The telephone friend or foe

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The telephone friend or foe

  1. 1. TODAY’S PRACTICE Marketing Mishaps The Telephone: Friend or Foe? First impressions can make or break you. BY SHAREEF MAHDAVI I n a high-end service business like refractive surgery, The Right Person for the Job there is simply no substitute for face-to-face, in-per- Your Director of First Impressions should be the most son communication between the provider and the pleasant person you can find—someone not easily rat- customer. If practitioners could entice all the con- tled who is never robotic in his response. If you pay sumers interested in refractive surgery to meet them in your staff based on what they can contribute to prac- person, many more procedures would likely take place. tice revenue, this person should be among the highest The closest many inquirers ever come to having refrac- paid, because he has the ability to make or break the tive surgery, however, is picking up the telephone, so it’s number of patients who actually walk through the door. high time that surgeons recognized just how important He must have a near-magical ability to juggle multiple the phone is to their business. calls on several lines, empathize with callers (making them feel important and special) and deliver to them D I R E C TO R O F F I R S T I M PR E S S I O N S the information they need. You can easily cripple these For any business, the person answering the telephone skills, however, by overloading your Director of First is (or should be) part of the marketing department. In Impressions with other duties and responsibilities for fact, his title ought to change from Receptionist to the sake of staff efficiency. In the long run, this would Director of First Impressions. This idea is based on age- be a penny-wise but pound-foolish decision. old wisdom: You only get one opportunity to make a Only once you’ve addressed how your practice’s first impression, so you must make it a good one. Indeed, phone will be answered will you be in a position to it is sobering to realize that a con- move on to the next step— sumer’s impression of what the designated Director your business—your should say to callers surgical skill, care for inquiring about your patients, and invest- refractive surgery offer- ment in equipment ing. The order here is and facility—is important, because formed largely by most providers empha- how the phone is size the content rather answered on that than the feeling. For first call. Notice in refractive surgery, the the previous sen- “what” part of the phone tence the use of call should answer four the word “how”; in basic questions: (1) What is fact, how the the procedure? (2) How phone is answered much does it cost? (3) is initially much Why would I choose you more important over another provider? than what is actu- and (4) Where can I learn ally said. more?62 I CATARACT & REFRACTIVE SURGERY TODAY I MARCH 2003
  2. 2. TODAY’S PRACTICE SURVEY SAYS … to avoid taking the bait. Whether the response is dead- pan or humorous, the goal should be to relax the Most of the surveys asking why people choose not caller—if even for a moment—and create an opportu- to undergo refractive surgery procedures indicate that nity to learn about and address his needs. price is the top deterrent. Anecdotally, I hear from clients that eight of every 10 calls end right after the Communications Training price is laid out on the table. Meanwhile, similar sur- Your Director of First Impressions needs solid training veys among those who have had the procedure indi- in order to make the telephone an effective substitute for face-to-face communications. Surgeons too often take cate that price was not a primary consideration in for granted the skills needed to be as communicative their decision process. Does this mean that refractive over the phone as in person. In order to be well-honed in surgery is only for the rich? Hardly. each of those staff members who “touch” your patients “It’s too expensive” is a classic, impulsive response and prospects via telephone, such skills require training from any consumer who doesn’t have enough data to and retraining. This idea also holds true with each alter- make a decision. It’s similar to how we typically native to face-to-face meetings: cell phones, e-mail, and respond to a salesperson who asks, “Can I help you?” snail mail, among others. We automatically answer, “No thanks, I’m just looking.” Your Director of First Impressions must move beyond PLEASE HOLD this knee-jerk response to pricing and delve into the Have you ever noticed your own reaction when you truth: potential patients are afraid to entrust their eyes make a phone call and hear an unpleasant voice on the other end? What about when you are put on hold? I to the laser and those who operate it. Inquirers’ fear personally can’t stand it. A friend of mine simply hangs levels are so high that it’s much easier and faster to say up after 30 seconds on hold—even with his own cus- “It’s too expensive” than to let down their guard and tomers! What do you do? Let the answer be a guiding engage in a conversation about their hopes and fears force in how your staff handles calls to your office every about refractive surgery. Only once the defensiveness day. Yes, the prospective patient must visit your office goes away will one be able to provide answers to ques- in person to determine his suitability for a refractive tions regarding price. At that point, the proposition procedure, but don’t let that keep you from making the will have a much more receptive audience. In the most of the telephone conversation. process, it would be wise to have an array of options The initial phone call is the moment when perception available—patient financing, flexible spending plans, becomes reality; many of the battles to build interest in credit cards, layaway—that focus on making the pro- refractive surgery are lost at this very point in time. Your time and money are best spent finding and keep- cedure more affordable than cash. ing the very best person(s) available to manage callers in an inviting manner and motivate them to learn more. The answers to these questions should be discussed No fancy psychology is required here, just basic polite-with all staff, heavily scripted, and coached through a ness and a desire to help. This way, the phone becomesrole-playing process in which every staff member sits in an important weapon in your business arsenal andthe “hot seat” and learns how to answer appropriately. paves the way for the next step: the face-to-face meet-The key is that staff members must develop enough skill ing. When performed effectively, telephone interactionsto be nondefensive (especially when it comes to pric- go a long way toward building the relationship youing), to be able to ask questions of the inquirer in order need and want with your prospective patients beforeto understand his or her perspective, and to provide they ever walk through your door. ■enough information to assist the caller in moving to thenext step (which could be to receive an informational Each month, industry veteran Shareef Mahdavi looks atpackage, attend a seminar, schedule a consultation, or a different topic relating to the business of refractive sur-watch a procedure). gery and explores how mistakes from the past can be used What often happens, though, is that the caller will by all providers for effective marketing. He provides mar-sound hurried and impatient, and staff members keting counsel to medical manufacturers as well as indi-respond in kind. It doesn’t take much from a caller to vidual physicians and is based in Pleasanton, California.make a staff person defensive by asking: “Why do you Mr. Mahdavi may be reached at (925) 425-9963;charge so much for a 10-minute procedure?” The key is shareef@sm2consulting.com. MARCH 2003 I CATARACT & REFRACTIVE SURGERY TODAY I 63

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