Referrals are the lifeblood of any business, trusted more than advertising (by a whopping 92 percent of people), and they become part of your practice's online footprint and brand. For these reasons, you want to encourage reviews and social media word of mouth. It's easier than you think.

Delight Your Patients

There's a saying in the restaurant business that no one comes back for a "good" meal. People expect good. No one raves about "good." They expect that you'll clean or drill their teeth with minimal pain and that they'll leave your practice with a cleaner mouth.

However, if you give them an "awww" moment, you'll get their attention. Find ways in your practice to delight your patients through a thoughtful non-toothbrush giveaway at the end of the examination or congratulating them on how they care for their teeth. Do your best to surprise them with something out of the ordinary. Most people will share these moments because they stand out.

Catch Them in the Act

When someone refers you or writes a review, thank them (publicly if possible). The next time they come in, surprise them with something special and thank them again. If you know what your average patient is worth to you over the lifetime of your relationship, you'll understand that a small token of your appreciation delivers a sizeable return on your investment.

If someone writes a negative review, don't get offensive. Apologize for not providing the patient experience that your dental practice is known for and try to take the conversation offline to see how you can help. While you can't remove a negative review, you can negate its damage on your online reputation by addressing the person's concerns in a public forum. This shows others that you care. Wherever possible, address these concerns as the head of the practice. Potential patients will see that the dentist cares enough to tackle these issues personally.

Minimize the Wait Time

One of the most complained things about medical and dental practices is the wait. While you can't always help that, there are things you can do to make it seem shorter. Offering free WiFi, employing friendly staff, and providing refreshments in the lobby can make the wait time seem less of an issue.

Ask

The most common reason people don't refer others is not because of an unpleasant experience, but because it slips their mind. Most people will oblige when asked, especially if you delighted them earlier. Explain that you do very little advertising for your practice and its growth hinges on referrals. Most people are willing to do you a favor when it's requested. The upside of having a little courage and asking for it is that once they've done you a favor, they are more apt to repeat it and have a more positive view of you.

In addition to being one of the most effective forms of advertising, improving word of mouth marketing doesn't involve learning new skills. You just need to work on being transparent and delightful — a pretty short order for a great return.

Image via Flickr by Dr PS Sahana * Kadamtala Howrah