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Tipping the market in your favor


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Tipping the market in your favor

  1. 1. TODAY’S PRACTICE Marketing Mishaps Tipping the Market in Your Favor Fanning the flames ignited by word-of-mouth marketing. BY SHAREEF MAHDAVI In 1996, laser vision correction was hardly has also been its weakness. The outcomes of the proce- known beyond the circles of eye care pro- dure are so good so often that in many ways the product fessionals and a few thousand patients. In “sells itself.” The rapid progression from one group of October 1999, however, LASIK became patients to the next became a nearly automatic cycle known to all as Tiger Woods’ became the measured closely by those practices that understood the most famous pair of eyes among more importance of tracking referral sources. Refractive sur- than one million that had undergone the geons have often heard exclamations such as, “I shouldprocedure. The skyrocketing awareness of LASIK between have done this years ago,” “This was the best money I’vethose two dates occurred without any organized promo- ever spent,” and “I can’t believe what a difference thistional launch or national media effort. It took place in makes in my life.” In general, the emotional benefits ofspite of the fact that going forward with the LASIK procedure as described by patients were signif-refractive surgery is perhaps the icant, usually well exceeding thosemost seriously considered deci- of any other medical proce-sion that consumers make in dure or similarly priced retailtheir lives. It occurred because purchase.of the phenomenon called Why then, hasn’t this geo-word-of-mouth. metric progression contin- ued over the past few yearsTHE “EPIDE MIC ” for LASIK? Continually hear-OF L A SIK ing patients’ cries of joy As a group, refractive surgery lulled providers into thinkingproviders have been quite fortu- that the LASIK love affairnate to receive the benefit of would continue forever. How-word-of-mouth marketing. The ever, markets don’t stand still,end result of the LASIK proce- and neither do consumers. Bydure is typically so effective comparison, Gladwell remindsand is achieved so quickly that us that epidemics rise and fall,patients are eager to tell their and he cites the phenomenal,friends and families about yet short-lived, popularity oftheir newly improved vision. Airwalk sneakers (AirwalkAs word spreads, more and International LLC, Golden,more people become aware of, CO) as well as the dramaticdevelop an interest in, and actually drop in New York City’s crimeconsider having LASIK. Malcolm Gladwell, author of The rate in the mid-1990s.Tipping Point, compares this rapid rise in popularity to the Consumer expectations have risen for LASIK as well asway a disease such as the flu becomes an epidemic; the for providers’ level of service. In a world where LASIK isprogression is geometric rather than linear. priced from $299 to $2,800 per eye, consumers need to In retrospect, LASIK’s strength as a consumer product perceive clear differences in the levels of service offered. JULY 2003 I CATARACT & REFRACTIVE SURGERY TODAY I 69
  2. 2. TODAY’S PRACTICE S H A R E E F ’ S S U M M E R R E A D IN G L I S T What a Great Idea by Chic Thompson It’s sad that our creativity peaks at the age of 5. Five- many popular killer phrases: “we’ve tried that one year-olds ask an average of 65 questions per day. They before,” “that’s not in the budget,” or “we’ve always done laugh a lot as well. Research indicates that our creativity it that way.” drops until we reach “terminal seriousness” by our 40s, In his book, Thompson provides a multitude of sug- when we ask just a small number gestions for nurturing ideas: gener- of questions each day. Chic “The human mind, once ating them, keeping track of them, Thompson has been fighting this evaluating them—all with the pur- disease for 20 years and has stretched to a new idea, never pose of giving life to the good ones helped people understand the goes back to its original and quickly eliminating the bad steps they can take to be more dimensions.” ones. He advocates the “ready, fire, creative in their daily lives. He aim” approach to brainstorming, a avoids the feel-good fluff and - Oliver Wendell Holmes technique that carefully avoids any provides concrete methods you discussion that can kill the energy can use to capture and cultivate the ideas that pop into and creativity needed to come up with potential solu- your head … often at the strangest times. tions to business problems. Thompson’s motto is, “Be curious first, critical sec- Read this book, and I can promise that your staff ond.” He cites studies indicating that we tend to listen meetings will never be the same. You will learn ways to to and judge a comment or idea within 8 seconds of be better at listening, to challenge assumptions, and to hearing it. This critical response shuts down our ability diffuse those killer phrases. In other words, you’ll create to truly evaluate the idea and is often discouraging to an environment that’s better suited to solving the prob- the person offering it. We tend to respond with one of lems faced by every refractive surgery provider out there. Now, with the advent of customized ablation and cus- sumer to see the power of word-of-mouth marketing. It’s tomized flaps, the product has the potential to meet those easy to recall an experience that was greater than the rising expectations. However, the level of service offered product itself—whether a hot new restaurant, an exciting must follow suit. In other words, LASIK’s problem at this cruise, or a visit to a spa. Chances are, you told those point is less with the product than with the service that around you about it and left a positive impression that delivers the product. will likely influence their future buying behavior. REKINDLING THE FIRE HANDING OUT TORCHE S Very little attention has been paid to patients’ overall Most surgeons know that word-of-mouth is the ulti- experience, which transcends the procedure and its clini- mate form of advertising. Unlike the advertising we see on cal outcome. Why is their experience so important? TV, hear on the radio, or read in the newspaper, word-of- Because, in the mind of consumers, many components of mouth works because it is personal, relevant, and credi- the product are common to all providers: it involves a ble. Although you can’t buy or pay for this type of mar- laser, a doctor, and their eyes. Beyond this, however, the keting, you are well advised to invest in boosting your entire equation is defined by the provider. If you want staff’s morale so that they deliever such a high level of your offering to be valued as something more than a customer service that they truly “infect” the patient with commodity, then you need to focus as much effort on all the desire to speak about your practice highly and often. the nonclinical aspects of the patient experience as you Exceptionally good customer service will trigger word-of- do on optimizing the clinical result. mouth that transcends the procedure and helps differen- The effort pays off in what Gladwell calls “the stickiness tiate your practice, both in the mind of your patient and factor”; that is, your continual focus on improving cus- in the minds of everyone he talks to about his experience. tomer service will create a long-term bond between you It is essential that you begin to recognize those who are and your patients. In the context of refractive surgery, the real drivers of word-of-mouth within your patient your patients make sure that those in their circle of influ- base (Hint: it isn’t the person who asks for a discount in ence come to you when they’re ready for treatment. exchange for referrals). The Tipping Point describes three You can draw from your own experiences as a con- distinct personality types that are not financially motivat-70 I CATARACT & REFRACTIVE SURGERY TODAY I JULY 2003
  3. 3. Glaucoma Quarterly e-Journaled to offer word-of-mouth referrals. Word-of-mouth ishard-wired into the DNA of those whom Gladwell refers Bryn Mawr Communications LLC is pleasedto as connectors, mavens, and salesmen. These three typesof people, he concludes, “Are distinguished not by worldly to introduce Glaucoma Today, a quarterlystatus and achievement, but by the particular standingthey have among their friends.” e-journal envisioned as a prime source ofFOCUSING ON THE LIT TLE THINGS information and education for glaucoma As an industry, ophthalmology has benefited greatly subspecialists and general ophthalmologistsfrom the wildfire spread by consumers who have under-gone the LASIK procedure. Those flames may have died who treat glaucoma patients.down, but they haven’t been smothered. Some practition-ers are pessimists who keep gazing in the rear view mirror,believing that the glory days are behind us. However,Gladwell proves conclusively that the little things—“asmall but precisely targeted push”—can ignite a trendseemingly instantly. Customer service is all about those little things, and therebound in the popularity of LASIK will depend on manyproviders’ doing the little things right. Collectively, thiseffort is what will cause the refractive market to onceagain “tip” toward renewed growth. There really is noother choice; the penalty for not raising the bar on thelevel of service in refractive surgery is that history willrepeat itself: great technology will drive rapid adoption,but a lack of differentiation among providers will lead toprice competition and lower profitability for the entireindustry.A CALL TO ACTION My challenge to you is to devise your own potentialtipping-point ideas and put them into action. For help,read the book What a Great Idea by Chic Thompson,perhaps the world’s greatest idea-generating resource(see Shareef’s Summer Reading List). Ideas don’t have tobe fancy or expensive; they just need to be tried and test-ed to see if they work. I encourage you to try an idea and Visit to read about the following:then share it with the rest of us. If you’re worried aboutother readers’ stealing your idea, then don’t share it, but Fixed-Combination Glaucoma Medicationsrealize that what this industry needs right now is a littlebit more creativity and a lot more focus on the funda- Corneal Thickness and Glaucomamentals of good customer service. E-mail your ideas andtheir impact to me, and we’ll publish the best in an Noncompliance in Glaucomaupcoming column. The very best idea (as judged by theeditors of Cataract & Refractive Surgery Today) will earn a Simplified Tube Extension for Short or Retractednice dinner at the upcoming AAO meeting in Anaheim, Glaucoma Drainage DevicesCalifornia. Good luck! ■ Combining Cataract and Glaucoma Surgery Industry veteran Shareef Mahdavi provides marketingcounsel to medical device manufacturers and providers. He Would You Treat These Patients?is based in Pleasanton, California. Mr. Mahdavi may bereached at (925) 425-9963; Evaluating the Optic Nerve and the Retinal Nerve Fiber Layer 5 Questions With M. Bruce Shields, MD