There’s no point in trying to bring new customers in through your doors until you have all the systems – and expertise – to deliver the highest level of care.
There sure is a heck of a lot of marketing out there about attracting new optical patients. Harnessing the power of direct mail, social media, online review sites driving referrals…etc. To a degree, it makes sense… you can grow your market share, keep your chair filled, your staff busy, maybe even clean out some inventory. While I agree that acquiring new patients is critical to the success of your optical practice, it is usually one of the last things I recommend my clients do.
You’re probably already aware of some of the reasons… First, it’s expensive – way more expensive than maintaining the patient base you already have; somewhere between five and 10 times more expensive, depending on the research you’d like to believe. And even social media isn’t really free when used properly. Secondly, (and more on this in a future article) many practices aren’t necessarily trying to attract the “right” new patients. Because many practices haven’t really identified who their target patient and customer is, the time and money spent on attracting “everyone” is by no means money well spent.
But the most important reason that I encourage practices to NOT attract new customers (at least not yet…) is a bit more subtle. There’s an old joke (appropriated by Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight) that talks about dogs chasing cars. And the fact that they wouldn’t know what to do with one if they caught it. Now, I’m not saying there is a perfect parallel. A new customer would most likely equate to a new sale. The staff would be busy, the chair would be full, the inventory would deplete. The car would be driven, once caught – so to speak.
Customers must have complained, right? Not really. They just never came back
So what’s the problem?
Let me share a story. I used to work for a practice… a busy, multi-million dollar per year practice. The practice was also fairly profitable. They prided themselves on the fact that they did a GREAT job acquiring new patients. In fact, something like 60 per cent of their patients each year were new patients. Seems great, right? But here’s the thing… their actual patient count increased by only 1–2 per cent per year. And there was a reason for that. Once that new patient actually responded to whatever marketing effort brought them in, the experience they received was… well, let’s walk through a typical visit, and you tell me.
To begin with, patients experienced a long wait at each ‘stop’ as they moved through the flow process. The hanging file holder used by the practice for staging patient files was constantly filled – who knows whether any patient’s file was ever placed in the right order when was jammed in with all the others. To a casual observer, patient flow had the feel of a grocery store deli; “Number 64… 64?!? Time for your dilation!”
Once the patient successfully survived the new patient paperwork, the pre-screen, and the exam, her file went back into a wall holder to await a “frame stylist”. The frame stylist was the associate who would basically point the patient at the area of the store where the frames that aligned with whatever her insurance covered were displayed. And I swear that the phrase used was “You have blah-blah insurance. You can get a pink tagged frame over there”. The stylist would then plop the file into the next wall holder (for the optical dispensers) and move on. You can probably imagine the rest of the patient’s experience: the optical dispenser would write an order for whatever it was the patient was wearing before, she’d get a call in a week or so inviting her to get back in line to pick her glasses up… sigh.
They Never Came Back
Customers must have complained, right? Not really. They just never came back. Eventually, neither did the patient count, the sales, or the profits. To be clear, this was not a “big box” national chain environment. It was a single, independent practice.
So what do you do? Honestly, I have no question that your practice does NOT look exactly like the one I used to work for. But, I wonder does any part of that patient experience sound familiar? If it does, I believe that it is absolutely critical to change what’s going on in your practice right now, before you begin trying to attract new patients. On average, we get the chance to engage patients once every couple of years. That leaves plenty of time for your customer to make a different decision about where to shop next time. Here’s something else to take into consideration: your patient is far more savvy than ever before. His value expectations are rising. Your competition, whether local or online, is trying to reach him, and, in many cases, they will be successful. So, that once every 30 month opportunity needs to be truly maximised.
The way to do that is to evaluate every area in which you are engaging patients – from your website, to your appointment procedure, to the in-office experience. Are you having the right conversations to truly fill her vision care needs… even the ones she doesn’t know about? Is her experience one that will last for 18–30 months? Was that experience offered by caring staff, who were truly engaged in making her life better?
Create a survey for your patients, and, this is the important part, act on that feedback. ‘Hire’ a secret shopper… I’m sure someone in your community would be happy to ‘pay attention’ during their visit, and offer some feedback in exchange for an exam and a pair of glasses. Encourage honest feedback, and really listen to what is said. Next, contact an industry professional who can help you evaluate your practice, and plan your next steps.
Do something now, before you worry about getting a single new patient to cross through your front door (and risk having them only cross it once…).
Greg Wolcott is CEO of Practice Building Solutions. Greg works with optical retailers around the world to transform their practices through improved operations, patient care, and profitability. This article was originally published online at www.practicebuildingsolutions.com and has been reproduced with kind permission.