Effective use of word of mouth is still the most effective way to grow a medical practice. As a result, patients and colleagues will speak highly of you. In order for word-of-mouth marketing to be effective, you have to continually give consumers a reason to talk about your products and services. The challenge is to build ongoing active, mutually beneficial direct-to-consumer and consumer-to-consumer communication networks.
Word-of-mouth marketing is not a substitute for a marketing program; rather, it is one vital component. You can facilitate word of mouth in terms of recommendations, referrals, and testimonials among your patients by delivering 5-star service and superior patient care, but it is a continuous process.
Word-of-mouth marketing is also intended to reward patients for their referrals and loyalty via several proven methods. These might include treatment vouchers, courtesy discounts, new product sampling, flexible appointment scheduling, and awarding patients VIP status within your practice. Use these approaches to get patients to spread the word for you within their own sphere of influence.
A common approach that has worked in many practices is to have a satisfied patient on hand at open house events and practice seminars to speak firsthand about his or her experience. Customers tend to relate best to other customers.
Think of word-of-mouth marketing as a compendium of methods to empower customers and patients to share their positive experiences about your practice. There are many possible venues in which this sharing of information may take place. It can happen online in forums, postings on bulletin boards, chat rooms, clinic and practitioner reviews, as well as in the form of personal letters, testimonials, events, and daily conversation.
DEALING WITH UNHAPPY CAMPERS
Managing a dissatisfied or unhappy customer is just as important. It has often been said that happy patients don’t talk enough but unhappy patients talk too much.
A patient who thinks you are the greatest will make others think so too. But one vocal disgruntled patient on a mission can severely tarnish your practice’s reputation. This is a critical issue for physicians today, as the Internet has facilitated this vocal patient’s ability to launch a smear campaign. For example, a negative post or review on any one of the many popular online forums can create a permanent black mark on your standing among prospective patients that is very difficult and expensive, if not impossible, to bury.
Drive word-of-mouth activities by enabling your staff to help identify loyal, happy customers who might agree to serve as your word-of-mouth advocates and carry your key messages to others. However, this should be undertaken with a high degree of finesse to avoid causing patients to feel that they are being used.
With the rise of social media, the speed and reach of word of mouth is increasing significantly. The value of your brand advocates working for you on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms cannot be underestimated.
For example, the exuberant patient who posts a comment on your Facebook page wall exclaiming her delight about a treatment she has had in your care will leave an indelible impression on your network. Brand ambassadors add incremental value to social media—they can help you get the word out faster and stronger than you can do on your own, thereby increasing the return on investment of all your social media efforts.
A final component of an effective word-of-mouth strategy is that your tone must be sincere. The positive message must come from the heart of real customers and patients who believe in you. Their words and sentiments cannot ring as false or planted. Faking it does not work and can backfire on you.
At the core of word-of-mouth marketing is the basic concept that customer satisfaction drives referrals. In turn, these referrals must be handled with extreme care to generate additional referrals, and the chain continues.
Never take loyal customers for granted. They can jump to your competition for the most arbitrary reasons, such as the recommendation of an acquaintance or upon hearing about the newest cosmetic clinic on the nightly news. Unfortunately, you may not be able to control these external influences. However, if you strive to earn and maintain their confidence in your practice, patients will be less likely to be persuaded to leave you anytime soon.
Wendy Lewis is president of Wendy Lewis & Co Ltd Global Aesthetics Consultancy, author of 10 books, and a regular contributor to PSP. She can be reached at . Follow her on www.twitter.com/cosmeticmed.