That is why it is so important to be aware of the channels of communication—both formal and informal—in which external audiences, particularly existing and potential patients, are learning about your business. Formal channels are those you directly control the messaging for, such as your website, advertisements, newsletters, brochures, and company social media accounts. Informal channels are those you do not have direct control over, including news stories, industry blogs, testimonials and word-of-mouth. There must be a consistent message running through both to gain the trust and business of patients.
For small practices, especially for those first starting out, resources are limited. Although time and money should be dedicated to maximizing formal communication opportunities to spread your message, the greatest return on investment will be realized when the same story is being told through informal channels. But how does this happen?
The power of word-of-mouth has never been greater than it is at present. One bad tweet, unfavorable (or even inaccurate) review, poor rating, or nasty Facebook rant can invite a deluge of similar conversations to begin on social media and other platforms, bringing the brand promise of a practice to its knees.
On the contrary, owners can look to harness the power of word-of-mouth by focusing on referrals. After all, consumers only refer businesses they like. In fact, 92% of consumers report that a word-of-mouth recommendation is the top reason they purchase a product or service. It may sound elementary, but good customer service is the key to strengthening your best-kept secret marketing tool: your happy patient base. Go above and beyond to deliver on your brand promise, and your satisfied patient champions will have you top of mind when they are in a situation to recommend your practice to someone else.
Rewarding engaged patients is another way to encourage word-of-mouth referrals. Research shows that referrals increase 2.5 times when a rewarding “thank you” is provided to the referring customer. Many practices accomplish this through loyalty programs. This can look however you want it to, but the bottom line is that it should provide a real benefit to the patient for referring your business to others. It has been shown that consumers are twice as likely to be repeat customers if businesses help them enroll in loyalty programs. In addition to the program being beneficial to the patient, it should also be easy. A hefty enrollment process with multiple steps and tons of questions just isn’t feasible for today’s busy consumers. Additionally, providing your patients with tools to help them refer the business is also going to boost engagement. It’s all about making it easy on them.
Delivering on the brand promise, instituting a loyalty program, and creating an enrollment process that takes the work off the patient are three ways to maximize the positive power of word-of-mouth marketing. To bring the process full circle, focus on messaging that encourages patients to share their experience with others. Start conversations on social media, through patient email communication and other digital avenues. Make sure you are constantly educating external audiences about your practice and how they benefit from referring your business and participating in your loyalty program.
Consumers trust recommendations from those they consider friends seven times more than they do from advertising. That’s not to say controlled messaging through your advertising, website, or marketing collateral isn’t important and necessary, because it absolutely is. To build upon that, though, you must focus energy into driving conversation through informal channels, as well. You will most successfully build your patient base when those informal conversations mirror the messages delivered through controlled channels of communication—bringing your brand promise full-circle by harnessing the power of word-of-mouth referrals.