinion and information that are now part of decision-making, to the point that people do it reflexively. In fact, checking the phone can be seen as a sign of trust. Because of my recommendation, there’s interest and a desire for more information, maybe a decision to try the restaurant. Minus me and my good words, nada…
Pay attention, because we are really talking about you and your practice.
I, speaking praise, play the same key role as a happy patient who likes you and your dentistry so much, there’s a desire to send others your way.
The person with interest piqued is a prospective patient you want in your practice.
Seeking others’ opinions and information from reviews, to back up what’s said, is just what people do. Why? Because it’s easy and instructive and even kind of fun…
This flow of positive influence, beginning with good words spoken by a happy patient and augmented by online opinion, is the most powerful and effective way to pull in new patients. To fully harness the mighty power of Worth of Mouth, you’ve got to make it happen. This means persuading patients to
A Spread the word by making personal referrals
B Post positive online reviews.
This is your how-to on Word of Mouth. You’ll gain new verbal skills and techniques to get good words flowing from patients, and learn how to create and implement a practice-wide system to ask for referrals and reviews at the most opportune moments. Learn to ask the right ways and at the right time—when patients want to share their enthusiasm—and they’ll be glad you and your team helped them do it.
So will you.
Our system engages all team members, any of whom can and should ask for referrals and reviews as the occasion arises, and as they create the opportunity. We’ll show how to create memorable, talk-worthy impressions of your excellent care and your team’s unique personality and practice culture. It all has to be honest and for-real, especially the clinical excellence and care, but you must engage patients in tales they will want to tell.
Science on Our Side
Our understanding of the human side of dentistry, like dentistry itself, stands firmly on research and measurable results. We at the Total Patient Service (ToPS) Institute and Crown Council helped commission a national study of dental patients’ attitudes. From complex statistical results we pulled out and presented major points for our clientele in a report and action plan entitled What Patients Really Want
Remember: The most powerful form of marketing in dentistry remains Word of Mouth!
Fully 81 percent of those surveyed said they would prefer to get advice for picking a dentist from known and trusted individuals like friends and family. Nothing else comes close.
Note the word “remains” in our summary sentence. It means that the basic truth about Word of Mouth has always applied. What has changed, though, is the sheer number of mouths and words. Until quite recently, singing your dentist’s praises was a solo performance.
Nowadays a lone voice seems thin and unconvincing without a chorus of online reviews. Absent personal referrals, people turn to online reviews as a primary, trusted source. We know, too, that no matter what kind of marketing you do or how people hear about you, they’ll go online and check you out to make sure opinions are in sync.
They won’t lack for material, either. We know that dentistry is one of the most highly reviewed businesses online, close to restaurants, which are number one.
Science removes any doubt. Word of Mouth rules. There’s more of it, and it is more powerful than ever.
Why does it rule? Well, there are laws beyond logic and linear cause-and-effect that govern how we humans think and behave. I have codified some of these Natural Laws of Human Nature, and they’re every bit as practical and effective in communication and organizational culture as Newtonian Physics is in mechanical engineering.
The operative principle here is the Law of Overhear Psychology. People believe more of what they overhear from others than what they hear directly from you. Our instinct is to credit information picked up indirectly. Among other things, this accounts for the strange power of gossip, eavesdropping, rumor mills, etc.
Though it seems spontaneous, effective Word of Mouth takes thought, planning, and effort. Brainstorm with your team about what, exactly, sets your dentistry and patient experience apart. Ask yourselves what you could do for your patients that would compel them to tell others about you. The best Word of Mouth is specific, unique to you and your people, and carries the desired message.
Consider patient arrival. Too often this involves a perfunctory “Can I help you?” by a preoccupied team member who points to the sign-in sheet and says to have a seat. Your team member’s doing her job, sure, but in a minimal way that says this is an impersonal transaction, as if patients are boxes to be checked, literally nameless if they have to stop and explain who they are.
What if, by contrast, the business assistant anticipates each patient’s arrival and stands up to greet him or her by name, with a few words of welcome? A little anticipatory effort to go over the schedule in advance can make it happen. Even in a busy practice, there are ways to recognize individuals.
Opportunities to apply the personal touch abound and often involve minimal effort.
Though just about anything can be fair game, many of your most compelling, Word of Mouth-worthy benefits are basic to the experience of being your patient—the Quality of Quality of Care, you might say. You can amaze with brilliant basics.
Punctuality — This one’s on top because it’s so obvious. Way too many great dentists habitually run late. Manage your schedule and work flow to build in a great on-time performance record.
Kindness — A little goes a long, long way. People are stressed every which way—in pain, terrified dental work will hurt, worried about costs, crunched for time. Give comfort and support to those who need it.
Courtesy — Always make the effort to put patients at ease and let them know you’re glad they’re with you.
Going the Extra Mile — In almost every situation, there’s a way to exceed expectations that takes very little time and resources but can make a lasting impression. Going the extra mile makes an impression that is talk-worthy.
Doesn’t Hurt If You’re a Rock Star
Banking is a profession generally considered even more vanilla and un-thrilling than dentistry. My banker breaks the mold with a successful side career in his own rock band. On weekends he plays gigs and concerts around the area. The rocker vibe adds a little sizzle to our dealings. It also makes for interesting conversation.
You, too, may have something outside your work that sets you apart that patients might get a kick out of. A picture in the office of you rock climbing, starring in summer theater, or doing volunteer dentistry juices up what there is to say about you. But wear your enthusiasms and your wins lightly. The patient is the bigger deal, not you, so keep the focus where it belongs.
As ever, to achieve consistent, repeatable results you must implement a consistent, repeatable system. This begins with building verbal skills to ask for referrals and favorable reviews.
When you identify patients, be mindful of The Law of Attraction. Like likes like. Ask those whose kind you want to see more of. On the other side of the coin, you’ve got your perpetual pains in the neck. If you don’t like them as patients, don’t ask!
Seize the Moment: ASK
Like your Word of Mouth-worthy moments, your requests for referrals and reviews will be both planned and spontaneous. They’re initiated by anybody on the team who has good rapport with a given patient and the opportunity to communicate.
Planned or unplanned, there’s an optimum moment that you must be ready to seize. Great asks often begin when patients give compliments, say “Thanks!”, or show appreciation in any form.
Let’s say a patient comments during his visit, “You guys are always on time. I don’t think I’ve ever waited more than five minutes…” The team member or dentist comes back with something like, “Thank you Mike. We love to hear that. We work to respect our patients’ time. Would you mind sharing what you just shared with me in the form of an online review so other people will know this type of service is available?”
Inviting the patient to simply share online what they have shared with you in person, is an easy way to spread their positive perception to others. Most patients are more than happy to spread the word.
All you have to do is ASK!
Create the Moment: Asking for Reviews
You can create the opportunity for patients to leave an online review even when they don’t spontaneously offer a compliment. Initiate the conversation with loyal, satisfied, existing patients where a compliment will naturally come up.
During the existing patient visit, anyone on the team might ask during the course of conversation:
“What has been the best thing about your experience in our office?”
“We know that there are people who could benefit from what we do, like you have, if they only heard about great experiences like yours.”
“Could I ask you a favor? Would you be willing to share your experience in the form of an online review?”
“I am happy to help make it very easy. If you have your cell phone with you, we can do it right now.”
Effective reviews are generally to-the-point, focused on a particular thing or two that the reviewer is crazy about. The Basics—Timeliness, Courtesy, Kindness, Going the Extra Mile—are relatable and easy to convey.
Our Killer App is Number Four, making it all Easy. Patients don’t have to do much of anything because you’ll walk them through the process right then and there. If the patient’s not accustomed to leaving an online review, a little personal help will go a long way.
Quick reminder: Make sure to leave a note in their chart that you asked and that they left a review. Make sure to mention and thank them for it during their next visit, as well.
The extra effort to get good reviews is more than justified. Without them, your Word of Mouth and all the marketing you invest in are one-dimensional and incomplete.
Asking for Referrals
Many patients who go to a practice they perceive as being very successful are surprised to learn that the practice is open to new patients.
Since a direct, personal recommendation remains the most powerful form of marketing in dentistry, giving patients the opportunity to refer others only makes sense.
Identify at least two patients each day in your Morning Opportunity Meeting who will be coming in today who would be the best candidates to ask for a referral. The criteria could be:
■■ Existing patients who are consistent repeat patients.
■■ The type of patients you would like more of.
■■ They have had some type of work done in your office that is representative of the excellent clinical care and patient service you offer.
■■ They are an influencer to some degree in that there are others who would respond to their recommendation.
Once the prospective patients have been identified, decide who on the team would be the best to have the referral conversation with the patient.
It should be the team member who has the best relationship with the patient, to whom the patient will respond the most favorably.
The conversation with the patients follows four basic steps
Show appreciation. “We really appreciate your being our patient because…” You might mention the fact that they always keep their appointment times, show up on time, or are always so pleasant.
Express intent. “Selfishly we would love to have more patients just like you.” Let them know again how much you appreciate them by letting them know that you wish all your patients were just like them.
ASK! “Who do you know who could benefit from the same experience you have had in our office?” Make sure to ask “who” not “do you know anyone who…”
Make it easy. “What can we do to help you introduce what we do to him/her?” Open the conversation about next steps with this open-ended question.
When the patient says he or she does have somebody in mind, have a conversation about that person. What is the situation? What might the dental needs be? Get a name and bit of information if it flows and say something like, “Great, he/she sounds like our kind of person!” and then remember to discuss next steps of how that person will be introduced to your practice. Whatever the recommended approach, follow through on it.
Note that the suggested verbal skills above are merely examples for effective conversation, not scripts. The right words are your own words tailored to the situation.
Follow-up and Thanks
Gratitude, and the ways you choose to express it, can convey much more than “Thanks!” The expression of gratitude can come at the moment the patient leaves the online review or gives a referral. It can come after the fact with a handwritten note mailed to the patient. It can also come in the form of a written response to the review online if the review platform allows it.
For patients who leave positive reviews and refer others, a thank you in person the next time they come in makes a big impression.
Incentives vs. Recognition
The question comes up frequently whether some type of incentive should be offered to patients for referring or leaving online reviews; for example, other businesses offer cash or the equivalent to those who bring new customers. For starters, check with your state dental act. Many states prohibit inducements and/or anything that could be construed as fee splitting. Additionally, many online review platforms prohibit any type of financial compensation for online reviews. Know the rules!
An incentive can cheapen things. Consider the difference between an incentive and simple recognition. You can’t put a value on the relationships and reputation that patients share with you. Instead, recognize their generosity on your behalf with appreciation and gratitude. A handwritten note or a personal, verbal “Thank you” go a long way.
It’s the thought and emotion that drives Word of Mouth.
The Last Word on Word of Mouth
Word-of-Mouth Rules. Personal referrals from happy patients, backed up by good online reviews, are by far the most powerful way to market your practice to prospective patients.
Get Word of Mouth working by being extraordinarily good in ways that are Word of Mouth-worthy. Personal attention to patients is key.
Trained verbal skills empower the whole team to leverage positive moments with patients into referrals and reviews.
Daily discussion and review in your Morning Opportunity Meeting develops the daily discipline to ask for reviews and referrals every day.
Asking for reviews and referrals is just one of the many Total Patient Service systems your team can master in order to have a highly productive and effective practice. Top practices utilize the proven systems taught through Total Patient Service Institute seminars and in-office training to take their practices to the highest levels of productivity. Those same practices maintain that Culture of Success through the resources available through the Crown Council www.CrownCouncil.org.
For a free practice analysis to identify specific areas of opportunity in your practice, contact the Total Patient Service Institute at 1-877-399-8677 or Answers@TotalPatientService.com
Now, just ASK!
This article is condensed from the FREE ToPS e-book, Referrals and Online Reviews Secrets of Harnessing the Mighty Power of Word-of-Mouth Marketing for Your Practice, by Steven J. Anderson. Download the free e-book. Supercharge your morning meetings with FREE daily Action Thoughts!