How do your patients or clients find you? If you are doing a good job of marketing your practice, people will find you through various routes, both online and offline. One of the most effective is via word of mouth.
Word-of-mouth referrals are personal recommendations. They come from:
- Current or former clients
- People who have heard about you from others
- People who have read your writings or attended your talks
- Other professionals who are impressed with the results reported by people whom they have referred to you in the past
Consider that the process of choosing a mental health professional is confusing or overwhelming to many people, especially those who have never been in therapy. Personal recommendations help reduce the ambiguity and reduce the risk of ending up with the "wrong" therapist.
Word-of-mouth referrals also predispose clients to expect a positive experience. As you know, research shows that expectations are powerful influencers in determining outcome. Thus, your patients and clients who found you through personal recommendations may be more likely to be satisfied with your work, and to recommend others. As noted by Dr. Steve Walfish in a previous blog post, at least 25% of your referrals should come from former clients.
One satisfied client can generate several referrals down the road, simply by telling one friend, who in turn may talk about you to others, and so on.
How to increase word-of-mouth referrals
Be good at what you do. This is a prerequisite. If your professional services are sub-par, the word of mouth will turn negative, which will discourage referrals regardless of how much marketing you do.
Provide exceptional customer service. In our training, we were taught to be careful not to enable clients' dependency, and to watch for signs of manipulation. Many clinicians interpret this as avoiding doing favors or providing little conveniences, such as filling out paperwork for self-submitted insurance claims, or not charging for brief phone calls. Thus, if other therapists are not doing these things and you are doing them, you will be "exceptional" without too much effort or cost. More ideas on how to provide exceptional customer service are here and here.
Be friendly while out in the community. This can be difficult if you're an introvert, as many clinicians are. After working with people all day and all week, it takes effort to carry on chitchat while out and about in the community. But if you keep to yourself too much, others may view you as unapproachable. Based on this impression, when it comes to choosing a therapist, they may dismiss you as a possibility or discourage their friends and family from seeing you. Alternatively, if you make the effort to show interest in others outside the office, it will be easier for people to feel that they know you, like you, and trust you - such that they will recommend you to their family and friends.
Do noteworthy things in your community. Help out with fund-raising for your favorite charitable causes. Chaperone your kids' field trips. Do some free presentations for organizations that cater to your target audiences (and include a handout with your contact information on it.) When you do something noteworthy, there is a good chance that other people will talk about it.
Keep in touch with other professionals who refer clients to you. With the client's permission, send the referring professional an acknowledgment that the person is seeing you. When appropriate contact the professional to co-ordinate care. At the end of your work with the client, send a note to the professional. This benefits not only the clients; it also helps keep your name on the radar of the referring professionals next time they see someone who needs your services.