We, at Silkin Management Group, are a research-driven, educational, consulting group. All our recommended protocol and procedures are based on research of what improves an activity verified by an increase in statistics. That is – increased production. Because we have the input of thousands of our clients, we develop what are known as “Best Practices;” those tried-and-true actions that work.
We know two things about patients – and people in general. 1) People want to HELP. In a disaster, people come out of the woodwork to help others. When a new practice opens, patients tell their friends and family about the practice because they want to help. 2) People like to contribute to something that is GROWING and EXPANDING. Conversely, people don’t contribute to something that is shrinking or getting worse.
Let’s examine the two words; GROWING and EXPANDING. GROWING implies that the practice is “successful” (this is impressive during these economic times when most practices are struggling) and EXPANDING connotes that the practice is “increasing capacity.” The practice may not be physically expanding, but it is becoming more efficient and productive resulting in expansion.
The main purpose of the Receptionist is to keep the appointment book full. The way she does this is to be pro-active in asking for referrals. Having a sign posted asking for referrals at the reception desk is not enough. The most effective way we found is for the receptionist to ask, but ask in a way that will get her an actual referral.
Now, there are endless ineffective ways to ask for referrals and there are only a few that get a result. Here is an example of how not to ask for referrals; receptionist to patient,
“Mary, I am so glad you are happy with your service here. Do you know anyone who could use our service?” Or the receptionist may say the irreducible minimum, “Mary, we are accepting new patients.”
After both of these statements are uttered, Mary (the patient) will internally ask herself, “Why are they asking for referrals? Maybe they aren’t doing so well. Maybe the doctor wants to buy a new car.” Or worse, “maybe there is sub-standard medicine practiced here.” It is important for the receptionist to give the happy patient a REASON for asking for referrals. So, considering the above data about people, i.e. wanting to HELP and wanting to contribute to an activity that is GROWING and EXPANDING, there is a way to ask that gets a higher percentage of referrals.
This is an example of how to ask for a referral for a dental practice,
“Mary, I am glad you enjoyed your experience here. I don’t know if you know this, but our practice is GROWING and we are EXPANDING and we would love to service your friends’ and family’s dental needs. Here are a few cards.”
(The receptionist should hand Mary 3 cards. Mary keeps one for herself. Research shows that Mary has a greater propensity to hand out a card to an interested friend if she is in the possession of 2 cards). Now, Mary wants to contribute to the growth and expansion of the practice, and now she has a “reason” or a “purpose” that aligns with her natural desire to HELP. Mention that you are GROWING and EXPANDING before asking for referrals and the percent of referrals will go up.
We did a survey with Silkin clients’ patients, and we asked them the following question, “Why wouldn’t you refer to a dental practice?”: The response was surprising but consistent with the above data. Given that the doctor is “social” and the staff are “social” and patients like the practice (which is usually the case), the following was discovered: Patients won’t refer if the patient perceives the following conditions:
1) There is overbooking or it takes too long to make an appointment.
2) There is frustration or friction amongst staff.
3) If the doctor looks or is stressed.
4) If the practice is disorganized and not run efficiently.
Consider this: If patients like the doctor and the staff, why would they want to stress them more by adding their friends and family to an already stressful scene. They won’t because they like the doctor and the staff and don’t want to stress them more by adding their friends and family to an already stressful scene.
One of the most destructive statements a receptionist could say to a happy patient is, “We are really swamped today” (or the like). The receptionist has just CUT THE REFERRAL LINE by stating this. She has just cut the natural desire of the happy patient (who wants to HELP) to refer. You always want to portray a calm, upbeat, inclusive practice that welcomes new patients. All statements from the staff or the doctor that could be interpreted as the practice being at capacity, stressed or overwhelmed should be CANCELLED immediately. This may take some doing as staffs inadvertently do this all the time, erroneously thinking they will gain sympathy from patients. It doesn’t work.
We have found it is more of a barrier to get referrals in an established practice than in a new practice. The reason is that the clients think; “Well, the doctor has been around for a long time in this established practice, and it must be successful. They must have all the patients they need.” This is the mentality of the patients. When patients ask, “Are you accepting new patients?” you should feel embarrassed, as this is the patient’s viewpoint. Their reality is that you are at maximum capacity.
The receptionist must keep proper administration to make a referral program work. She should have a binder tabbed A to Z. A page should be dedicated to each referring patient with a list of all the new patients they have referred. The way the receptionist uses this binder is that she looks at the daily schedule and compares the scheduled with the “Referring Patients’ Log” noting who is arriving and how many new patients they have referred. People are starving for attention and acknowledgement. Just like children, whatever you acknowledge, you will get more of. So, one of the receptionist’s functions is to inform the staff regarding: 1) who is coming in and 2) whom they referred. Then the entire staff can acknowledge the patient. The patient walks away with pride thinking. “Wow. This staff really cares that I am telling others about the practice.” And, they will do more of it.
So, pluck the natural heartstrings of your patients’ desire to HELP and open your doors and let new patients in. Include your patients in helping build your practice. It is an underutilized resource, and the most effective and cost-efficient activity to get in new patients.
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