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How to Trigger Word of Mouth Advertising and Physician Practice Referrals

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Lately we've been increasingly aware of the growing importance of word of mouth (WOM) advertising in physician practice marketing and medical marketing in general. WOM can be either positive (resulting in a patient referral and new business), or it can be negative (resulting in, well, nothing).

Having experienced both edges of that sword, we all know that, either way, word of mouth is highly effective. For purposes of this discussion, we're (mainly) talking about the positive variety. And here's why (and how) word of mouth needs to be a regular line item in your marketing plan.

The reason that word of mouth advertising is increasingly important in doctor marketing is because patients are increasingly proactive about their healthcare.

Individually, and sometimes collectively, patients have a stronger voice in the health and medical choices for themselves and their family. What's more, the one-to-one WOM references of a patient are, more than ever, being amplified in social media comments via Facebook, Twitter and others.

The primary challenge is what to do to inspire word of mouth advertising. What ignites word of mouth comments? It simply does not happen spontaneously. People need a reason to talk about you, your staff, the service they received and/or the overall patient experience.

Here are some of the facets of motivation that can inspire positive word of mouth.

The first step is to understand a patient or customer's motivation for making referral. Medical practices, hospitals and other healthcare providers will find insight to motivation in the world of small business. Here are a few of the 10 reasons why people will talk about your business as Jim Connolly lists them in his respected UK blog. He writes:

People spread the word about you because:

  • Something you did or said was remarkable.
  • By sharing a nugget of information from you, they look well informed.
  • They trust and value what you have to say and feel compelled to share the wisdom.
  • They want their name to be associated publicly with you or your brand.
  • Something you just wrote or said will be of genuine value to someone they care about, who needs that help right now.

Some of the impetus for word of mouth is similar in Entrepreneur's list of WOM "trigger" activities. Here are a few notes:

  • Word-of-mouth is triggered when a customer experiences something far beyond what was expected. Slightly exceeding their expectations just won't do it. You've got to go above and beyond the call of duty if you want your customers to talk about you.
  • Don't depend on your staff to trigger word-of-mouth by delivering "exceptional customer experience." Deep down, customers know service comes from an individual, not from an establishment. And even the best people have bad days.
  • Physical, nonverbal statements are the most dependable in triggering word-of-mouth. These statements can be architectural, kinetic or generous, but they must go far beyond the boundaries of what's ordinary.

    [Put your own creativity to work to invent ways to invent these things: "Architectural" includes attention-getting characteristics of the physical space, office or facility that are remarkable, unique or unexpected...in a positive way, of course.
    The "Kinetic" category includes observable physical actions or activities that are made part of the visitor/customer/patient experience; these too must be "above and beyond" the ordinary.And "Generous" would be the unexpected "quantity" of product or service that is provided at no additional charge. More examples are listed in the full article.]

Budget to deliver the experience that will trigger word-of-mouth. Although word of mouth is (mostly) free, some activities that inspire WOM may need a budget in time and/or dollars.

The bottom line: Positive Word of Mouth advertising and patient referrals—where satisfied customers tell others how and why they like a business, product, service or medical provider experience—is inspired when expectations are exceeded. The "ordinary and every day" patient experience is certainly nothing to talk about and is quickly forgotten.

It is deliberate and planned actions that exceed a patient's expectations, make a positive impression and inspire word of mouth. When the individual is motivated to share their experience, they put their own reputation on the line in making a referral or recommendation to family, friends, colleagues, and even casual social media connections. It can't be ordinary.

There's more about Dispelling Old School Misconceptions and word of mouth advertising on our blog. And in this article from our free reference library about shaping successful relationships and increasing referrals.

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