The power of a patient base


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The power of a patient base

  1. 1. TODAY’S PRACTICEThe Power of a Patient Base Your LASIK alumni are critical to relationship marketing. BY SHAREEF MAHDAVI After years of refractive surgeons’ com- is stated best by my colleague, advertising expert Kim Tietz: plaining about the high cost of marketing “We’re in the funeral business.” With refractive surgery, there to attract patients, I am amazed at the lack is no repeat business. It’s a one-time purchase, and that fact of attention paid to those patients who makes it difficult to invest in and develop a long-term rela- have already had refractive surgery. I think tionship with your customers. of them as the “alumni” of your refractive surgery program, primarily because they USE ALUMNI TO YOUR ADVANTAGEhave gone through the emotional trials and tribulations In spite of this reality, there are things that LASIK pro-leading up to their decision to undergo refractive surgery. viders can and should do for customer relationship manage-After completing a decision process that can last months or ment. It helps to organize these activities by the order ineven years, these refractive alumni emerge from the proce- which they are experienced by the patient.dure much like new graduates: a smile from ear to ear and Prior to surgery: If your practice doesn’t have a largeintense joy at their accomplishment (sans the cap and advertising budget and is largely dependent on patient refer-gown). rals, you should communicate this fact to your patients so they are aware of their role in helping you build your prac-REWARDS AND CHALLENGES tice. When done sincerely and with an emphasis on creating Your refractive alumni present a special marketing chal- a remarkable customer experience, your patients will go outlenge. On the one hand, they are full of exuberance about of their way to help you. Try to set this expectation eventheir new and improved vision. Friends and family members before your patients undergo refractive surgery.get to vicariously experience the thrills, both small and large, Within the first week/month: By now, you should havethat come with being a refractive surgery patient. The bene- thanked the patient for his patronage at least as many timesfit to you is a strong word-of-mouth endorsement of the as he has thanked you for his improved vision. There areprocedure and the provider. Those of you who track the numerous ways to express gratitude to your customers.source of your inquiries see this effect reflected in the data, Small gifts are appropriate, as are handwritten notes, phoneand referrals from other patients are often the number-one calls, and other personal touches. (Speaking of personalsource of new refractive patients. touches, my airport’s parking lot attendants leave a bottle of On the other hand, that initial burst of excitement from water labeled with the company’s logo waiting on the seatthose who have had LASIK eventually wanes as life goes of my car upon my return. That’s a great example!) Youron. They get used to their patients need to know thatnew vision. It’s no longer you are truly grateful forexciting for them, and they their business and don’tdon’t talk about it as take it for granted.much. And what hap- Within the first 3pened to all those people months: You should sur-they told about the experi- vey (by phone or by mail)ence? Typically, only a each and every customerhandful of a patient’s to find out how refractivefriends and family will call surgery has changed theirthe practice and begin daily lives. Ask if they recalltheir own active considera- whether any part of thetion of refractive surgery. experience you delivered When it comes to mar- stands out as particularlyketing LASIK, the problem excellent or poor. Ask these NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2004 I CATARACT & REFRACTIVE SURGERY TODAY I 83
  2. 2. TODAY’S PRACTICE alumni if they’d be willing to accept phone calls or e-mails from potential patients considering refrac- tive surgery. Ongoing: You should strive to make every patient a part of an ever expanding list of satisfied (Chart Courtesy of SM2 Consulting.) customers from your practice. Once your alumni have completed their postoperative visits, you need to continue to stay in touch to show that you care. A periodic newsletter (I suggest twice per year) that highlights some of the latest surgical news is a great way to reach out to alumni. I also like the idea of mailing anniversary cards and holding special events (ie, parties or a block of seats at the ball- Figure 1. Every consumer moves along a continuum that defines his game) just for your customers. These touches are purchase decision process, including refractive surgery. Refractive another way to say thank you without being out- alumni—patients treated in your practice—have the power to help wardly promotional (nothing to sell, everything to move future patients directly into active consideration, bypassing the celebrate). The key point here is that you can create route of expensive advertising and “shopping” phone calls. Thus, refer- a long-term relationship with one-time-purchase rals are a more effective means of attracting future patients. customers. he encountered at the practice. Indeed, the outstanding CAVEAT experience is what can forever cement you in the mind of I am not a fan of formal referral programs with incentives. your customer, and that is what you will need if you want They can be successful and are a nice way to reward those alumni to talk about where they had their procedure with patients who refer above and beyond the norm, but anec- the same fervor that they describe their freedom from glass- dotally, every surgeon has a few patients who ask for some- es and contacts. thing in return for referring all their friends. The provider makes a deal, and the referrals fail to meet expectations or AN UNTAPPED ASSET often don’t materialize at all. There is something personal Successful companies that gain repeat business from their and magical about the refractive experience that can’t be customers have long known that it is far less expensive to sold in bulk to others, even friends of patients. It all comes increase business with a current customer than to obtain a back to how each of us holds eyesight sacred and why low- new one. Applied to refractive surgery, this business princi- priced LASIK has failed to expand the refractive surgery ple drives home the importance of your alumni. They are market. That tactic backfired, and I suspect that formal your network and can be far more effective at selling you referral programs create a similar allergic reaction. These than anyone on your payroll. They follow the four major types of programs just don’t feel right to most of us and steps in the consumer decision process (Figure 1)—aware- somehow cheapen the overall experience by putting it in ness, interest, consideration, purchase—and proceed to the the same category as all the other consumer product refer- important fifth step, called recommendation. This fifth step ral opportunities out there (“Earn 12,500 miles,” “Get one in the decision-making process is critical, because it has the month free,” etc.). The extreme version of incentive-based power to help future patients move quickly through the referral programs is multilevel marketing, a concept that continuum right into active consideration. In helping other always sounds much better than it really is. Legal issues prospective patients form a bypass route directly to your aside, I just wouldn’t go there. telephone, your alumni are far more influential than any paid advertising or promotional campaign. THE SUBTLE TOUCH Because alumni represent the single largest untapped How do you tactfully broach the subject of referrals with asset in the marketing of refractive surgery, their relation- patients? Properly timed, the presentation of business cards ships should be managed carefully. Do this well, and your or the question, “Whom do you know who could benefit alumni will become your allies in building future business. ■ from refractive surgery?” can work well as direct tactics to attract future patients. Ideally, of course, the best referral is Shareef Mahdavi draws on 20 years of medical device mar- the one that you didn’t have to ask for or coerce but that keting experience to help companies and providers become came as the result of the outstanding experience you pro- more effective and creative in their marketing and sales efforts. vided. The experience was so great that the patient’s WOW Mr. Mahdavi welcomes comments at (925) 425-9963 or factor applied equally to how he was treated by everyone I CATARACT & REFRACTIVE SURGERY TODAY I NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2004