Optometric Management Tip # 106   -   Wednesday, January 28, 2004
Building Volume with Internal Marketing

I asked for reader feedback in Tip #100 to the idea of writing more tips on the topic of internal marketing and building patient volume. I received an unprecedented number of positive responses to that request, so I'll devote this week's tip, and a few more in coming weeks, to this topic. I've also had requests for more articles on staffing issues, so more to come on that too!

Most optometric offices suffer from too few patients calling for appointments. If you're lucky enough to have the opposite problem, with too much patient demand, there are all sorts of great ways to manage that! We'll get to that eventually, but for now, how do we go about increasing demand?

The method used by all businesses (and professional practices) to increase sales / customers / patients is called marketing. Marketing is a very broad concept, but simply defined, it is "identifying and satisfying patients' wants and needs". The most effective type of marketing for the private practice, in my opinion, is internal marketing, and ultimately, growth by word-of-mouth. Growth by word-of-mouth referrals is not a very fast way to build a practice, but it is the most sustaining way, and the best way.

All optometrists obtain some word-of-mouth referrals of new patients, from existing patients. But some optometrists receive them way more often then others. Why? What do they do to cause this? In fact, there are many things we can do to control and increase word-of mouth referrals. If you apply these principles consistently for a couple of years, you'll be amazed at the volume that will be created. The in-office effort that is put forth to increase word-of-mouth referrals is one form of internal marketing.

There are faster marketing strategies than word-of-mouth, and some can be used in addition to the internal marketing aimed at building patient referrals. Advertising is one way, but it is very expensive when done right, and the cost can often counteract the additional income produced. Not to say some advertising isn't good, and we'll touch more on that in future tips. But internal marketing is the hub of all marketing in the practice, and it must be developed first.

So what causes people who have been to your office to talk about you to others, and to recommend your practice? That is the key - and once we know what that is, we simply must do it better and more often. You actually already know what that talk-increasing factor is. It is the secret to every business success story that has ever occurred. It is not extremely sexy or mysterious. Its outstanding customer service*! Of course, you must provide high quality technical work also, but I'll take that as a given, because most ODs do this. As I often say: "Satisfied patients don't refer their friends... enthusiastic ones do", and as my friend Bob Levoy says, "Good enough is no longer good enough".

Customer service to me conjures up an image of the way I hope to be treated when I'm a customer at any business. Outstanding customer service is what I might experience at a Ritz-Carlton hotel, or Nordstrom's shoe department, or Disney World. Consider your own experience: Which kind do you think people talk about?

More specifics to come.

Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management