By Linda Conlin,
Jan. 29, 2020
The experience patients have in your office can increase–or drastically decrease–the chances they will return and refer others. Here is how to use the merchandise you sell, and the service you provide, to encourage the referrals of friends and family to your practice.
Friends & Family Referrals Are Worth Capturing
I estimate that referrals from other family members, friends and co-workers represent about 15 percent of new business at the typical practice.
In one practice where I worked, a famous actor who lived in another town with several high-end optical shops, came to our more modest practice because his daughter, who was our patient, recommended us. We had no idea about the relationship until the actor told us, and I can’t express how taken aback we were when he walked in and liked our frame selection!
The Smallest Things About the Patient Experience Can Make the Biggest Impact
Recommendations can stem from either the eyewear or the quality of the exam, but both are important in retaining a new patient.
Other Articles to Explore
For example, if a patient comes in because a friend told her where she got her great pair of glasses, but the wait time for the exam was long, and the exam was rushed, that patient might leave without making a purchase. She then tells her friend about her disappointment. The friend feels embarrassed, and you may now have lost two patients. Conversely, if a patient is referred for a great exam, but doesn’t like the frame selection, she will purchase her glasses elsewhere.
Track Friends & Family Referrals by Asking Patients How They Heard About You
In my experience, new patients usually don’t mention a referral unless they are asked. In one practice where I worked, we asked patients how they heard about us and used the information to help determine which marketing initiatives worked best. That also gave us a good idea about referrals. A patient might mention a referral during the frame-selection process, saying something like, “My friend got some really nice glasses here. Can you show me something like that?”
Reward Friends & Family Referrals–If Legally Permitted
A reward for any type of referral, whether on social media or otherwise, is important. At the very least, an acknowledgement and thank you should be sent. A discount coupon or a small gift such as an eyewear cleaning kit makes the patient feel appreciated and encourages them to refer others.
Editor’s Note: Laws vary by state related to gift-giving to patients. Be sure to check with your state optometric board before enacting any program to award gifts to patients.
Ask Patients to Post Photos of Themselves Wearing Their New Glasses
Social media plays a big role in generating referrals. Inviting patients to post photos of themselves to your social media site shows them that their enjoyment of the eyewear they purchased from your practice is important to you. They will then share that with their friends, providing you with the potential for instant referrals.
Editor’s Note: To be on the safe side, you may want to get signed HIPAA marketing authorization forms from patients who post photos to your practice social media sites.
There is an app called ABS Smart Mirror. The optician becomes the photographer of the patient in a variety of frames. The pictures are saved, and the patient selects and sends the pictures to whomever they want, or to social media. 20/20 Magazine has a three-part CE, “Five Reasons to Add a Smart Mirror App to Enhance the Eyewear Selling Process.” Part 1 discusses the app in frame selection, Part 2 discusses its use in lens selection and Part 3 discusses its use in taking measurements.
I haven’t used this or similar products, but it’s important to remember that many online retailers have virtual eyewear “try on” functions, and patients can get similar apps for their own phones. Using a product like the ABS Smart Mirror shows patients that we are current with technology, enhances their experience, and they may be less likely to use their own devices for eyewear shopping.
Ask Patients Face-to-Face About Their Experience in Your Office
At several practices where I worked, we always asked the patient face-to-face if they were happy with the products and services they received. It was a great opportunity to address any dissatisfaction immediately, rather than have the patient leave unhappy. If the patient was pleased, we asked for a referral.
Some practices send e-mails or text links to surveys after patients leave, and can then address any dissatisfaction, but I believe it is much more important to ask the patient about their satisfaction level while they are still face-to-face with you. It is an opportunity to prevent a patient from leaving who might express dissatisfaction to others, and shows genuine concern for the patient.
Make It Easy for Patients & Follow-Up To Ask About Their Experience
If the patient has had a good experience, hand them a business card and ask for the referral as they are checking out. Ask if any family members would like to come in for an exam. This works particularly well when family members have the same insurance benefits to use.
Many practices collect e-mail addresses and mobile phone numbers. About a week after the patient’s visit, after they’ve had a chance to show off their new eyewear, is a good time to send a friendly text or e-mail message asking for a referral.
Linda Conlin is a licensed optician and managing editor of 20/20 Magazine’s Pro-to-Pro Newsletter. To contact: LindaConlin@OpticalCEU.com