The power of word-of-mouth communications cannot be understated as part of your practice's dental marketing plan. Consumers and patients tend to complete transactions and shop for themselves in a herd mentality - that is, if their peers and other consumers are patronizing a certain practice or business, they are more likely to do so themselves. That is why positive reviews and testimonials are relied on as powerful building blocks for a practice's business. A whole collection of rave reviews can be as effective a dental marketing technique as any other. A patient referral takes the positive patient review a step further. Instead of just having generic good things to say about you, the patient is taking it upon him or herself to encourage their friends and family members to visit your practice, following a great experience they had there themselves.

Here's a practice barometer to consider: you should be getting more than 50% of your new patients from referrals by existing patients. If you're not - then you either need to address your customer service policies, or educate patients that you not only accept their referrals, but appreciate and welcome them.

Some of the factors affecting patient referrals are similar to the factors that make your dental practice the best one around, namely providing a valuable and exceptional service to your patients. Unfortunately, patients are less likely to recommend a solid experience than they are to trash a bad one, raising the bar on just how exceptional your practice has to be in order to garner a referral. Healthcare industry experts have noted that unhappy patients will tell seven to ten people about their bad experience while happy patients will likely only tell one to three people.

A patient's great experience starts at the first point of contact, whether that's via the phone or in his or her own experience with your practice's website. Scheduling an appointment or finding all the information they need should be an easy task, not a chore. Therefore, make sure that your website is fully updated and user-friendly, your marketing materials are clear and not overbearing, and your front desk telephone operators all function using the highest degrees of friendliness and professionalism.

The next step is the actual visit itself. For starters, make sure that your practice is a charming and comfortable place for a patient to visit and wait in, not to mention a desirable place to receive oral surgery and procedures. That first impression of your practice can have a significant impact on your patient's overall experience. Additionally, if this patient had a great first impression, odds are the people that he or she will refer are likely to as well. Finally, the most important thing is that all patients receive every care that they expect from your practice. Taking care of a patient's wants and needs - and even going above and beyond where necessary - is a sure-fire way to ensure that the patient leaves with a gleaming smile on his or her face.

From there, it's up to your practice to be proactive in seeking out referrals. In person, encourage patients to share their experience with their peers, telling them to drop their name should their friends and family visit your practice. Include referral cards in your patient newsletters as well as handing them out during office visits. These custom messages and referral cards are conveniently distributed and can help you track who has referred a new patient. Finally, give patients an incentive for referring patients with some sort of rewards program or with the provision of exclusive discounts.

Talk to your Account Manager about adding a referral incentive to your next patient newsletter.