How to ensure an endless stream of referrals

3-9-16 waiting-room_webIf you want to earn the adoration of your patients – and a steady stream of new referrals from them – you must do one thing extremely well…

Deliver an extraordinary patient experience.

Here’s a story to further explain where I’m coming from.

My miserable ND experience

When my ND moved out of the state, she referred me to another naturopath in town and forwarded my medical chart to her. Since my last doctor rocked, I had high hopes that her referral would be equally awesome.

Boy was I wrong.

As I stepped through the door, I was confronted by posters and brochures announcing discounts on “skin rejuvenation” services – primarily Botox and other non-surgical anti-aging solutions. I approached the shoulder-high check-in counter and was asked to “sign in, sit down, and wait to be called.” The receptionist and a couple of office workers were behind the counter, chatting and laughing with one another while looking at something on the computer.

I sat in the “waiting room” and did exactly that. Waited. And waited. The coffee table was loaded with brochures and flyers promoting the programs and services offered at the clinic. After 20 minutes of waiting, I walked up to the reception desk and asked how much longer it would be. “The doctor is running a little behind, only a few more minutes,” I was told.

I waited 10 more minutes, and in irritation, stood up to leave the building. The receptionist saw me, went running off, and before I reached the exit, the doctor burst into the waiting room to collect me. I told her that I was NOT happy about the wait. She then said what she felt was an acceptable response, “My last patient went a little long.”

As if it was the patient’s fault that I had to wait (hint: it’s not).

She told me not to worry and that I would get my full time with her.

While in her office, she looked at my completed forms. I asked her if she had gotten my records from my previous ND. Startled, she jumped down to the floor and pulled out a cardboard file box from underneath the exam table, sorted through it and pulled out my chart. “Sorry,” she said, “I meant to grab this before you came… I’m still organizing everything.”

She spent 10 minutes of our consultation time flipping around through my chart while I fumed. Then she raced through a bunch of questions and did a brief physical exam. During the exam, she talked about the various other services in her practice that I might want to look into. Presumably she felt I was a prime candidate for Botox injections.

The appointment was supposed to last 90 minutes. It lasted 45. I paid the full initial consultation fee.

And I will not return nor will I refer anyone to her.

The amazing impact of referrals

I have high expectations when selecting a holistic health practitioner. I’m pretty old school when it comes to receiving – and offering – top notch service and you should be, too. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also delivers long-term, raving patients and endless referrals from them.

Referrals are one of the most potent marketing drivers in the world.

Here’s why I’m a fan:

  1. Almost half of the people who choose a service-based business do so based on the recommendations of their friends
  2. Referrals lower marketing costs. Want to receive the benefits of the most compelling sales advertisement on earth for absolutely nothing? That’s essentially what you get through word-of-mouth referrals.
  3. People referred to you by satisfied patients come with a level of pre-established trust. They are predisposed to buy. This makes them less concerned or focused on price or having to pay cash than new patients attracted by advertising who don’t know you from Adam.
  4. The Wharton School of Business found that a referred customer is 18 percent more likely to stay with a business over time than the average, off-the-street customer. The lifetime value of a new referral customer is 16% higher than of those who aren’t referred.

The most successful practitioners in our industry have told me that once they’ve been in business a while, they rarely actively promote their practices at all because nearly all of their business is being driven by referrals. Since an extraordinary patient experience plays a key role in the referral process and the financial returns via referrals is so amazing, pulling this together should be a no-brainer.

What constitutes an extraordinary experience?

I’ve divided this into three key areas of focus: The reception, the consultation, and the follow-up. Today’s post will cover that important crucial aspect where people make their first impression: The reception. I’ll go through the other two in future posts.

The Reception

The reception area sets the tone for the entire appointment. There’s a concept in psychology called priming:  when exposure to some “thing” influences the behavior of an individual later on without that individual being aware that that “thing” is guiding them. That very first exposure – whether it’s walking into your office or talking with you on the phone – primes your patient’s expectations for what happens next.

For example, the in-your-face Botox promos (no pun intended), high countertop, long wait and lack of a warm welcome at the NDs office primed me to expect a lackluster experience. In fact, because I was anticipating a miserable experience based on my initial impression, she was going to have to be amazing to shift my mindset from mistrust to delight.

To evaluate how well you may be doing in the “reception” category, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you call it a waiting room or a reception area? The terms alone are telling.
  • What’s the average wait time? How long are you personally willing to wait to see a practitioner – and how well do you meet your own tough standards?
  • When your patient enters or calls, is he greeted like an old friend by name or is he given instructions (sign in, complete paperwork, sit, stay, good boy)? Does anyone acknowledge him warmly and authentically?
  • Is your check-in desk more of a blockade? I’m a tad over 5 feet tall, so those super high counters prime me in a not-so-positive way.
  • What can people read or do while waiting (hopefully a very short time) for you? Is it something that they want to read? Or do you serve up material that you want them to look at? This can be a big indicator of how you will be perceived and accepted by patients before they even see you.
  • Are they shown how to make a cup of tea, where to locate water, or to check out samples of fun, healthy products? Or do you make them hunt for these things themselves?
  • Who else communicates with your patient? How well are they making the patient feel welcomed and heard? You may be surprised at what you might discover here!
  • What is the environment like? Examine the comfort yourself as if you were a patient in your office and evaluate the lighting, seating, smells, sights, colors, access issues. This sensory experience has been found to be a core element of your practice brand.
  • How would a person with limited vision or mobility maneuver and how might you help them?

If it’s been a while since you’ve set up your reception experience and you have been curious about the lack of return patients and referrals, it may be time to re-evaluate things.  The steps above (except for that big old counter) are fairly simple fixes and can have a major impact on your bottom line.

Remember, the reception is only one piece of the patient-experience puzzle. But if you fail here, you may never get the chance to turn it around later on, so getting this right is a must.

How about you? What other ideas have you used to improve that reception experience? I’d love to hear what you’ve done. Please share your comments below.

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Comments (2)

  • Reba Peoples

    Excellent tips – thank you for posting! My office is in a converted residential space that now houses a suite of offices so it can be a bit confusing to figure out how to find my space. I typically include very detailed instructions about parking, the best door to enter and how to find the waiting area for my office prior to the first visit. When able, I like to greet people in person at the main entrance and personally escort them to my specific waiting area when they first arrive. If I can’t catch them when they enter, it’s nice to know that they won’t be wandering around the building lost since they’ve already been given pretty detailed instructions on how to find me prior to the visit.

    • Miriam

      Great suggestions, Reba! Love the idea of escorting people into the reception area when they arrive, too. I’m always reminded of a time I visited a nice hotel on vacation once and I was taken to a reception area where I could sit down with a concierge and check in. She gave us water, offered insight as to the experience we were about to have, and generally made me feel like I belonged there. Thanks for your comments.

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