In his article, Are You Referable?, author Steve Woodruff, a 26-year veteran of business development in the healthcare sector, discusses the key determinants of any senior living community’s “referability quotient”. These are the factors that truly matter to residents, their family members and prospective customers.
As he so aptly points out, the holy grail of any business is to be referable (i.e., to attract new clients because of positive word-of-mouth from existing customers). There is no shortcut to becoming referable. It has to be earned.
According to Woodruff, senior living providers need to have at least the following three things in place:
- Be able. The overarching skill in business is competence, i.e. that you are capable of performing the challenges and responsibilities you take on. If you’re sloppy, tardy, or unskilled, you cannot expect existing clients to help you gain new customers that will ultimately be disappointed.
- Be remarkable. “Yeah, they were OK, I guess…” is not a ringing endorsement. ”Commodity-level” service does not earn word-of-mouth business. Referrals come through providing extraordinary service — exceeding expectations, having a great attitude, making the entire user experience a positive one.
- Be transferable. This is the capstone. If anyone is going to refer you, they’ll have to use words (and, increasingly, links) to pass you along to others. Do you have one Web link or blog post that gives a great summary of your service? Perhaps it should be featured in your e-mail signature. Do you have a punchy, one-sentence summary that creates a memorable word picture in the mind of your clients (and potential clients)? Don’t do any marketing without it.
There’s a lot of noise—and also plenty of competition—out there. However, there is also a boatload of opportunity for any great business or entrepreneur that is outstanding (or standing out) in the field. Social media is an amplifier. It can accentuate and highlight your greatness. But you still have to be able, remarkable, and transferable if you ultimately hope to be referable!
In addition to Steve Woodruff, other experts, inside and outside of senior living, have published works on the importance of service excellence and its correlation to brand strength, favorability and preference.
Quint Studer, a noted healthcare leader, author and lecturer, highlights the vital importance of customer interaction and service excellence as foundations of brand strength and positive word of mouth. In his book, Hardwiring Excellence, he describes the brand experience sequence that ultimately determines preference, or lack of preference, for your organization in the marketplace, i.e.:
Customer Experience → Word of Mouth → Viral Brand Reputation → Brand Preference
The article, What’s Your Brand, in HealthLeaders magazine, and the Navvis Corporation white paper, The Business of Brands, reinforce the premise that your success relates directly to how you operate and the organic communications that result. And if your word of mouth is positive, make sure you are taking full advantage of it.
Some other important “take aways” to keep in mind:
- Simply put, your brand is how the world sees you. Take an “outside-in” perspective; what do you look like through the eyes of your customers?
- “Your brand walks on two legs” — your people create the daily “touches” with your customers that ultimately define your image.
- Important “customer cues” for facility quality:
- Personal — How your people act: body language, tone of voice, enthusiasm, empathy, confidence and phone skills.
- Functional — The quality of your product/service: does it match your promise? It’s always better to over perform than over promise!
- Environmental — The physical condition of your facility: is it clean, cheerful, welcoming and quiet?
- Develop plans to ensure your customers actually experience what your brand promises: Make sure you have the requisite customer information, operations management, people, training, service systems, and communications strategies!