Industry content

How to Develop an Effective Dental Referral Program

Date Posted: 07.15.22

Word-of-mouth advertising is the holy grail of marketing. The idea of customers advertising your business – for free – sounds enticing and is especially valuable for service-based businesses like dental offices.

However, word-of-mouth is too unpredictable and you can’t rely on it solely as a driver of your clinic’s growth. That’s where a dental referral program comes in. A referral program is essentially incentivized word-of-mouth advertising. You get the benefits of this marketing channel and, for a minimal investment, make it much more reliable.

This article will discuss referral programs for dental practices and tips on how to implement them.

What is a Dental Referral Program for Patients?

Simply put, a dental referral program is a marketing method where your existing customers are rewarded for referring their friends and family to your business. Typically, the referrer will get a reward for doing this.

Referral programs are highly effective because they feel natural and not overly sales-y. After all, people will likely trust any recommendation from their family and friends compared to paid ads. Think about a time in your life when a close friend of yours recommended something — chances are you took them up on that recommendation.

The world of marketing has gotten increasingly difficult to navigate, and consumers often feel they don’t know who to trust. But they do trust their friends and family, which is why referral programs are so effective.

How to Implement a Dental Referral Program

A referral program might seem straightforward in theory, but it can be complex to implement in practice. To help you get started, here are some patient referral program ideas to kickstart your own program.

Set a goal

You shouldn’t create a dentist referral program just because all your competitors are doing it. You must have a strong foundation as to why you want to do it. You should try to sync your referral program with your dental office goals. In other words, what’s the goal of your dental patient referral program?

Often, the main goal is bringing more patients in. But that’s not always the case. Some dental offices might want to focus on getting better patients – opting for quality rather than quantity. This means patients who schedule regular visits, make their payments on time, and treat the staff with respect.

Apart from that, you should also set SMART dental office goals with your new patient referral program. In other words, it must be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. It’s not enough to say, “I want to increase the number of patients I have through referrals.”

A good example of a SMART referral goal is to have “200 new referral patients by the end of the year.” Not only does it have a quantifiable target to hit, but it also puts a timeframe for its completion. A deadline can help spur action towards hitting the goal.

Suppose you already have an existing referral program. In that case, it’s important that you know your numbers so you can have a benchmark for setting your goals. For instance, if you brought 150 new referrals last year, a good goal might be to bump that up to 200 this year.

Involve your best patients first

One of the best dental referral program ideas is to involve your top patients first. They will be your “starters” to help spread the word and jumpstart your referral program. Your loyal patients are happiest with your service, so they would have no problems referring other people to you. The rewards will only sweeten the deal and make them feel even more appreciated as a result.

The numbers also back this strategy up. A marketing study found that the average customer will refer 2.68 people to a business. Imagine how many more referrals a happy and loyal customer will make!

Have appropriate rewards

Referrals are largely reward-driven. Sure, some people might refer to you simply because of your excellent service, but that’s likely going to be a small percentage of your patients. For consistency and best results, it’s best to give a reward in exchange for referrals.

The type of reward is extremely important. Boring or cheap prizes will not motivate people to refer their loved ones to you. At worst, it will come off as insulting or tacky. The best rewards are both desirable and useful to your patients.

To determine a suitable reward, it pays to know your patients first. This is why market research and talking to your patients are important. When asking them, try to delve deeper. What things do they desire the most? What would make them feel appreciated? What item would make them feel valued and that the referral was worth their effort?

Naturally, discounts on future services are a great idea but physical prizes are always good, especially if they’re dental-related. For example, you can give away electronic toothbrushes or organic, vegan toothpaste.

But arguably, the best (and cost-efficient) prizes are your services. For instance, you can offer a free dental cleaning for every successful referral a patient makes. Or, you can give them a discount on services at their next scheduled visit.

These kinds of rewards are excellent because they help keep patients coming back to your dental office for longer. So not only are you attracting new patients, but you’re also maintaining your current customer base.

Maximize social media

Social media is a powerful tool that every dental referral program should use. According to a marketing study, 81% of consumers are influenced by their friends’ posts on social media.

For one, it’s invaluable for launching your referral program. You have an entire campaign, including Facebook ads and posts, to let everyone know about your program. If you followed our advice on involving your top patients, they can spread your social media campaign and give it more mileage.

You can even use social media as the vehicle for your referral program. For example, you can ask patients to tag their friends on your post to win a reward. You can also require patients to post reviews or write about their experiences online. This is a great strategy, as it shows people having a positive experience with your dental office.

Send thank-you notes

A small but impactful gesture is to send thank you notes every time a person successfully makes a referral. It can be an email or a text message. But for the best effect, you can use a physical handwritten note. This will stand out in today’s digital world.

You can also have a board in your office that lists all the patients who made a successful referral. This shows that you appreciate their gesture while giving them public recognition (of course, you should ask your patients if it’s okay for you to list their name publicly).

Better yet, pair that thank you note with a discount code or coupon they can claim on their next visit. It’s a thoughtful, subtle gesture to get patients to return to you time and time again.

Give new patients an incentive, too

Your rewards shouldn’t be limited to just the person making the referral. It’s best if you also sweeten the pot by giving new patients an irresistible deal. After all, the whole point is getting patients to want to stay with you after they were referred — and you don’t get a second chance at a first impression.

For example, you can run a special discount on their first session or offer them a free cleaning or whitening service. This can make a huge difference for people who are reluctant to switch dentists.

Ask for testimonials and reviews

Testimonials and reviews are forms of indirect referral that will undoubtedly help boost your referral program. For instance, it can make it easier for your current patients to convince their friends and family to try your services. After all, if 200 hundred other people are raving about you, new patients are more likely to be interested in your services.

Indeed, reviews are a powerful tool for influencing purchase decisions. Studies show that it can increase conversions by 270%.

Fortunately, it’s also very easy to do. You can ask patients to leave a review on Yelp or Facebook either in person after their visit while they’re checking out or by sending them a “How did we do?” email after their visit. People live busy lives, but if they are happy with your services, they’ll be glad to do this for you.

Involve your staff

Your staff are crucial for the success of your dental referral program. They must be passionate about the idea so that they are empowered to offer it to their patients as well. Staff can also spread the word to their own friends and family, so it can help to create a separate referral program for employees as well.

More than anything, staff who believe in your referral program will go above and beyond to deliver excellent service. They know that referrals only work if patients are happy with your practice.

Partner with Cloud 9

Even the best referral program is useless if you have an ineffective communication strategy. That’s why we’ve included email and text messages as part of our dental practice management software at no additional charge.

Cloud 9 is a cloud-based, all-in-one platform that helps dental offices manage their practices and provide better services. For more information, request a free demo today.