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HomemibusinessWho’s Talking About You?

Who’s Talking About You?

Oscar Wilde once said “There is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that’s not being talked about.” This is so true for most businesses. Word of mouth referral is one of the most important sources of new patient referrals for an optometry practice at all stages of maturity, and particularly important for new practices. So how do you get it?

Generally speaking there are two types of customers: ‘active referrers’ and ‘passive referrers’.

Active referrers are those who were so impressed with their time in your practice they feel compelled to tell everyone they meet! These are actually a very small part of any customer or patient base. Think about yourself – how many businesses do you actively refer to friends?

The majority of our patients are ‘passive’ referrers. They will gladly tell others how good you are when asked, but do not ordinarily go out of their way to mention you.

Nothing makes an impression like a surprise. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive, just let your patient know you are thinking of them

Studies have shown what we would expect: that a product or a service is a key motivator for both positive and negative referrals from patients. So here’s the first tip:

1. Get Your Service Right

If you don’t handle the care process well you can hardly expect your patient to wander around the community singing your praises. Conversely, superb service will give a patient good reason to send a friend or colleague a message about you. If you’re on top of an error, it can be a positive experience for a patient because you’re showing that, “when the worse happens
we can be trusted to sort it out”.

2. Incentive Schemes Generally Don’t Work

Understanding motivation is essential. Here is a vital point to remember: Patients don’t usually refer to help you, they refer to help their friends, relatives, neighbours and colleagues.

Active referrers have found exceptional value and service, and are keen to let their network know about the opportunity. They’re not thinking, “I must remember to support Tim the Optometrist”. The same applies to passive referrers; they are trying to help their friends to avoid risk or to take advantage of something good. Buying optical products and services is a big risk for consumers. They don’t have much information to make a decision on, but they know it’s going to be expensive. The experience of others is an important measure that can reduce risk. When asked, “Where did you get your glasses?”, your patients will gladly help and tell their friends about you. They will do this provided you don’t give them a reason not to… but paying them or providing discounts won’t make them do it more!

A few years ago I knew a practice that offered patients a 10 per cent discount cumulative to 50 per cent for every referral. Over a couple of years very few, if any, patients used it.

When your practice is new, your patients are probably going to have some sort of connection with you, or will try to give you a ‘leg-up’. Nobody likes to see nice people in trouble and if patients can help you get going they will. They are more likely to actively refer new practices than established practices.

3. Give Something Unexpected

Nothing makes an impression like a surprise. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive, just let your patient know you are thinking of them. Drop a small gift into their collection bag, add a lens benefit or a small box of chocolates. Use your imagination. The extra benefit will make an impression that they are likely to tell others about.

4. Recognise and Thank Referrers

We all know positive reinforcement of a desired behaviour will cause it to be repeated. When a patient refers someone to you, drop them a note to say thanks. Take the time to hand write and sign it. A ‘form’ letter is better than nothing, but this is a personal relationship and a standard letter barely meets the standard. If Mrs. Jones has sent six friends in a few weeks, maybe a bunch of flowers is in order.

5. Network and Stay in Touch

Not all referrals need to come from patients. Related businesses, friends, formal network groups, business forums and suppliers can all be important sources of new patients. Take the time to be involved in these groups and communicate with them appropriately. Attending their meetings and including them in newsletter distributions are all good. Promote businesses that aren’t in competition with you. They might reciprocate. Naturally, your existing patients need to know you still care, so you need to be in touch appropriately.

Direct marketing is one of the most cost effective ways of generating new business and when we engage our existing patients we will not only get more referrals, but we will be more likely to prevent loss of patients to competitors.

Mark Overton Bsc MBA is the Managing Director of Ideology Consulting. Mark has extensive experience in general management, consulting and professional service roles. He has consulted to over 400 organisations across Australia including optometry practices, public hospitals, federal government medical research institutions and professional associations.