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Across the board, dental and orthodontic practices were flat to down in new patients and production last month. I host a monthly coaching call for our members and the most common question is, “How do I get more new patients?” It’s a common place for most doctors to start when practice productivity has stalled. While I don’t disagree that new patients are a significant factor in the growth of any elective healthcare practice, a far more productive question to ask is “What are we doing with the patients we already have?” How are we fulfilling the promises we make in the marketplace so that existing patients not only complete their recommended treatment but also refer their friends and family?

If you consider acquisition costs and lifetime customer value, there’s no more effective way to boost productivity in both of these key objectives than to increase referrals. Referrals are so important I wrote an entire book on the topic. In The Truth About Referrals, I cover the five reasons why patients don’t refer. If you haven’t read the book, you can get caught up here. In today’s post, I want to stimulate a few ideas and ask a few questions that might help you and your team lead with exceptional customer service and operational excellence.

First and foremost, we must deliver exceptional patient experiences. It’s not enough to deliver good service. Each interaction must be personalized and memorable. Marketing and management experts from Harvard Business School to McKinsey and Co. suggest consumers want a short list of things from the businesses who serve them. They want products and services delivered on time, without defects, by friendly people, and (if possible) they want it customized. Think about a recent interaction with any product or service company. Maybe you went to a great new restaurant or bought something from a retailer. Statistically you are more likely to tell a friend or family member if all of these boxes are ticked. Here’s the challenge. Most healthcare providers do not run on time. Sometimes the service recovery is slow and/or poorly executed. The people delivering the care are usually friendly but maybe really busy and don’t have enough time to spend with each patient. Finally, the customization is a challenge. I wrote an article about Starbucks and the power of customization, if you need to get caught up on the principles and basic strategies.

Also, I recently wrote about a neat little pearl I stumbled across from Michelle Strange, RDH an infection prevention specialist and dental hygiene consultant. She didn’t mince her words when she said the oral care products at CVS and Walmart are essentially trash and instead of letting our patients “wing it” in the oral care isle of their local big box retailer, we should custom-tailor oral care products to each patient. Smart.

It wouldn’t be difficult several toothbrush options, both electric and manual in your practice. Stocking different strengths of whitening products and boutique-formulations of toothpaste, mouth rinse and floss. The power lies in the customization. When you visit a nice hair salon or spa, the technicians and therapists will recommend specific skin and hair-care products for you. They sell those products in the store, which does add some revenue for the business but most-importantly, it supports the high-margin fee customers pay for salon and spa services.

If you receive a customized recommendation and hand-selected product from your auto mechanic, lawn care specialist, house cleaner, hair stylist, massage therapist, chiropractor or physical therapist, etc. it raises the value of the interaction in your mind. The same could be easily applied to dental and orthodontic practices. Doctors doing this at the highest level are white-labeling their own products, like the Doctors Linhart.

If you need some inspiration, check out the smattering of neat options from my friends at Uncrate, here.

Imagine if your hair stylist, esthetician or massage therapist told you “yeah, just grab some products the next time you’re at Target or Walmart” versus hand-selecting items for your particular hair, skin and muscle soreness, bringing those items to you and explaining how to use them and why they’ve been recommended. There is tremendous value in customization, plus profit and referrals. Don’t miss this important principle.

Second, we have to educate patient about referral benefits. Many patients may not be aware of the impact their referrals can have on your practice. Take the time to educate them on the importance of patient referrals and how they contribute to maintaining the quality and growth of your services. Emphasize that their trust and recommendation hold tremendous value and play a significant role in helping others receive the same exceptional care they have experienced. By highlighting the mutual benefits, you encourage patients to actively refer others to your practice. When I was in private practice, I couldn’t leave the room without saying something like this to our patients:

“Our practice is a referral-driven practice. You might not appreciate this fact, but you such an important key to our success. You’re such a great patient and if we could hit the repeat button on patients like you, we would hit that button over and over. We also went to school for a really long time to learn how to do what we do and we want to help as many people as we can. If you have friends or family who are looking for an orthodontist, will you do me a favor? Will you please tell them about our office. Simply give them this referral card and we’ll take care of everything else.”

Finally, we have to foster a culture of abundance and appreciation. If we think small, we will always have smaller practices. It’s a simple as that. Show genuine appreciation for patients who refer others to your practice. Acknowledge their efforts and take the time to personally thank them for their support. Consider sending handwritten notes, small tokens of appreciation, or even hosting an annual patient appreciation event to express your gratitude. By demonstrating your appreciation, you strengthen the bond with your existing patients and encourage them to continue referring others in the future. I’ve tried every referral incentive on the planet and nothing works better than a prompt, hand-written card and sincere thank you. You don’t have to make this complicated but you do have to put wheels in motion.

Patient referrals hold immense potential for the growth and success of your dental or orthodontic practice. By consistently delivering exceptional patient experiences, educating patients about the value of referrals, actively asking for referrals, and fostering a culture of appreciation, you can tap into the power of word-of-mouth marketing. Remember, satisfied patients who become advocates for your practice are not only your best marketing asset but also a testament to your commitment to providing exceptional care. Embrace the influence of patient referrals and watch your practice thrive as you continue to build lasting relationships with both existing and new patients.

Discover The Five Reasons Why Patients Don’t Refer. See and get Dustin’s best tips, strategies and templates for boosting referrals in his best-selling book, The Truth About Referrals

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