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The Simple, Three-Part Secret to Asking for Referrals

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Nurse in turquoise scrubs holding a heart-shaped stress ballRecently, I had a unique experience at a local IHOP restaurant. I’d like to share this real-world, simple-but-effective marketing idea that everyone can use. Here’s how asking for referrals can be an immediate boost for business.

I was enjoying Father’s Day breakfast with the family. About halfway through our meal, an employee —wearing the name tag “Joe” and probably the manager—came up to the table and asked how we were enjoying our meal. After saying that everything was satisfactory, he said:

“We would love if you could take a few minutes to review us on Yelp after your visit. We try to improve our service each and every time and your feedback would be most helpful. Thank you for visiting us today!”

I watched the manager give the exact same speech to every table at the busy restaurant. He wasn’t shy about asking, and his simple request didn’t feel forced or uncomfortable for either party. This is a marketing technique that we always recommend to our clients, so it was interesting (and effective) to experience it personally.

Why asking for referrals works: the secret elements…

As a startup, Yelp had its original social roots in restaurant and food service. Subsequently, word-of-mouth and shared experience referrals moved online. Today, Yelp is a popular digital resource for physician and medical practice reviews…and one of many targets for “asking for referrals.”

Some professionals hate the social comparison, but the best practices of healthcare delivery and food service at a popular restaurant have some things in common. More than ever, patients are becoming customers, and—like it or not—online reviews influence reputation and referrals.

There are three parts to the secret of why this works. Here’s how it comes together:

First, ask about satisfaction. To test the waters and set the stage for a positive response, Manager Joe first asked how we were enjoying our meal. Managers, hosts and servers commonly ask about satisfaction. If the guest’s answer reveals a problem, it’s the perfect opportunity to immediately make things right with the customer. And if the patron isn’t happy, he or she may not be a candidate for a review or referral. In your office, simply ask the patient if they were pleased with the service they received in the office today.

Second, ask for feedback to benefit others. The restaurant manager’s choice of words asked for comments and feedback to help improve service. Plus, there was a “thank you for visiting today.” Don’t be shy, people actually like to be asked and genuinely like to be helpful. A similar request fits comfortably with a medical practice with an honest effort to improve customer service.

Third, you’ve got to ask. The single most common reason that people do not do Yelp—or any of the many healthcare review sites—is because nobody asked them to do so. Adopt our mantra as a reminder for everyone in the office: “You have to ask.” Make it fun and memorable. Asking for referrals doesn't have to be a chore.This is a highly effective system for asking for referrals and reviews. And if you don’t ask, the results are likely to be zero.

A simple verbal request is often sufficient, but you may want to suggest several review sites. Facebook and Google are quickly becoming other go-to review sites, and HealthGrades carries a significant amount of weight as a reliable source for physician reviews. You may want to provide a business card list of other popular social platforms as a helpful reminder. (Print the same thank you message as the verbal request.) Or, ask us about our proprietary reputation management program.

Social media is a useful marketing tool, particularly when asking for online comments and feedback, is an easy-to-use strategy that you can put to work today. Please let me know if we can help you with tools and techniques to maintain your online presence and professional reputation.


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