Building Patient Referrals

By Lorraine Mcloughlin / 06 Oct 2017

Regional sales manager Lorraine Mcloughlin provides tips on building patient referrals within an aesthetic clinic

I’m often asked by customers how they can increase the number of new patients coming to their clinic. My answer is always this – do everything you possibly can to retain and please the ones you have and the new patients will follow.

It’s an approach I learnt in my first role within facial aesthetics as a clinic manager for a Harley Street practice. I recognised that if we met patient expectations, there was high chance that they would then become a returning customer. However, if we exceeded their expectations, they would not only become a loyal and returning patient, they would also tell their friends, family and colleagues about us – who, in turn, would become patients too.

For clinic owners who have the ambition to grow their clinic, the value of patient referrals cannot be overstated. Acquiring a new patient through recommendation is a compliment – it means you’re gaining a reputation, which is built on patient trust, loyalty and respect. In our specialty, this is invaluable. So how do you exceed patient expectation to encourage referrals?

Patient experience

A patient may come to you for the first time for a free consultation, or they could be spending thousands of pounds on a treatment and product. Either way, it’s essential to make sure each patient receives the same level of patient care and customer service. This is because both types of patient are likely to talk about their experience, which could eventually lead to more patient referrals. Every patient that comes to you needs to be made to feel special from the moment they walk through the door to the time they leave. It’s important to put yourself in a patient’s shoes and constantly ask yourself – what more could we do to enhance their experience?

Communication

I’ve always believed that the relationship between patient and practitioner is incredibly important. Clinics that build relationships increase their patient lists – it’s that simple – and communication is a key part of a patient’s experience. There needs to be empathy, honesty and, ultimately, trust:

Empathy – often, patients don’t feel particularly confident when they first come to you. Perhaps it’s their first experience in aesthetics and they are anxious, or they are unhappy about their appearance and they feel uncomfortable. Whatever their situation, it’s important to show that you understand, that you care and that you’re there to give them their confidence back and put them at ease.

Honesty – patients appreciate sincerity. Being open and direct ensures that your patients’ expectations are realistic and enables them to be aware of cost, limitations of treatment, possible complications and likely outcomes. That also includes saying no to a patient’s request for treatment which, in your clinical view, isn’t necessary or appropriate.

Trust – the former points ultimately build trust in your relationship with your patient.

The personal touch

It’s important to keep your patients happy which will ultimately lead to them referring people. A tip I’ve used and shared throughout my career is to send patients a card on their birthday. Make sure the card is personalised, hand-written if possible, and thank them for their custom. If your patient database is too large to make this viable, consider creating an e-card that you can personalise and email to them instead. It’s a small token, but I have found that it’s a great way of keeping in contact with patients and showing them that you value their business. I also recommend giving former patients an incentive to come and see you, a good way of doing this is by giving them a birthday bag of the latest cosmeceuticals or a complimentary treatment with a new booking, to entice them back to your clinic.

Patient feedback

Asking for patient feedback is important as it enables you to get an honest opinion about your clinic and treatments. It also builds a relationship with your patients in the process. Ask patients what they enjoyed about their experience at your clinic, what makes you different/better than other clinics they’ve visited, what do they want more/less of and what would improve their experience with you? And of course, the all-important question – would they recommend you to others? Remember, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Feedback from your patients allows you to grow and when you make changes they’ve suggested, it shows that you value their recommendations and you care about offering the very best experience.

A natural time to encourage referrals is if your patient compliments your services, which often occurs at the end of the treatment. Respond to the compliment by saying, “We are glad that you had such a positive experience at our practice. We would love for your friends, family, co-workers and relatives to have the same great experience and would welcome them as new patients.”

Spread the word

There are many ways of getting your clinic noticed, but I’m a huge advocate of social media and I recommend that all practitioners take advantage of the opportunities available on sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

If your patients are on social media, they are likely to share content with their friends and followers on their social accounts. Using before and after photographs of a patient, with their consent, is a good way of engaging with a wider audience and getting your patients to publicly endorse you on these social platforms.

By making sure you fill the newsletter with interesting content, there is a higher chance of patients sharing it with their friends, families and co-workers

Remember to ask a patient to write a short testimonial on their Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Again, this will enable your patients to publicly endorse you and increase the chance of gaining patient referrals through their recommendation.

Regular communication through a patient newsletter or e-newsletter is also an easy way to increase patient referrals and can have a far-reaching impact. You should provide meaningful information on new trends or technology in your practice with details on any upcoming events and launches your clinic may have. By making sure you fill the newsletter with interesting content, there is a higher chance of patients sharing it with their friends, families and co-workers. It’s important to give something to your patients following their appointment to help boost referrals. A simple business card, listing your services and contact details, is an excellent tool to encourage patients to pass on your clinic’s details to others. Keep them on the reception desk for patients to pick up and ensure that you always have them on you to give them in person.

I also advise to give a referral form to the patient following their treatment, for them to obtain details for people interested in attending your clinic. Included in this form should be both your regular patient and potentially new patient’s name, address and contact details, as well as your name, clinic address, email and contact number. Additionally, I recommend to provide a checklist of the types of treatments your clinic offers so you can establish what exactly patients are looking for.

Acknowledgement

When a patient refers somebody else to your practice, they deserve a genuine thank you to acknowledge their support. For me, heavily discounting treatments or products never really feels like the right response or show of appreciation. Instead, I’ve always found that a simple face-to-face thank you the next time they come into your clinic goes a long way and, if you do want to offer a treatment such as a skin peel or facial, I would suggest that it’s complimentary rather than discounted so the patient feels the gesture is sincere.

Make sure you go that extra mile to show patients that you appreciate their support. Nothing lights up a patient’s face more than when you share a new tip, treatment or product recommendation with them before anyone else.

For especially loyal and frequently returning patients that you consider important to the growth of your business, take this a step further by perhaps inviting them to an exclusive treatment event you’re hosting and/or offer them a goody bag of samples for them to try and share with their friends and family.

Conclusion

Growing your business through patient referrals is hard work, but because you’re expanding through loyalty, confidence and trust, the pay-off to your business in the long term is immeasurable. People buy people, so relationships built on trust and respect is very important in maximising your potential growth. By fulfilling a patient’s experience in your clinic, acknowledging and valuing their feedback and utilising the strength of communication via social media, your patient referrals should increase, leading to an ever-growing client base. 

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