Maintaining Patient Loyalty

By Pam Underdown / 01 Apr 2015

Pam Underdown extols the value of offering VIP service to encourage patients back into your clinic

Pam Underdown extols the value of offering VIP service to encourage patients back into your clinic

“You are the best and I will recommend you to everyone!”
These are the words practitioners should want to hear from every patient. To achieve such acclaim, it is vital that you put the time and effort into making sure your patient experience is beyond compare from beginning to end. This patient has chosen you and your clinic because, in an increasingly busy, stressful world where time is precious, you are able to connect with them simply by listening and caring enough to give them what they really want – a treatment and service that makes them feel valued and special. The aesthetic patient that feels a bond with you and your clinic is your walking, talking testimonial. Retaining this bond is crucial. This can be done in a multitude of ways, primarily through rewarding existing patients for their continued loyalty, providing unparalleled service and reconnecting with past patients. The best way to maintain this relationship is by enhancing the patient experience; giving them the ‘wow’ factor that keeps them coming back for more.

Are you a one hit wonder?
If you spend all of your time, money and effort attracting a new patient and then never see them again, you are doing them and your business a disservice. If the patient felt confident enough in you to say yes initially, the hard part is done. The least you can do is reciprocate by staying in touch and following up with how they are. It’s always faster, cheaper and easier to reconnect with previous patients than it is to attract new patients, so do your best to maintain connections.

You are never going to know why you lost patients, unless you reach out to them
Chances are you lost some patients last year. Perhaps you can’t say for sure how many you lost, why you lost them or where they went, but you can rectify the situation. Use marketing strategies to attract them back to your clinic: an exclusive, limited-time offer with free taster sessions that showcase treatments needing regular clinic visits for optimum results. Provide results-driven treatments that patients can see and feel instantly – this will keep them coming back for more, and encourage them to book a course of treatments. Provide these ‘taster treatments’ on a usually quieter day, give it an appealing name and encourage them to bring friends to your new, say, ‘Love Your Skin Days’.

Get all your basics right
There’s a big difference between a ‘need’ and a ‘want’. A need is just what must be done, and your patient has very little emotional attachment to it. Meeting his or her needs won’t necessarily turn the individual into a long-term loyal patient. A want is different. There’s a reason why your patient desires something and this is often loaded with emotion. Explore their real reasons for seeking aesthetic consultations and reflect their own use of emotional words when presenting their individualised treatment plan. This way, your patient will know that you have listened and are now offering a personalised answer and treatment tailored to their wants. Another way of providing an individualised solution that suits the patient’s needs is to offer an annual treatment plan with monthly affordable payments, perhaps using a monthly online recurring direct debit system. Patients benefit in terms of spreading the cost of treatment, but to use this type of system your business needs to already be profitable. You must decide if this is of real value to your particular patient base and makes business sense for your clinic.
However, ensuring return business is not about doing one or two big things; it’s doing a hundred little things with care and consistency, with every single patient and every single visit. Anything that is meaningful, memorable, fun, unusual or unexpected will influence how patients feel about you and your clinic. Train your team to give outstanding service. Don’t accept mediocre results from your team and before long you’ll be attracting the staff that don’t want mediocre results either. Motivate your team through regular meetings, training and team building sessions to keep morale high and reach your targets, thereby ensuring patients are consistently satisfied. Training should not just cover the clinical aspects of an aesthetic practice, but also brush up on business and customer service skills; skills that guarantee your patients leave your clinic in high spirits. 

Ensuring return business is not about doing one or two big things, it’s doing a hundred little things with care and consistency, with every single patient and every single visit

 Communicate and live by your ‘Patient Promise’
Your promise doesn’t need to be long; it just needs to explain what patients can consistently expect, why you’re different and how you keep your promises. Testimonials from existing, loyal patients that relate to your promise can be used as marketing material for new patients and reinforce your clinic’s positive image. For consistent results you need effective systems and processes in place, as well as the standards and measurements so you know whether your patient promise is being delivered every single time – regardless of which staff member your patients sees, what day they have had or their mood. In order to implement effective systems and processes (aka protocols) you must first ask yourself what your goal is with your new ‘Patient Promise’, the vision you are pursuing, your patients’ expectations, your team’s expectations, what you do (the system), why you do this and how you do it (the process). Document each element of your ‘Patient Promise’ using a step- by-step approach and decide which areas need monitoring and improving (the standards) and how you are going to measure each one. Will you measure based on emotional benchmarks (so you know the impact your clinic has emotionally on every patient)? Or will you measure it by performance (i.e. how quickly your phone is answered)? Will you measure by financial targets or by patient feedback? Once fully documented, you can train your team to implement each standard and ensure that the appropriate team member is accountable for on-going measurements, improvements and feedback. You must also include each one in your operations manual and staff handbook. A simple example of a standard is the measurement of incoming calls: perhaps your Patient Promise states that all calls will be answered within two to three rings – in order to measure that you must carry out the appropriate checks, either manually or by using call handling software to ensure this standard is met constantly. Remember, your job as the business owner is to ensure your team knows what’s expected of them. You must provide the training, measurement and support to guarantee each standard is consistently achieved. By sticking to your promise, your business will reap the benefits. Satisfied patients will not only come back regularly, but will also be more open to giving back, which may be in the form of providing consent for their treatment images to be used within your marketing, or offering honest feedback on your clinical services.

Discovering your VIP patients
Divide your patient database into those who are loyal, those who visited and never booked, and those who you treated but never saw again. People can be inconsistent – things change and people change. I’m sure you’ve heard that 80% of your profits come from 20% of your patients. It’s called the Pareto Principle (named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto) and it works just as well today as it did decades ago.1 The Pareto Principle is very simple, yet very important, particularly in business. What was most important about Pareto’s finding was that this 80/20 distribution occurs extremely frequently. In addition, the principle also suggests that 20% of your time produces 80% of your results. Your top 20% of patients provide a consistent revenue stream, and because of their frequent custom, they require less set-up time. Look for those who have spent more with you, visited most frequently, referred more patients than others or those who are very connected in the community. Then put a ‘fence’ around them to keep them happy, loyal, returning and referring. With these select number of patients, you should market to them in a different way, enhance their experience and reward them so that they feel appreciated. Make them part of your exclusive VIP Club so they receive extra perks that other patients don’t. Give them value-added extras such as: same day appointments, regular VIP patient appreciation events, or a free makeover after every procedure so they can go right back to their everyday activities. Another effective way of rewarding these patients could be by offering them a free monthly skin treatment, a free skin analysis or a retail discount card. Be creative; you have many options, just ensure that whatever you are offering is feasible and realistic; you don’t want to end up disappointing your best customers by failing to deliver on a promise.
The end goal of this marketing activity is to make these patients feel special because they are part of your inner circle. The notion of a ‘VIP club’ has a very similar feel to the airline frequent-flyer clubs. You have a very different flying experience as part of the club – you get on first, there’s plenty of room for your luggage and you get more leg-room. It’s a different industry, but the same concepts apply. People like to feel special and will invest in that feeling. When a patient feels like they have been rushed through a treatment to make room for the next patient, they are less likely to feel special and will probably visit a clinic elsewhere. Capitalise on the idea of VIP service to ensure your patients are more than satisfied when they leave your clinic. This will guarantee verbal recommendations and ensure their return for their future treatments.

If you look after your patients – they will look after your profits
Return patients and referrals are what make a business successful. Your loyal patients are your brand advocates and should be treated like gold. Don’t take them for granted. Acknowledge and appreciate them for what they are – your positive spokespeople who keep coming back to you again and again, and bring their friends, family and colleagues. In simple terms, the best way to retain patient loyalty is not to cut back on costs when times are tough, but to invest in the right areas of your business; your patients, staff, marketing, education and continuous improvements to your patient journey. Do this well and watch your loyal patient base grow. 

References

  1. Lavinsky D, Pareto Principle: How to use it to dramatically grow your business, (Forbes, 2014) http://www.forbes.com/sites/davelavinsky/2014/01/20/pareto-principle-how-to-use-it-to-dramatically-grow-your-business/ Last accessed 19 February 2015. 

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