The Online Customer Journey

By Paul Jackson / 04 Apr 2016

Digital marketing manager Paul Jackson advises on how to ensure you aren’t missing the key stages of your patients’ digital journey

One of the most effective ways to build your online marketing plan and outperform your competitors is to map your customers’ journey while they are online. Online marketing has become an important and widely used part of the marketing mix for aesthetic brands, clinics and practitioners, however it needs to be functioning from all touch points to be successful. For your patients, their journey starts with the realisation of a problem or a need for your services. This could be an individual decision, through recommendation, an advertisement or a number of other triggers. This is where your online marketing needs to begin. The customer journey must be considered beyond the point of which a patient uses your services; it should be helpful to potential patients at each step of their decision-making process. The online customer journey comprises five main steps, which should be considered to increase the chances of convincing patients to choose your clinic. These steps include information gathering and research, comparison and evaluation of alternative clinics, enquiry and purchase, review and evaluation and post-procedure patient behaviour.

1. Information gathering and research 

Naturally, researching what types of procedures are available, in which clinic and with which practitioner is the first action a potential patient takes online. This is particularly important in the aesthetics and cosmetics industries, as your target audience is likely to carry out extensive research due to the nature, cost and range of procedures available. Search engines are the starting point for many people, perhaps searching very broadly for services that will solve their problem or meet their needs. It is therefore important that your clinic and name are visible and prominent in the search engines so that you’re in a position to capture a potential patient’s interest and gain awareness of your name or clinic from an early stage.

To do this, search engine optimisation of your website will help you appear more prominently in the organic search engine results, and search engine advertising will boost your visibility, putting your adverts in front of potential patients at the exact time that they are looking for a solution that you offer.

It is not enough just to be visible at this stage however; you need to back it up with website content that will satisfy a potential patient’s research needs. Does your website provide all the information that a potential patient will need to feel informed about a treatment or procedure? This could include costs, duration, downtime, side effects, longevity, case studies and more. Detailed website content, FAQ pages, downloadable guides and informative videos can provide this information effectively online. Beyond this, you can also ensure that your website visitors are able to ask questions they can’t find answers to, such as through enquiry forms and contact numbers, or even through adding a live chat function on your website, which can be added to your site easily and for a low cost through one of the many providers online or through a website plugin. If using live chat, remember to ensure that your staff are quick to respond to messages, that the feature is turned off when staff aren’t available to respond, and that training is given on how to respond to people and what should and should not be said and done. As always, it is critical that you are not considered to be offering medical advice online.

2. Comparison and evaluation of alternatives

Once the patient has gathered the information they need to proceed, it is time for them to make a decision on which clinic or practitioner to opt for. While your website may have provided valuable treatment information, potential patients are now weighing up your prices, your location, your experience and expertise, your credibility and trustworthiness, and the experiences they have had during the research stage. There are a number of things you can do to put yourself in the prime position, which include, clearly displaying evidence of accreditations and awards, reviews and testimonials, case studies, press coverage, profiles of key team members, and information on your pricing and location. Particularly in the aesthetics and cosmetics industry, even the slightest doubt or concern can be enough to deter a potential patient when it comes to procedures on the body. Not having this information available prominently on your website may not only limit your chances, it may actually detur patients from choosing your clinic all together.

3. Enquiry and purchase

With the patient having now obtained the information they need to be able to confidently compare the options available, they will now make a decision and proceed. It is here that the purchase, booking or enquiry process itself comes in to play. How easy is it to make a booking on your website? How quickly do you respond to enquiries? How flexible are your cancellation or booking change policies? All of these factors will be in the mind of the potential patient and will be crucial to ensuring that they stay with you along this stage of the journey. Having done the hard work to gain the patient’s awareness, capture their attention, provide them with information, and be preferable to competitors, it would be a terrible shame to lose them at this stage due to a poor booking or enquiry process, but it can easily happen.

As everybody has a voice online to air their thoughts and experiences, online reputation management is an increasingly crucial activity 

Just like stage two, ease and simplicity are important, as is filling the patient with confidence. If you require that patients make an enquiry, let them know what happens afterwards, how long it will take you to respond, and what they can expect. Then keep to those timeframes and remember that being the quickest to respond will aid your success in gaining that patient; as long as the reply is still of a high quality of course. If a booking is required, only ask people to submit the information you really need, as many booking forms can be found asking for everything from fax numbers to middle names and multiple phone numbers — providing this information is tedious and time consuming for the patient and the more effort they have to make, the less likely they will continue with your service. Also make your booking and cancellation policies clear so patients know where they stand if they do need to make a change to their booking – it helps limit the perceived risk in the transaction.

4. Review and Evaluation 

Now that you have secured the booking, it is time for your service, procedures and staff to live up to expectations and, where possible, exceed them. Having made the decision to be your patient, the person will naturally review their decision. Are they glad they chose you? Was the outcome what they wanted? Some businesses promise so much in attracting somebody to be a patient that they oversell their clinic, team and offering to a level that can’t be reached by the reality. Whether it is simply being transparent and realistic about any discomfort or downtime associated with a treatment, or displaying representative photos of your premises on your website, it is beneficial in the long-term to portray your business in the most genuine way possible. Focusing on patient satisfaction is an approach that is critical in the aesthetics industry, and this is particularly important when considering what your patients do after they have undergone a treatment or procedure with you.

5. Post-procedure behaviour

When a patient leaves your clinic it is easy to be grateful for their business and to move on to the next one. However, it is at this time that the patient could be of most value to you, and you can facilitate a wide range of beneficial outcomes.

If the patient was satisfied with their treatment or procedure, they may at least be open to returning to you as a patient again in future. They may talk to their friends about you, they may be willing to write a review of your clinic or provide a testimonial, and they may connect with you, be an advocate for you, and recommend others to you on social media. On the other hand, if the person was not a satisfied patient, they may well still do all of these activities but paint you in a negative light. If this does occur it is important to spot the negative comments as soon as possible, to respond diplomatically and to take the conversation offline so that it is not carried out in the public eye online.

As everybody has a voice online to air their thoughts and experiences, online reputation management is an increasingly crucial activity. Just a few positive or negative reviews could potentially earn or cost you large amounts of business. The post-procedure behaviour of your existing patients can directly and significantly influence the ‘comparison of alternatives’ stage of the customer journey for future potential patients.

Some effective techniques for leveraging post-procedure behaviour include contacting your patients by email shortly after to ask if they would leave a review for you or if they’d be interested in following you on social media, for example. Where possible, use mainstream third-party review platforms such as Feefo, Trust Pilot or Google Reviews and then embed these reviews on your website as this will give your reviews maximum visibility. Always aim to make the process as simple as possible for the patient to help ensure that they will be willing to write such feedback for you, such as including links and step-by-step instructions.

A good marketing tool 

Understanding your customers’ online journey can be an extremely effective way to improve your marketing and boost your business online. After mapping this out for your patients and your business, go through the five steps of the online customer journey process yourself. Try identifying where there are gaps in your marketing, where you might have issues in obtaining relevant information, or where you could do more to ensure the patient moves easily to the next stage of the journey with you.

Closing these gaps could hold the secret to the growth of your online bookings or enquiries. By being visible and reaching your target audience when they recognise a need for your services, you are positioned to provide your potential patients with the initial background information that they need to understand more about your procedures and treatments. A strong presence in this stage puts you in a position to be compared against your competition and to be in the running for their business. If you’re one of the clinics being evaluated, then you can have the chance to gain that patient’s business, to provide them a service and then leverage their post-procedure behaviour. This could simply be a review or testimonial or even a recommendation to a friend, which could grow to influence future prospective patients and develop a long-term and highly valuable patient. 

Upgrade to become a Full Member to read all of this article.