Launching a pharmacy referral program will put word-of-mouth marketing on fire for your pharmacy’s growth.
We have all seen those commercials. You know, the ones that are advertising the sale of the year, the best prices ever… BUT only for new customers of the company. Once, I tried to call my cable company to take advantage of the new pricing plan, only to be told that the deal was only for new customers. But I have been a customer for 6 years! As a loyal customer, shouldn’t I get a great deal too? I was angry, to say the least. This experience shaped how I treated my pharmacy customers when I opened my pharmacy. I vowed to treat my loyal customers special. When it came time to create a pharmacy referral program, I remembered this lesson and made sure my current customers were the ones being rewarded.
You Can Afford A Pharmacy Referral Program
Many pharmacy owners are struggling financially, and you may be too. You might be concerned with being able to afford to implement a new pharmacy referral program. Unlike other forms of advertising, you only pay for this program if it works. When you do radio, TV, flyers on doors, or any other type of advertising, you pay whether it works or not. One of the selling points for a referral program is that you only pay when it generates new prescription patients for your pharmacy.
You don’t need to do a massive advertising campaign to be successful for this pharmacy referral program. Because you are turning your current patients into an army of marketers, you only need to concentrate on promoting the program inside your four walls. Low-cost solutions such as bag stuffers and in-store signage work great for this.
The New Rules of a Pharmacy Referral Program
When I worked at a chain before opening my own pharmacy, it seemed daily I was transferring prescriptions into the pharmacy so patients could collect their $25 transfer coupon. It was no surprise that I transferred them out to another chain for the next fill to take advantage of their coupon. I wanted to avoid this at my own pharmacy, so I changed pharmacy referral programs’ rules. I would not reward the new patient; rather, I would reward my current loyal patient for giving me a referral. And, my patients could keep earning referrals as long as they kept sending them to me.
Here’s a summary of the rules of engagement my pharmacy referral program had to meet:
- Reward my current patients
- No limit to pharmacy referral program rewards
- No monetary reward for the new patient
You may choose to go along with these rules or develop some new ones of your own. Whichever way you structure your pharmacy referral program, be sure you are confident in your choices, and you can clearly explain your logic.
What Makes A Good Pharmacy Referral Program?
I wanted my pharmacy customers to talk to their friends about the pharmacy as if they were talking about a hot new restaurant. Discussing pharmacy choices wasn’t typically something that people chatted about at the coffee shop. That was going to change if I had my way. I was determined to turn every single customer into a de facto marketer. These are the factors to consider when building your pharmacy referral program.
- Give them something (good) to talk about
- Make it easy
- Ensure it is worthwhile for the patient
- Train your staff
- Tell everybody
- Wow the new patient
If you follow these guidelines, you will be able to turn word of mouth into a bonafide growth strategy for your pharmacy. With my referral program’s help, I was able to add over 400 new patients a month for 18 months in a row!
Cue Bonnie Raitt
Give them something to talk about is good lyrics for a hit song and a great business rule. If you want word of mouth to work in your favor, you have to excite people to talk about you. Negative experiences naturally spread like wildfire because humans are drawn to negativity. This means you have to work extra hard to get them to spread positive vibes. So, what would patients say about your pharmacy? Being friendly and filling prescriptions correctly only goes so far. You need to be different. You need to be a purple cow.
If you aren’t sure what a purple cow is, it is a concept by Seth Godin. In short, brown cows go unnoticed, while a purple cow would be the talk of the town. What are some purple cow things you can do in your pharmacy? Here are some ideas that have worked for my pharmacies:
- Free water bottles in the summer
- Free coffee and cookies in the pharmacy
- Giving an “I *heart* ABC Pharmacy” balloon to each kid
- Wicked fast service
- Free delivery (may not be a purple cow in every market)
- Point of care testing
Executing these and other ideas will surely make your patients and Bonnie Raitt happy. It will give them something good to talk about and ensure your pharmacy referral program will be successful.
No Rules Or Barriers
Many companies have a loyalty or referral program that comes with a lot of strings attached. You need to have a card stamped so many times to get the reward. What happens if you forget your card or lose it? A referral program that requires a special card to be distributed. What happens when someone wants to talk about your pharmacy but doesn’t have their special card with them? Whenever you create a rule, you are often creating a barrier too. The more barriers you have, the less likely your program will be as successful as you want it to be.
Therefore, I designed a referral program with as few strings as possible. All that a new patient has to do is mention the name of the person who referred them. The current patient who wants to make a referral only has to say, “mention my name at the pharmacy.” No cards, no tracking, no barriers. This way is exactly how people talk about a hot new restaurant. And now they are talking about your pharmacy instead!
Make It Worth Their While
Some pharmacy owners that I have helped in the past with starting up a referral program try to skimp on the reward. They often do this out of fear. Fearful that it will cost too much money. Then they wonder why it didn’t work. Remember, it only costs you money if it works. The cost of acquiring new patients through traditional paid advertising means is astronomical. An average cost to acquire a new patient is around $100. If you are in a small town or really good at marketing, it could be less. To calculate your cost of new patient acquisition, you would take all of your marketing and sales expenses in a month and divide it by the number of new patients in that same month.
So what amount will make patients excited? I have found a minimum of $20 will work for most pharmacies. You may find yourself needing to go a little higher if you are in a big urban center. Typically, you don’t need any more than $30. The referral credit goes on the person referring’s account as in-store credit.
Your Employee’s Responsibility
Ensuring a successful pharmacy referral program is every employee’s responsibility. In fact, one of the required tasks for every employee on their job description is “Increase the market share of the pharmacy.” Before you launch your pharmacy referral program, it is your job to ensure that every employee knows their role and is excited about it. You should consider a performance bonus for your employees based on the program’s successful implementation.
Train your employees to ask leading questions such as when was the last time you referred someone, or how excited are you about our referral program? When a new patient comes into the pharmacy, the employee is responsible for making sure the question “How did you hear about us” is answered. Whether they do it verbally or through a new patient form, don’t allow the patient not to answer this question.
Make sure your employees are eligible for the referral reward as well. As I once did, you might think that employees would automatically be telling friends and family to switch their prescriptions because they work at the pharmacy. I was surprised that once they could earn a $20 credit, each employee knew so many more friends and family. Employees became a huge part of getting the pharmacy referral program off the ground.
Shout From The Mountaintops
Promoting your referral program needs to be your main messaging point for at least 3 months after launching it. You need to be talking about it on all your social channels, health fairs, every patient interaction, and every doctor visit. Why 3 months? Firstly, it takes at least 6 weeks to develop a new habit. You need both your employees and patients to develop a new habit. Secondly, some patients only come into the pharmacy every 90 days. You want to make sure and hit every single patient. Broad awareness is the cornerstone to a successful pharmacy referral program.
Make The New Patient Say WOW!
I have a saying that I tell my employees. Every day is someone’s first impression of our pharmacy. When someone is coming to your house for the first time, you probably do a little cleaning, turn the stained couch cushion over to the other side and perhaps light a candle. You also ensure the kids and the dog are on their best behavior and threaten them with no treats if they step out of line. You get to prepare for this. However, as soon as you open that front door of your pharmacy, you don’t know when a new patient will be walking in. You and your staff need to be ready at all times.
A great way to ensure an awesome-filled first visit is to have a plan. Here is an example of how your employees can wow a first-time patient.
- Great everyone with enthusiasm when they come into the pharmacy.
- If the patient isn’t known to the employee, ask if this is their first time.
- Have a new patient process to welcome first-timers.
- Under-promise and over-deliver.
- Point out the free cookies and coffee or direct them to the kids’ play area. (your purple cow moment!)
- Offer an upsolution based on their prescription.
- Tell them about your referral program.
- Surprise them with a bounce-back coupon.
- Give them a pharmacist consultation.
- Follow-up with a written thank you card.
A Rockin’ Pharmacy Referral Program
By following this guideline, you will have yourself a pharmacy referral program that will drive new patients to your pharmacy. This is a low-cost, low-risk program that rewards your current patients and introduces your pharmacy to new patients. If you need any help designing your pharmacy referral program, you can email DiversifyRx at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out to us via Facebook or LinkedIn.