By Frank Giammanco
Preserving your patient base in today’s business climate is more challenging than ever before. Fortunately, there are proven methods to not only preserve your patient base but to grow it as well. Think of your patient ranks as a garden; in order for it to thrive and ultimately grow it requires your continuous attention.
From online competitors to big box and specialty stores, these are just a few of the threats that can easily erode your patient ranks. Here are some suggestions that can lead you to better patient retention and practice growth:
ENGAGE WITH YOUR PATIENTS REGULARLY
We all know that there’s a two-year gap between visits for the typical patient. But that shouldn’t stop you from reaching out to them on a consistent basis. Make sure your social media and web presence are refreshed frequently with great, compelling content. If you maintain an email database, be sure to send out the latest news about great, just-released eyewear styles.
Also, consider sending out periodic surveys about various aspects of your practice, i.e., wait time for an appointment, courtesy and efficiency of your staff, the presentation of your dispensary. Effectively, ask your patients to assist you in making your practice better. Make them sit up and take notice!
NETWORK WITH OTHER HEALTH PROFESSIONALS
Patients inherently trust the opinions and recommendations of the health care professionals they visit. Are there dentists, audiologists, podiatrists or physical therapists in your market area with which you have a relationship? Produce a short brochure to introduce your practice (and offer a new patient incentive) and set up a reciprocal agreement with your closest health care peers. It’s a win/win and a service to your community.
MAKE THE PATIENT EXPERIENCE MEMORABLE
It goes without saying that you’ll make every patient’s visit comfortable, efficient and hassle-free. Keep the process of getting from the reception desk to the refracting lane smooth and simple. Also, treat your patients to little surprises—like an espresso bar in your waiting area, or virtual try-on tablets that patients can enjoy.
The patient visit starts well before they’re in your chair; make sure that the appointment procedure is as easy as can be. Allow patients to make appointments online and over their mobile phones. Your goal is to create positive impressions that patients will share with others.
“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”
– Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon
CREATE A SOLID REFERRALS PROGRAM
Everyone knows that the best advertising is word-of-mouth, so long as you have happy, satisfied patients to recommend you. Make referring a family member or friend to your practice a rewarding experience—literally. Provide an eyewear discount for a single referral; possibly a free pair of sunglasses for three or more. The best missionaries for your practice are these happy patients, and incentives will, indeed, make them happier.
TURN YOUR STAFF INTO CUSTOMER SERVICE PROS
Many great patient visits have been negated by an unresponsive or curt staff member. Convey to your team that the success of the entire practice is dependent on them being consistently patient-friendly and helpful. Also, if they need vision correction, make sure they’re wearing your hottest, newest styles when they greet patients. And, of course, reward them for great work (it could be as simple as a staff lunch).
THINK BEYOND VISION CARE
Sure, your patients are there to have their eyes examined and possibly purchase new eyewear, but they have other interests, too. Host a midday fashion show in conjunction with a local apparel boutique (the models also sporting eyewear) or have a makeup stylist come in to offer patient makeovers. Your patients aren’t two-dimensional, and your practice shouldn’t be either.
GIVE TO YOUR COMMUNITY (AND MAKE SURE YOU GET CREDIT FOR IT)
What are the most relevant causes in your town or city to which you can contribute—with your time as well as your money? Be the optical practice that cares. Also, share your expertise with your community neighbors. Offer to give brief lectures on topics like good eye health or sports and vision care to social groups, schools, etc. There’s no better way to present your practice than with a personal touch.
Try out these simple yet effective tips and tricks and watch your business grow by not only attracting new customers to your practice, but by retaining your existing customers base.
Frank Giammanco is a longtime veteran of marketing communications for the optical industry and professions. He is the founder and former CEO of First Vision Media Group, Inc., publishers of Vision Care Product News (VCPN).