Posted on

OD Marketing Tips: Working with Referrals

For many businesses, word-of-mouth marketing tends to be the most impactful for cultivating potential customers. Building a loyal, satisfied patient base is an important part of a successful practice and a positive reputation for your business. Like online reviews, referrals are another form of word-of-mouth marketing that can help give your practice an edge over competitors.

What Is a Referral Program?Referrals tend to be the most trusted form of marketing.

Referral marketing is defined as “a method of promoting products or services to new customers through referrals, usually word-of-mouth.” Unlike online reviews, referrals mostly come from people who know each other, but potential patients can look for recommendations from several sources, including friends and family and online with Facebook, Yelp, Angie’s List, and other review sites. A referral program is specifically tied to your practice and gives patients incentives to recommend you to one or more friends.

Why Referrals?

Online reviews are public indications of past patient experiences. Referrals are patients specifically directing their chosen friends to your practice because they think these people are a good fit. An effective program creates communication about your practice with your target audience while giving them a trusted review of your services. Not only do people tend to trust referrals more, but they tend to come at a lower acquisition cost and have a higher lifetime value than non-referrals.

Tips for Creating a Referral Program

To have a successful referral program, there are a few important things to consider.

Get to Know Your Loyal Patient.

What do these patients enjoy? What do you do to keep them happy? What kinds of things attracted them to your practice? Use this knowledge to attract more of that customer type.

Offer High-Quality Products & Services.

This ties in with the idea of great customer service. If your products/services are topnotch, there will be little for patients to dislike about your practice. Or better yet, there will be more for patients to love, and therefore, more for them to rave about potential referrals.

Make It Easy.

This is a very important piece to remember. The design of your program should be as simple and user-friendly as possible. Patients will not participate in your referral program if it is too difficult or time-consuming, no matter how much they love your practice. Give them clear, concise directions so they know what you expect, and then quick, easy next steps for them to follow.

Promote Your Program.

It’s not enough to just have a referral program; you’ll need to promote the benefits. For a referral program to be successful, it’s important to actively encourage patients to refer their friends, family, acquaintances, and anyone else they think would benefit from what your practice has to offer. You can use the mediums we’ve discussed in this series, including SEO, PPC, social media, and email.

Evaluate & Adapt.

After creating and promoting your program, be sure to not forget about it. It should be an ever-evolving piece of your marketing plan. Plan to adjust your program according to feedback, or update it based on patient needs/wants. You’ll also need to keep your newly-referred patients engaged. Look for ways to remind them about the program to help continue building your patient base. You can even give additional incentives like incremental rewards or suggest different products or add-ons.

When you offer outstanding products and services, it's easy for patients to talk you up to their friends and family.

Possible Incentives

Referral programs work best if there’s some kind of incentive for patients to share their friends’ and family’s information with you. When deciding what to offer, choose rewards that your customers will value, but make sure you can afford them.

Double-Sided Rewards

Double-sided rewards compensate both the referrer (sender) and referee (recipient). For example, the referrer receives a $25 credit towards his/her next pair of glasses, and the referee receives a $25 credit towards their first pair.


One of the most common referral incentives, discounts help to encourage loyal customers to buy more (e.g. Get 10% off your next visit if you refer a friend and they make it into the office). Discounts or even free product can be easily stackable and scale into incremental rewards. Harry’s shaving brand has created a referral program based on stackable rewards:

  • Refer 5 – free shaving cream
  • Refer 10 – free razor
  • Refer 25 – free premium razor
  • Refer 50 – free shaving for a year

By doing this, they not only give their customers what they want, but they are encouraging them to give as many names as they can to work towards the “grand prize” (a year of free shaving).


Because most patients make appointments every 1-2 years, a cash incentive could be plausible for referrals. Be sure to have guidelines and rules for what earns the cash reward and what doesn’t make the cut (e.g. if a referral makes and keeps the appointment.)


Offering credits is a great strategy for pay-per-use companies. A credit could be used towards glasses or contacts but could be difficult to utilize if patients don’t visit the office regularly.

Branded Gear

Hats, mugs, bags, pens, glasses cleaner cloths, glasses cases, and other items can be fun incentives to offer for referrals. They can also help further promote your practice, but you need to make sure that the gear you offer are items people will want.

Gift cards

Gift cards are great incentives for referral programs, but they need to be for stores/restaurants your target patients would value.

Gift cards are great for smaller referral programs, but knowing your audience is key. The gift cards should cater to your target audience. Starbucks and Amazon are two of the most common gift cards, but gas cards are also a good option.


Contests gather more referrals in a short amount of time, but they’ll need to be short-lived and worthwhile prizes.

Referral programs can be a great way to utilize already happy patients to help cast your potential patient net while showing appreciation for their loyalty. Before going all out and creating an elaborate program, test a few small incentives and see how your current patients react. If there is a positive reaction, consider scaling up the program and making it a permanent part of your marketing plan. If there’s an underwhelming response, consider changing the incentive before giving up on the program.




Carter, Emily. “Create a Referral Program | Business Tips & Tricks.” WebpageFX Blog, WebpageFX, 23 Feb. 2018,

“7 Fantastic Internet Marketing Strategies for Optometrists.” WebpageFX, WebpageFX Blog, 2018,

Martin-Muir, Fiona. “Referral Program Examples (& the Strategies You Can Steal) | Blog.” RewardStream, RewardStream, 7 Mar. 2018,

“Under the Influence: Consumer Trust In Advertising.” What People Watch, Listen To and Buy, The Nielsen Company (US), LLC., 17 Sept. 2013,

Burniston, Kevin. “What’s the Difference between an Online Review and a Referral?” Dental Economics, PennWell Corporation, 26 Aug. 2015,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *