If you have a small to mid-sized practice, odds are you either market yourself, have just 1-2 marketing staff, or use outside help. Would more people getting the word out about your practice help growth? What if those people did so… for FREE? Well, with the right word-of-mouth strategy, your patients can be your marketing department.
Word-of-mouth is great – we all talk about how nice referrals are. But, have you considered how much time you spend actually strategizing to increase word-of-mouth? Patients talking about you is sort of a passive event, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t intentional on your part. Let’s look at this research that suggests word-of-mouth marketing should warrant some of your time and effort:
“83 percent of Americans say that a word-of-mouth recommendation from a friend or family member makes them more likely to purchase that product or service.”
That’s research in the book Talk Triggers by Jay Baer. Jay also reports that word-of-mouth is “directly responsible for 19% of all purchases, and influences as much as 90%.”
Those are HUGE numbers! Unfortunately, many of even the best business owners and marketers take word-of-mouth for granted. We tend to think that providing a fantastic service that benefits health, people will talk about it. But, data shows that just isn’t true.
Word-of-mouth needs to be just as much part of every practice’s marketing strategy as email, social media, and newsletters. Let’s look at how to get started with word-of-mouth marketing for PT:
First, let me be clear, I’m NOT talking about your patient referral program. Incentivizing a specific group of patients to direct someone to you is not a bad thing, but it doesn’t create natural word-of-mouth necessarily. Patient referral marketing more generates one-time conversations with a reward in mind. While this can be a part of your word-of-mouth strategy, it doesn’t make up the whole thing.
The goal of word-of-mouth marketing is to give every patient a story so unexpected they can’t help but share it naturally in everyday conversation.
Your award-winning therapy is great, but it’s expected when someone seeks a PT. The patient feeling better is amazing, but it is still what they expected to happen (as evidenced by the fact they’re disappointed if they don’t). We as humans don’t tell each other stories about things that “met expectations.” A good story has an unexpected twist, and good stories make us sound interesting to our friends. Want people to talk? You have to surprise them in a remarkable way. Here’s an example of a brand that nailed it:
If you have, you know where I’m going. The DoubleTree by Hilton gives away 75,000 fresh, warm, chocolate chip cookies every day to guests checking in. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a single hotel check-in experience that has a story worth telling my friends about. But DoubleTree guests not only have had that experience… they tell it.
A survey of 1000 past guests found that over 33% of them had mentioned that cookie in the past 2 months. By that math, there are 25,000 people EVERY DAY talking about the cookies. Is it because the cookies are that good? Well, maybe a little. But more importantly – it is unexpected and unusual, so it makes a story.
Imagine if a third of your patients mentioned something about your practice – even as small as a cookie – to somebody once every 60 days. According to the stats above, there is an 83% chance your patient volume would increase without advertising.
So, now all you need to do is to think of a great “talk trigger” right? Yes… and no.
If it were as easy as brainstorming a couple ideas, odds are you’d already a great system. If you want to get the best and something unexpected and word-of-mouth friendly it’s best to gather information first. Specifically, you want to know what your patients DID expect. Then, your ideas come from what they didn’t.
So, it’s time for a survey.
A survey can and should be more than emailing out some questions. Planning each step is vital to ensuring you get the results you need. That’s why there are entire agencies built around surveying your past customers – it’s an art!
In this case, your goal is to find out what your patients’ expectations were. I recommend breaking it down into a handful of stages, for instance, if your main question is “What did you expect when…” your stages would be:
Then for each stage, you can ask for more details such as “were your expectations met, why or why not?” or “Did anything stand out or surprise you?”
Now, there are entire training courses on survey creation I definitely recommend putting some research time into it. But those are the basics of how a survey can impact your word-of-mouth marketing strategy – you will have the power to create an experience based on real data.
Incentive programs, asking for referrals in-clinic, using brochures or rack cards to incentivize, these are all highly recommended methods to help build referrals. But if your goal is to really make people talk about you in their daily life, referrals are just the beginning. For a great visualization check out this infographic on the 7 pieces of word-of-mouth marketing!
If you do the legwork, get creative, and build a sharable experience then the data shows your practice will benefit. The amount of work is why Jay Baer includes “Must Be Repeatable” as one of his primary talk trigger tips.
Just like many aspects of your business, you want to create an effective system that your staff can easily implement on a routine basis so that every patient will experience their own, unexpected story. Then, and only then, you will beat your competition in word-of-mouth marketing.
“I have nothing but positive to say about them. Their customer service is great.”
“I have had to hire another physical therapist and now looking at moving into a larger building!”
“We couldn’t be more thrilled with the quality of marketing materials. Highly recommend!”