Building trust is essential in most businesses, but even more so in the aesthetics sector which provides a service not a product: procedures cannot be simply be returned or refunded. Trust is even more vital when you consider the potentially serious negative outcome if the proper practices aren’t upheld. Patients are putting their health, wellbeing and appearance in the hands of practitioners – and they simply must trust a clinic or they won’t hand over their money, and they definitely won’t become repeat customers.
Trust not only engenders loyalty, but the majority of customers will also recommend you to others, as well as spending more money, if they trust you and your clinic.1
There are many ways to build trust, some of which can take a fair amount of time. But, foremost, psychology and marketing professional Dr Robert Cialdini (among many others) suggests there’s a simple shortcut you can take: establish your authority and people will trust the information you give them.
When considering how businesses can ethically persuade a customer to make a decision, he states that sometimes information is only persuasive because its source has authority (think of all the facts you believe to be true because a teacher told you them, or the societal norms you follow because your parents encouraged abiding by the rules when you were a small child). This authority-based belief system is especially true at times when the recipient is unsure what to do.2
This is especially pertinent for clinic owners with potential customers who are new to the world of aesthetics, have been displeased with treatments received from other clinics, or may be keen to try a new treatment but have reservations based on something untrue they’ve read or heard elsewhere.
Being an authority is also incredibly useful when dealing with customers who are uncertain – a study cited by Cialdini saw individuals asked to make a series of difficult economic decisions while hooked up to brain scanning equipment.2 When they made their own choices, the scanner picked up activity in the areas of the brain we know are used to evaluate options. But the scanner did not pick up activity when the study participants received expert advice from a distinguished university economist – suggesting they not only followed his advice but did so without actually evaluating the pros and cons of the decision he was suggesting.
Using your authority ethically
Of course, from a professional, legal and ethical viewpoint it’s imperative that authority is used with utmost caution – for example, persuading a potential patient to use your clinic rather than a competitor’s by establishing your authority would be fine, but encouraging a teenager to have an antiageing treatment they clearly don’t need would be a violation of the ‘power’ you have by virtue of being the authoritative figure in the exchange between yourself and the teenager.
Questions have since been raised around the ethics of an experiment on obedience to authority figures, which most people have heard about, conducted in the 70s by American social psychologist Stanley Milgram. Participants thought they were giving their peers electric shocks of increasing intensity, guided by a person dressed in a lab coat.3 Of the 40 participants, two thirds continued to give the highest level of 450 volts, while all administered 300 volts; potentially fatal levels had they been real. While the ethics might be disputed, the Milgram Shock Experiment shows the impact of an authority figure on the behaviour of the general public.
In the Milgram study, authority was established through the use of a lab coat; this shows how something as simple as clothing can make a huge impact on the way you are perceived. Similarly, pedestrians are far more likely to comply with a stranger’s request about picking up something or moving to a different position in the street if they are dressed in a security guard uniform than they are in ordinary clothes.4
In Texas, where crossing the road in the wrong place or at the wrong time is against the law, researchers looked at how many people would choose to follow a man across the street illegally depending on what he was wearing. More than three times the number of pedestrians would do so when the man was wearing a suit and tie compared to when he was wearing a shirt and trousers.5
It’s no coincidence that many beauty and aesthetic businesses choose to model their uniforms loosely on medical attire – and indeed it may even be appropriate for your team to wear medical uniforms if they are suitably qualified and the treatments that they are providing necessitate this.
Qualifications and accreditation
Another very simple way of establishing your authority is ensuring potential patients can’t miss what makes you experienced and qualified enough to be their aesthetic clinic of choice. Think of the organisations you’re a member of and who you’re accredited by – are their logos clearly displayed on your website? Are your qualifications hidden away in a dusty cupboard somewhere or are they proudly framed and on show in the reception area of your clinic?
Your level of experience is hugely important, and can actually be the reason that makes a patient choose your clinic. In one study which looked at the views of 150 plastic surgery patients, more than a third (35.6%) said the experience of the surgeon was the most important factor when choosing a clinic. Online presentation (9.7%) also had an impact.6
We live in the digital era, and you’ll already know that your website is one of your biggest marketing tools. The website enables you to effectively advertise to all of your target customers – but once you’ve got over the hurdle of driving internet users to your site, you need to ensure that your authority and experience is right there in their face. It takes seconds for a reader to form an impression of you and your clinic, so make those seconds count.
Yes, the layout of the website needs to be user-friendly (on both web and mobile versions); the content needs to be checked for typos, grammatical mistakes and formatting errors, the font needs to be readable and professional, and the colour scheme needs to reflect the vibe of your clinic. But you also need to treat the website as your CV; while you don’t need to list your grades, is there a prominent mention of your credentials? Are you wearing a clinic uniform in your picture or every-day clothes? Do you instantly inform readers of your length and calibre of experience?
As well as physically within your clinic, on your website and social media, think about the other places potential patients may see you. If you establish yourself as a thought leader within a niche area of aesthetics, you immediately have authority in the minds of those who are exposed to your knowledge. This is a slightly longer process than some of the adjustments already mentioned, but it’s perfectly doable provided you adopt the right approach.
This can see you developing relationships with relevant media titles and asking to write opinion-led articles or provide quotes for industry-related news; putting yourself forward to speak at events; producing regular content for your own and other people’s blogs and social media sites; publishing or contributing towards a book about your specific expertise; or what about creating your own news by pioneering a new treatment, speaking out about a relevant and important topic or winning awards?
Establishing authority can go hand-in-hand with creating trust between a clinic and a patient. Of course, you then need to work on their loyalty to ensure future visits and recommendations to others – but authority can be a hurdle which is hugely beneficial to overcome. And it needn’t be a lengthy process: display your qualifications online and within the clinic, wear appropriate clothing, ensure your website is professional, and share your expert opinion.
Essentially, it comes down to one question, ‘Have I explicitly told customers why they should trust me, by sharing what makes me an authority in the aesthetics specialty?’
1. Finch L, Managing the Customer Trust Crisis: New Research Insights (San Fransisco: SalesForce, 2018) <https://www.salesforce.com/blog/2018/09/trends-customer-trust-research-transparency.html>
2. Cialdini R, Pre-suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016), p. 164.
3. Milgram S, ‘Behavioural Study of Obedience’, The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(4) (1963) p. 371-378. <https://doi.org/10.1037/h0040525>
4. Bickman L, ‘The Social Power of a Uniform’, 1974 <https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.1974.tb02599.x>
5. Cialdini R, Influence: Science and Practice (Fifth Edition) (USA: Pearson Education Inc, 2009), p. 189.
6. Marsidi N, Maurice van den Bergh, Roland W. Luijendijk, ‘The Best Marketing Strategy in Aesthetic Plastic Surgery’, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 133 (2014), p. 52-57.