Word of mouth should always be your biggest source of new patients. However, if you’re interested in growing your practice, it shouldn’t be your only source. After all, once your loyal patients refer their friends and family members to you, they’re not going to be able to provide you with additional new patients. You need to start “growing” some new referrals, which means attracting some brand new patients.
These patients can arrive through any type of advertising — direct mail, referral services, the Yellow Pages — but they’re remarkably valuable because everybody that they know doesn’t know you yet. If you can get them in, give them great service and start building a relationship with them, eventually they’re going to refer people to your practice, and these people will come from an entirely new pool.
I call these valuable patients media-generated referrals, and there are some important things you always want to keep in mind when one of them calls you for an appointment.
Get them in right away. You want these patients in your chair as soon as you can fit them into your schedule. You should never schedule an appointment for them more than 48 hours after they call. These patients are often avoiders and will be doing everything they can to talk themselves out of coming in. The longer they have to wait for their appointment, the greater the chance they’ll slip back into procrastination. You don’t even need to schedule a full appointment. Have them come in for a 15 minute exam during lunch or at the end of the day.
Don’t prejudge these patients when they call. Money is always going to be an issue for them, but it’s not because they’re cheap. It’s because the average American budgets nothing for dentistry. When you tell them the cost of their treatment, media-generated referrals are always going to react with surprise. Don’t be caught off-guard by this, but you also shouldn’t be surprised when they later come up with the money if you’ve done an effective job with your case presentation. One thing that’s also true of most consumers is that if they really want something, they’ll find the money for it.
Finally, always handle media-generated referrals with care. Unlike word-of-mouth referrals, patients who come in from advertising have no tie to your office and no reason to trust you initially. You need to earn that trust by showing them that they’re important to you and that you care about their oral health. These new patients are delicate. You have to really go that extra mile for them, but converting them into a loyal patient for life means a fresh batch of new referrals and likely thousands of dollars of treatment over their lifetime.
As a practice owner, it’s important that your business is built on a solid foundation of loyal patients. But it’s only through going beyond that base and growing new referrals that your practice can really spread its wings and reach the new heights of profitability that you’re aiming for. Effective advertising can bring the new patients in, but only great marketing and service can get them to stay.