Optometric Management Tip # 467   -   Wednesday, February 02, 2011
Quality vs. Price in Your Practice

I attended a workshop on marketing last weekend and the speaker drove home a classic point about the value proposition. A consumer defines value as the right combination of quality and price. Which factor do you think is more important to your patients? Let's assign a percentage to price and quality as an indicator of the relative importance of each factor. Suppose we have the following choices. Remember, this is from the patients' point of view:

The interesting point of this is to realize that you have much more control over what patients think than you realize.

If price is the dominant factor for your patients, it simply means that you have not yet differentiated your practice sufficiently to make them see the value. When price is the main thing that customers look at, it means the product (or service) is a commodity. It means that the product is virtually the same from all the sellers. Two classic examples of commodity products are electricity and sugar. Buyers of those items are mostly concerned with finding the lowest price because the items are all the same. Yet, if you think about it, even the sellers of electricity and sugar have been able to build the value proposition for their product by educating the buyer about the differences. By doing so, they are able to charge a higher price and people will pay it.

I realize that you may not actually shop for electricity, but municipalities do and so do large factories. If a power utility company can demonstrate that they are more reliable, have fewer power outages, fewer power surges and are able to respond quickly to emergencies, they will win contracts and they can charge more. When you shop for a bag of sugar at the supermarket, will you pay a few cents more to get a national brand name? Many people do and it's because they believe the major brand may be a little more pure or somehow a little better.

If electricity and sugar can be differentiated to cause customers to spend more just think what you can do with eye care! Eye care services and products are complex and highly variable and they are not commodities.

Your marketing plan
If you want your patients to not focus so much on price, you must first give them the reasons. You must make your practice not appear to be like every other practice. You must differentiate your product and services. This will teach your current patients that there are other factors in eye care that are more important than price. It will also attract new patients who are less price sensitive than your current patient base. Through word of mouth referral and other forms of marketing, your reputation as a leader in eye care and a provider of high quality products will become widespread.

The greater the emphasis on quality, the higher the fee can be. But what do we mean by quality? Quality can refer to many aspects of eye care and we should pay attention to all of them, but it is smart to consider how your customers define value. Determining this is why many companies hold focus groups; to bring their customers together to ask them what is important and how quality can be improved. Eye care practices can certainly hold focus groups as well; but you may get similar results if you just ask some patients in your office and if you conduct patient surveys.

It is common for a business owner to focus primarily on the quality of the products he sells but customers often prioritize quality factors differently. For example, an optometrist might rank the accuracy of a contact lens or eyeglass prescription as a top indicator of quality. But the patient may place that far down on his list with things like friendly staff, short wait times and a large frame selection garnering higher rankings. A person who is looking for a fine restaurant may think about ambiance and waiter service before food quality.

Consider these factors in eye care and try to project how your patients would rank them as critical to quality.

Best wishes for continued success,

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