How to Grow Your Practice

How to Grow Your Practice

or Why I Care Enough to Tell Others about My Amazing Doctor

Not too long ago, my family and I moved across the country. We settled in a wonderful little beach community where every day is paradise and first world problems are tempered by the scenic views and fresh salty air. That said, the flu still rolls in annually and the kids get sick and need preventative care, a mole removed here and a referral for something there. So, what’s a marketing strategist mom to do in an entirely new community?
Oddly enough, it wasn’t a rush to the internet. I create websites for professionals. I know that the content is direct and on point, albeit a bit contrived. However, I also know that what they sell is not what I am shopping for. I’ll write about that when I cover creating a website that works to grow your practice.
As a parent or a potential patient, I’m shopping for expertise, kindness, responsiveness, intuitiveness, and someone I can like as well as trust. Oh, did I mention that they have to be on my insurance plan? The Affordable Care Act should give that one a run for its money very soon!
Actually, the first place I turned to were the parents of the kids my kids attended school with. Chances were anything my kids caught would come from that source anyhow, so I might as well have them cared for by the same professionals.
“Oh sure,” I could imagine hearing our new providers say, “I saw Jimmy with this virus yesterday, aren’t they in the same class?”
So I rang a parent or four.
“Jill, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but I’m looking for a pediatrician for Olivia. Preferably someone that takes my insurance, but more importantly, I want someone who has walk-in acute care services, convenient hours outside school and one who returns phone calls promptly. Do you love your doctor?”
Approaches like those inevitably opened the floodgates to some of the most valuable Word-of-Mouth references and recommendations as well as, a finely detailed list of who-to-avoid’s I have ever culled.
As a marketer, I couldn’t help but want to template Word-of-Mouth, akin to catching lightning in a bottle. How can a medical professional initiate Word-of-Mouth when it seems so counterintuitive to manipulate something which should arise out of a natural satisfaction for their service?
Now I want to preface all of this by sharing that I believe that Word-of-Mouth is neither a panacea nor a magical alternative to a well-considered marketing plan, but it’s definitely an important part of the 1:1 relationship building that can help you grow your medical practice beyond your wildest dreams.
The terminology alone can stir up false impressions because there are really two, entirely different, meanings attached to the concept of Word-of-Mouth.
Inbound referrals that are the result of Word-of-Mouth are often pre-conditioned to already need and want to hire you. I was shopping for a pediatrician. Jill led me to one she loved. Scenarios like mine are a major appeal to the whole concept. All you have to do is show up to the consult after one of your patients like Jill sells you to me and you’ve got me in your pocket. I’m already inclined to try your services so it’s almost like you’ll have to un-sell me to make me go away.
Now, this technique of Word-of-Mouth mustn’t be confused with the need for a deliberate program to generate referrals and fill your pipeline with prospects. You don’t want to rely solely on your current client base because if you do, you will be disempowered to grow your own practice. You want to promote referrals to your existing clients so they will refer spontaneously but you also want to pursue other mechanisms of getting people to talk about you.
The reason that Word-of-Mouth advertising is increasingly important in healthcare marketing is because patients are increasingly proactive about their healthcare.
Patients have a strong voice in making health and medical choices for themselves and their families and even more to that point, 1:1 Word-of-Mouth references of a patient are being amplified in social media comments via Facebook, Twitter and others. Don’t even try to guess how many clients I get who are trying to recover their reputations from one unfortunate YELP campaign by a disgruntled client.
The question remains, how do you inspire positive Word-of-Mouth advertising in your patient roster? What can you do to ignite commentary? As wonderful as it would be if it did, it generally doesn’t happen spontaneously. People need a reason to talk about you, your staff, the service they received and/or the overall patient care experience they received in your office.

Here are a few techniques that can inspire some deeply valuable Word-of-Mouth juju:

Understand your patient’s motivation for making a referral
People will tell others about you because:
  • You did or said something that was amazing.
  • They look well informed by sharing information about you.
  • They feel compelled to share your wisdom because they trust and value what you have done for them.
  • They want to be associated with you.
  • Something you just wrote or said will be of great value to someone they care about, who needs that help right now.
Some of the impetus for Word-of-Mouth is similar in Entrepreneur’s list of WOM “trigger” activities. A few are here:
  • Word-of-Mouth is triggered when a customer experiences something far beyond what was expected. Slightly exceeding their expectations just won’t do it. You’ve got to go above and beyond the call of duty if you want your customers to talk about you.
  •  Don’t depend on your staff to trigger Word-of-Mouth by delivering “exceptional customer experience.” Deep down, customers know service comes from an individual, not from an establishment. And even the best people have bad days.
  • Physical, nonverbal statements are the most dependable in triggering Word-of-Mouth. These statements can be architectural, kinetic or generous, but they must go far beyond the boundaries of what’s ordinary.
At some point you might need to budget to deliver the experience that will trigger Word-of-Mouth. Heck, it might be by adding a play area for the children of adults who come to see you, or it might be to develop a targeted newsletter or e-book as a free giveaway. Although Word-of-Mouth is (mostly) free, some activities that inspire WOM may need a budget in time and/or dollars.
The take-away? In my case, Jill’s expectations were regularly exceeded by her doctor who is now happily our doctor. I tell others about professionals I love to use even when not asked specifically because I am ever impressed by the deepening relationships I have with them. Now mind you, if I am disappointed, I will also share that.
Positive Word-of-Mouth advertising and patient referral is inspired when expectations are surpassed. The ordinary and every day patient experience will never be anything to talk about and is quickly forgotten, so don’t count on it filling your prospective patient pipeline. When your current patient is motivated to share their experience and put their own reputation on the line in making a referral it’s never ordinary and neither are you. Go the extra mile to strategize it and reap the benefits of a healthy, growing practice.
This article was written exclusively for Medmonthly November 2013 by Lori Gertz, Chief Freakin' Genius, Freakin' Genius Marketing. The original article can be viewed here. 


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