While there are many ways to create a steady flow of referrals, one thing is certain:
Prior to receiving a solid ‘word of mouth’ referral, the establishment of a relationship between you and your customer/client/patient is more crucial than you think.
This isn’t simply about knowing your customer/ client/patient by first name, or even the names of their children. That’s a good start, but I’m talking about building actual relationships; ones that (with a little work) should create a steady flow of referrals for the life of your business.
How is it done exactly? There seem to be as many theories on this subject as there are brands of automobiles. But I think it’s important to ask yourself first if you have a sincere interest in your customer/ patient / client. If your answer is “No” then that’s a ‘flunk’ on your part.
You’ve heard the saying: “Be interested, not interesting”. This happens to be as true in business as it is with most relationships. You must, must, must be interested in those inquiring about your products and services. If you don’t take the time it will show. If you are sincerely interested it will come across loud and clear. And there is a good chance you will have more referrals than you can handle.
A heat felt interest in your client/patient/customer will open doors you didn’t know existed. A sincere interest will separate you from every other Joe out there, even if your products and services are inferior. In most areas of business the customer/client/patient is buying you, not what you have to sell.
A client of mine in a very congested area of Los Angeles makes it habit to call each and every one of his patients on their birthday. He took my advice ten years ago and now has more referrals than he can handle. He also has better patient retention than most dentists in his area. When was the last time your dentist called you on your birthday? No one does that!
Just try to recall the last time you felt a business owner was sincerely interested in you to the point where you really felt you were important. It’s rare isn’t it? This is why I see why relationship building as being so important in creating a steady flow of referrals. First hand observation shows that this area is virtually untapped in the small to medium sized business community.
Another client of mine sends a basket of muffins to the patron who he sees most in the store each month. He calls them his ‘Customer of the month’ and sends a basket of muffins to the office where the customer works, along with a ‘Thank You’ card. Can you see where that might get someone’s attention and create more loyalty? He also throws in a short stack of business cards and as a result of this action gets at least three or four new customers a month.
Most business owners I speak with daily do not make relationship building a priority and it’s a problem. The majority also take returning customers/clients/patients for granted. This is especially true for doctors and I’m not sure why. Respectfully these business owners are missing the boat. They are missing out on a virtual goldmine of profit. Statistics show that if you take the time and concentrate on building a relationship with every person that walks through your door for products and services, you will likely be amazed at what follows.
I’ve heard business owners say: “I’m just not a people person…..and I have a hard time asking for referrals.” But the truth is that all one has to do is start communicating about almost anything, and the pieces of the relationship will fall into place naturally most of the time. You can talk about the weather (As cheesy as that might sound), or pets, or children, or anything you think might create agreement or stimulate normal conversation. But it is through this continued communication that you will come to know the person in front of you. Knowing them is more important than almost every other promotional action you take part in. Remain interested and you’ll surprise people.
Word of mouth referrals are arguably the strongest of all, so take this seriously. Often times we assume that referrals will come automatically; based on simply providing good service or a superior product. In my experience this is a wrong assumption that can hurt your bottom line. Referrals should never be assumed. In fact you should assume the opposite and concentrate on building relationships regularly. Your future really does largely depend on it.
I hate to beat a dead horse, but once relationships are established, the referrals should come naturally.
Give this a try and comment here on what you have observed by following the advice in this article. I am very interested in your feedback. ; )