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Choosing a Hospital: The Power of Word-of-Mouth Marketing

By Kathy, Senior Marketing Strategist

Blue keyboard key with three stick figures wearing suits and "Influencer" text underneathA friend of ours is a one-person blend of Yelp-and-Angie’s-List of references, referrals and recommendations. This is a well-connected word-of-mouth resource for recommendations for life’s everyday needs. Just ask: They’ll suggest the best value in retail goods, where to find discounts on groceries, who to trust for reliable home handyman services. This a person who is recognized as a brand advocate, someone who provides guidance in healthcare decisions.

The concept of “word-of-mouth marketing” appeals to doctors, hospitals and communications professionals primarily because of the low cost. The trouble is, that unpaid or inexpensive promotion—where satisfied customers actively tell others—is difficult to control or direct. It is, however, highly credible, effective and important.

Influence the influencers via word-of-mouth marketing…

It turns out that word-of-mouth marketing is a vital factor in hospital selection. About 50 percent of people surveyed say they choose a new doctor or hospital relying on input from friends and family. [Nielsen] Other people, about two out of five, point to information via social media as influencing their choice of provider or organization. [PwC] Most research agrees that family, friends or colleagues are a significant influence factor in hospital and doctor selection.

Word-of-mouth information spreads from person to person either directly (one to one), or via the Internet and social media. Of course, delivering a positive personal experience with each encounter is the over-arching objective. And with a backdrop of outstanding service, the task is to inspire positive word of mouth comments. Here are some of the techniques that fuel support and positive referrals:

Find and feed your brand advocates. Monitor the rating and referral sites, your social media and your patient feedback to identify the individuals who proactively influence others most often. Positive feedback is valuable, but the extended reach (80 percent) occurs when champions spread the world via multiple channels.

Use “above and beyond” as the standard measure. The retail world has taught individuals to expect to be treated as a valued customer. To be memorable, the policies, procedures and interactions at a hospital need to exceed expectations. Wherever possible, raise the bar, break with tradition, invent new solutions and deliver to a higher standard. People don’t think much about the ordinary. But they are quick to spread the word or share an encounter or experience that is surprising, remarkable, or better than others.

Ask the “would you recommend?” question, frequently. The primary intent of word-of-mouth marketing is to engage with patients who would recommend others. The question, “Would you recommend us to others?” encourages people to do exactly that…refer the hospital or facility to friends and family. It is also a checking question. If someone is unwilling to recommend, it is an opportunity to discover areas for improvement.

Use your social media ears for input. Remember that social media platforms are a listening opportunity that allows for a flow of comments and observations that are useful awareness. For insight into how the hospital is perceived or appreciated by the public, this is an opportunity to listen to the conversation from the quiet of the sidelines.

When choosing a hospital, it seems that healthcare word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most effective types of outreach that you can do. Nearly everyone, about 70 percent of us according to Nielsen, puts a high level of trust in online customer reviews…essentially a version of word of mouth. And referred patients or customers are more likely to remain loyal, become an influencer and to refer new business.

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