How to Generate Word-of-Mouth Referrals


How to Generate Word-of-Mouth Referrals

Use the four Cs to create a premium experience that will keep your patients talking long after their visit.


To generate more word-of-mouth referrals, it really boils down to Psychology 101, an understanding of human nature. We are all wired in a similar fashion — our wants, likes and dislikes are intimately understandable. We are also wired with the need to communicate when we are struck by an experience that deeply influences us. In fact, we can’t wait to share such “premium” experiences with family and friends.

I refer to the attributes that create these experiences as the “Four Cs” — caring, compassion, competence and connection. By examining each of these, we can better understand how to create a premium experience in our practices and, ultimately, increase word-of-mouth referrals.

CARING at every level

When patients make the decision to seek care for their eyes with us, they expect us to really care, respecting their decision and the responsibility that comes with it.

This caring needs to be expressed on every level in the office, from the person who answers the phone to the receptionist greeting the patient and all the way up to the doctors. Our phone operators and receptionists must understand the services that we provide and communicate them in terms the patient understands. They must be able to field and understand commonly asked questions from both existing and potential patients. A pleasant, warm and caring demeanor expressed by those who interface with our patients on a daily basis goes a long way in setting the groundwork for the premium experience.

In collecting important historical information, our technicians must be devoted to and listen carefully to what our patients say. So, they may have to repeat questions and investigate patient answers (cordially and as often as necessary) to make sure the information is credible. After all, patient history information provides the basis for testing, patient education, products, services, etc. — it is critical to the overall patient experience.

COMPASSION: creating a vibrant office

Compassion is contagious. It creates a vibrant office experience that makes the patient feel important from the moment that he/she enters to the time that he/she departs. With each patient encounter, staff should smile, make eye contact and greet the patient by name. There is nothing more important to the patient experience than the feeling that everyone they encounter really enjoys their role in the culture of the office.

We must also communicate the feeling that we know how important our work is to the welfare of our patients. For example, at nJoy Vision we believe sight is a miracle that should be enjoyed by people all over the world. As we articulate this commitment to philanthropy with excitement to our patients, they immediately connect with the compassion of our practice, and feel they are part of the bigger picture with us.

We instruct staff members to share their passion about the business to our patients: A business that exudes care and compassion about optometry and is instrumental in patients’ care, whether it’s a favorite brand of frames or a child who needed a pair of glasses, wins the hearts of those they treat… every time.

Another key to the premium practice experience is providing our patients with the impression that we are devoted to the product(s) that we deliver. When a patient senses that we are excited about what we do, it creates an infectious environment that gives the individual the impression that something really important is taking place in the office.

COMPETENCE: There are no substitutes

Equally essential in generating word-of-mouth referrals for a practice is the competence of its physicians. The physician must devote him/herself to the continued pursuit of excellence in eye care. This devotion can be expressed through continuing education toward the deliverance of outcomes that exceed patient expectations.

The physician must make the patient feel an aura of competence in his/her presence. Such competence is best expressed in an ability to educate the patient as to the nature of his/her problem and its potential remedies. Such discussions with the patient should be presented in terms that are clear and understandable, and the patient must feel that all questions relating to the condition and its treatment have been answered to his/her satisfaction.

No matter how busy the practice, the patient must be made to feel that the physician exercises his/her expertise in an individualized fashion.


When you spend time on the first three Cs, you find the fourth happens naturally. Time after time your patients will share with you their enthusiasm for the treatment and care they have received, information about patients and family they have referred to you and activities that they have going on in their lives.

Embrace the connection. If you listen, you will find a multitude of opportunities to connect with your patients. Patients who you turn into brand evangelists are invaluable.

Our practice has made it an annual event to bring together those who have had services at our facility. We have offered discounted tickets (donated to us) to sports events, where our patient base and staff are able to attend functions with their families. After all, you now have an extended family. We make it fun for all ages, and find time to share our appreciation with our most dedicated fans. Giveaway items are not uncommon — a pair of sunglasses (also donated), a routine exam for a needy friend of choice from the referral of a patient, etc.

Expectations exceeded

Patients who interface with a practice that presents these attributes leave with an impression that the service they have received exceeds all expectations. They see real value in the time they have spent in your care and the money they have paid you for your services. They view your care as a real premium experience.

Such a premium experience is perceived by the patient as a valuable gift, and he/she will share this impression of value with family and friends.

So it’s really very simple when you think of it. Word-of-mouth referrals are the unavoidable consequence of the premium patient experience. Once your patients have lived such an experience, they cannot help but tell everyone who will listen. It’s Psychology 101. OM

images Dr. Holsted is president and CEO of nJoy Vision, which specializes in refractive surgical treatment for LASIK, keratoconus and refractive cataract surgery. She lectures on co-management of surgical procedures and leadership. Contact her at dawn. To comment on this article, e-mail