Word of Mouth 2.0

ReferralPeople talk, and word of mouth has always been a successful way for physicians to obtain new customers for their practice.  Although this method still holds very true to assisting in the marketing of an urgent care business, current physicians and urgent care business owners say that the times are changing and an online focus is the new strategy and could be word of mouth 2.0.

Jonathan Kerley, DO, owner, Fast Access Healthcare, is an advocate for word of mouth referrals and says that even today, patient to patient referrals are absolutely still the number one reason that physicians gain new patients.

“If you had to rank the top 15 ways to market, that’s numbers 1 through 10.  It’s really weighted that heavily.  We ask our patients how they heard about us and it’s still far and above “a friend told me.  A family member told me,” Kerley says.  “If you focus on taking care of patients, then they tend to tell people and make that kind of referral.”

Tom Johnson, President of Beacon Urgent Care Inc., a company that offers administrative services for medical operations, says word of mouth still plays a big factor in raising patient attendance at an urgent care center.

“Our repeat business is probably 20% now, which for an acute urgent care center is pretty good.  What we are seeing is when people are satisfied with the way they are treated, they are telling others and they are also telling their family members to come back,” Johnson says.

Kerley says the model is effective through focusing on the relationships and internal customer service.  Taking care of people means not only just meeting the immediate need, but establishing a relationship with them knowing that you’re not just convenient, he says.

“There are a lot of other places that are convenient; but this shows that you are the next level.  You are thorough and that you care.  That means the patients, they don’t have to have a completely warm and fuzzy type experience but they need to know that you absolutely care and are concerned about their well being not only for the here and now, but also for the complete overall care in the future.  It has such an impact that it drives a lot of the word of mouth marketing,” Kerley says.

Steve Samudrala, M.D., medical director and founder of America’s Family Doctors advocates that before the internet, patients would have to be found through word of mouth or people going through the yellow pages.

“Right now, I think yellow pages are pretty much defunct and it’s going to be word of mouth and people going online to google.  That is where the big challenge is.  A lot of people, a lot of doctors, providers and patients are now more in this virtual world,” Samudrala says adding that word of mouth will always be there, however, the internet is the next step for genuine marketing.

Obviously, the old way of spreading a brand is traditional word of mouth, Kerley says.

“I think that social marketing is just an advanced method for word of mouth.  You can tell an experience and spread it in a next dimensional manner.  If you are savvy and not just by having a website, but using social media to reach out and to tell your story and to share your experiences, I think that that is the most current and best method as far as anything coming close to word of mouth,” Kerley says.

On top of quality care and customer service being used to reel in patients, Johnson says use of technology is also a necessity these days when it comes to reaching out to the “on demand” patient market.

One of the programs that Johnson’s office uses is called JumptheWait.  This program allows patients to schedule their appointments online, then have their time slot for the center confirmed electronically. Johnson says this method allows people to carry on with their busy lives and know the exact time when they need to come in.  Johnson says this is also a way to positively influence patients and gain word of mouth marketing from them.

Johnson says his marketing also spreads online and in sometimes ways that he has no power over.

“Right now we are almost running at 80% of people commenting that they read about us through reviews on Yelp.  It’s good and bad, but still it is a way for somebody to go in and see how many stars a company gets,” Johnson says.

“Obviously having a really good web presence helps with successful marketing.  I’d say the biggest way is to really have a good, user friendly website that is functional.  I am a huge believer of scheduling appointments online, letting people know what our hours are, days we are open, weather alerts, services offered, accepted insurances,” Samudrala says.

“Basically trying to drive as many people to our site who are using it for functional reasons and the more people use it for functional reasons the more it is going to be spread on Google.  Of course, being out on social media helps wether it’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. “

Kerley says that in modern healthcare, social media has become a priority to spreading one’s brand to specific audiences.

“You can spread the message; you can boost your posts, and really hit target audiences, which is amazing that you can very much drill down into the specific demographic.  If you want to send a message today, tomorrow or whenever you can tailor your message…it doesn’t always have to be a complete blanket.  Get your demographic as much and as often as you like,” Kerley says.

Johnson also explains why the target demographic is so important to the tech savvy owner.

“When you look at the age demographic of the people that are using urgent care, they are using their mobile technology more than ever.  To me, you have to be aware of that.  You have to let people be able to access your knowledge about your urgent care center through social media.  I do believe that people are very in tune with other opinions about your facility whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp.  That type of social interaction is really what makes your reputation out there,” Johnson says.

Samudrala says that the online presence really helps out for education and awareness. This in turn can be helpful in bringing attention to new patients and getting them into the door.

“The nice thing about the online approach is that it is really “freemium.”  We pretty much don’t need to spend any money on marketing.  Everything done through social media for the most part is free,” Samudrala says.

Samudrala says that a strong online presence can also generate impressions which just get your name out there more.  One example he uses is how his office promotes its employees online.

“We celebrate a lot of birthdays for our staff and we take pictures whenever we have birthdays.  Patients and even prospective patients will like it because then they see us and see we are genuine, see we are real,” Samudrala says.  “There are a lot of generic urgent cares that just have a generic name, and if there are faces for the most part, it’s just stock photos.  You’ll see the same photos on many different sites because many people buy them.”

According to Samudrala, in an age where medicine has gotten to be more corporatized and impersonal, physician owned entities must emphasize the fact that they are out there for the community, care about the community and are happy to help.  Having a strong online presence makes the effort a bit more genuine.

“There are going to be huge corporations out there that can spend millions of dollars for TV commercials with paid actors, but that’s not genuine.  The person is an “I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV,” Samudrala says.



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