For most doctors, when I say referral program, their first thought is of a patient newsletter. Now, there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that a newsletter is a great (and essential) part of building patient loyalty and referrals, but it is by no means a comprehensive part of your dental care referral "program." To get to where I am going with this, let's first define the word "program":
program (n): a system of projects or services intended to meet a need
In this instance, your need is referrals, and lots of them. Let's face it, without patients, there is no practice. And in the case of referrals, it is very often the place where you find your best and most loyal patients. But now let's move to the first part "a system of products or services." The key word in this case is system. Once again, we define system as: "A functionally related group of elements." In other words, the elements all combine to create one thing: more referrals for your practice. There are many of these elements and below I have put together a list of these pieces that should all be included in your comprehensive referral program:
Referral rewards (gift cards, gift certificates, complimentary services)
Professional relationships (not only with other doctors, but why not with your real estate agent, insurance broker, and your health club trainer)
A patient newsletter
This is far from a comprehensive list of services, but all of these are included in a referral program.
Example CUTCO Knives: A popular job among college students in the summer, their program is based solely on referrals. At the end of the sales presentation, whether the customer buys or not, the sales person lays a sheet out in front of the buyer with 10 blank lines on it and says "I am sure you know of some other people that would be interested in hearing about the knives you saw today. If you would be so kind as to write down their name and phone number, I would appreciate it."
Usually, the customer will give 2 or 3 leads (or more) to the sales person who then calls each and makes an appointment with them - leading to more customers, and more sales.
The above example may not translate directly into your dental practice, but it shows the power of a program. CUTCO has it laid out, scripted, and developed that there is no way the customer could not provide a referral.
The same applies to your practice: How developed is your referral program? Do you send a newsletter every now and then, and hope the patient is getting asked by one of your staff? Or does your monthly newsletter go out like clockwork, and your referral wording is such that every patient gets asked for a referral at every appointment by a specific member of your staff.
Action-to-Take Tip: Sit down some afternoon and put your referral program down on paper. Figure out all the details, down to whose responsibility it is to ask for the referral at the appointment, and when the patient gets his/her reward (right away is best). Also figure out how to communicate your program to your patients (newsletter, in-office signage, staff). Then, the biggest key is to implement the program, and supervise the implementation. And of course, watch your referrals grow.
Then you will truly have "a system of projects or services intended to meet a need."