Article Date: 9/1/2002

business advisor
Happy Patients, Successful Practice
Create a buzz for your practice with patients who tell others about you.
Jerry Hayes, O.D.

Optometrists often debate on which is more important to building a successful practice: Bringing in new patients or keeping the patients you already have.

It's really no contest. If you're more focused on getting fresh faces in your office than on taking care of the patients you have now, you're going about building your practice the wrong way. Keeping your current patients loyal and happy is by far the most important element of building a big practice. Here's why.

Why bring in new patients?

The most common methods used to bring in new patients are: advertising heavily in the media, locating yourself in a mall or in another high-traffic area that encourages walk-ins and word-of-mouth referrals.

Assuming you don't have a walk-in location, the most direct way to attract new patients is to advertise. But the problem is that few independent O.D.s can justify spending a meaningful amount of money on external promotions. My surveys show that the average O.D. spends about 2% of practice gross on marketing. That's only $10,000 each year for a $500,000 practice -- hardly enough to make an impact in a market of any size.

I'm not saying that advertising doesn't work, but the more important thing for an independent O.D. to worry about is what people in the community think and say about his practice. It's what's called 'buzz' in the entertainment business.

ILLUSTRATION BY ALAN KING

Creating a buzz for your practice

Studios spend millions of dollars promoting the release of movies and if the ads are catchy, they'll get a big opening weekend. But what really gives a movie box office staying power is word-of-mouth referrals. If your friends rave about how funny, cool or scary a new movie is, you'll likely spend the six bucks to go see it. But if they tell you it was so-so or awful, you probably won't waste your time.

The point is, mediocre movies gross a lot less than entertaining ones, no matter how much the studio spends on advertising.

The buzz, or brand, of your practice is built the same way. Advertise all you want, but word-of-mouth referrals are what's going to determine your success and they'll totally depend on the experience someone has in your office. Enthusiastic patients will make a point to recommend you to one or two people. But because people love to talk about their problems, unhappy patients will go out of their way to tell dozens of relatives, acquaintances and total strangers about their bad experience in your office.

Aim to please

If you want your practice to have a great buzz, make a conscious effort to create as many enthusiastic patients as possible. Merely satisfied isn't good enough. That's what average practices produce. And just as importantly, do what's necessary to keep patients from leaving your office unhappy. One loud complainer can undo the goodwill of several enthusiastic patients.

Create enthusiastic patients by meeting their expectations each time you're in contact with them. Next month, we'll look at the process that Avis Rental Car went through to set itself apart from its competition and finish number one in customer loyalty for 4 years running in the Brand Keys National Survey of Large Corporations. We can learn things from them that will help our practices grow.

A FREQUENT WRITER AND SPEAKER ON PRACTICE MANAGEMENT ISSUES, DR. HAYES IS THE FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR OF HAYES CONSULTING. YOU CAN REACH HIM AT (800) 588-9636 OR JHAYES@HAYESCONSULTING.NET.

 


Optometric Management, Issue: September 2002