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How to ask for a referral

In recent years, dentists have tried an incredibly wide variety of methods to market their practices. Some have turned to the internet and have used technology to find new patients, while others have relied on internal marketing campaigns. All of these are perfectly viable methods, and can work excellently, but there is one area that shouldn’t be neglected.

Word of mouth has always had a great deal of power and is one of the best ways to influence people. It still very much holds sway, even in the modern age of smart phones and social media. In fact, social media is a platform often used by patients to tell their friends about their experiences. However, it can be difficult to encourage people to recommend your practice to others of their own accord. Sometimes, you have no choice but to ask.

Many dentists stray away from asking patients to recommend them to others. Some find it presumptuous, while others feel awkward at the prospect. However, it is an important aspect of dental marketing, and one that should not be neglected. There are a few things you should bear in mind what asking for a referral.

The first is to use word of mouth with other marketing strategies. It is always better to combine your efforts, and patients will be much more likely to refer others to you if they have already been swayed by your other marketing efforts.

Before and after wallets work really well for this. Photographs are taken by the dentist of any cosmetic options before and after treatment. These are then put into the branded wallets and given to the patients for them to keep and also to show to family and friends, thus encouraging referrals of cosmetic treatments into the practice.

Giving away free branded promotional items also works well because they not only delight your patients they also create brand awareness. People love receiving free items, and they often act as a conversation starter. When others ask them about the item, whatever it may be, your name will inevitably come up when the patient mentions where they got it.

When asking the actual question for the first time, one important tip is not to be too casual. Many people end up making a bit of a joke of it, usually because they are nervous. However, if you don’t seem like you genuinely want your patients to recommend you to others, they will be much less likely to do so.

You don’t have to be deadly serious, but it is worth asking your patients sincerely if they would mind telling their friends and family about you rather than brushing it off as a joke. This will stick in their mind more, and feel more important. You can also give your patient a few referral cards after treatment to formalise the referral.

Referral cards are one of the most cost-effective marketing items you can have. The cards are bigger and more substantial than a business card and are designed to encourage existing patients to bring referrals into the practice. Most dental practices will have new patients referred to them from existing patients occasionally on an ad-hoc basis. These cards are designed to formalise this arrangement and actively encourage referrals on a regular basis.

It is advisable to wait for a cue to ask the question. Don’t force it on people if you aren’t 100 per cent sure they have had a positive experience. It is much better to wait for them to thank you for your service, or compliment something about your practice. 

Another alternative, if you don’t feel comfortable asking for the referral in the surgery, is for the reception team to post a branded, hand-written thank you card after treatment. In this modern age of emails, ezines and social media it is a nice personal touch to receive a hand-written thank you card and people will remember it. They will probably put the card on the fireplace or fridge, so if you send a branded thank you card this will not only surprise your patient but also help increase brand awareness.

The more you become comfortable with asking your patients for a referral, the easier it will become. This in turn will allow you to experiment, to get a better idea of what works and what does not. Eventually, you will have a large number of patients more than willing to recommend you to others.

At our sister company Designer Dental Training we offer an in-practice training course for Dentists which covers the important area of asking for referrals. Visit our website or call us on 01642 206106 for more details.

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