It is important to remember that the most effective marketing for private practice optometry is loyal patients referring other people. Even when another marketing strategy is credited as the source for a new patient, word-of-mouth probably still played a role. Even if you think you achieve high marks in patient satisfaction, I recommend that you never let up on making that a core element of your office culture. I know doctors (and staff) don't like to hear it, but the customer is always right.
A good exercise to test your customer service is to review every step of the typical patient experience, from the first phone call to the final dispensing visit and everything in between. What does the patient see, hear, feel and even smell? What can you do to make the experience better and different?
Website and social media
Your practice website should be outstanding. If yours is a bit dated or just a simple template design, invest in a beautiful design with lots of interactive features. Commit to spending a few thousand dollars on a custom site, with lots of photos, videos and functionality to keep people engaged and coming back. Make sure you have a good practice name and logo. Once you have a great website, promote it heavily in all your marketing materials and in person with patients in your office.
Facebook and other social media can be an excellent form of marketing that reaches a large number of patients and their friends in your local area. It does not take much time and it is totally free! Get your practice FB page set up and post frequently. Try not to use too many canned eye trivia facts and post more photos and videos about what's going on with your practice.
Most of us do some form of patient recall, but it can be so much more than just sending a post card once per year. Reminder messages about the need for eye care may be the most powerful marketing tool we have. Whether you choose to use preappointing, email, regular mail, telephone or a combination of all of the above, be sure to continually work to perfect your procedures. The recall success rate is important, but so is the perception you create about your practice, so look at it from the patient's point of view.
In addition to reminder notices, re-activation letters with special promotions and special telephone calls for patients who have not responded to traditional recall are very effective. If you create an accurate list of patients who are well past-due for eye care, your assistant could call twelve people and schedule two for eye exams. Consider a bonus program for these appointments.
Email and direct mail
There are several great companies that specialize in helping ODs communicate with their patients via email or text. One aspect of these services is centered around recall, but these firms offer much more. Email blasts to your patient base can be used for announcements of new products or special events; you can send a practice newsletter, conduct a survey, host a contest, work on behalf of a charity or invite people to a holiday open house. Communicating is easier, faster, and far less expensive than the old direct mail methods. But make sure your email marketing pieces look good.
We all know that involvement in the community is a great form of marketing for independent eye care practices, but it does not have to depend on the doctor. It's great if the doctor wants to be involved, of course, but any office staff member can be appointed as the practice representative. If you have a favorite organization, become active in it and support its projects with time or money. If you don't know where to start, your local chamber of commerce is good place. Also, consider becoming a sponsor for local school teams and programs and participate in events with your parks and recreation department.
I consider vision plans as a marketing tool. You could even view the discounts you provide as a marketing cost in a way; and we would all concede that it is a fairly high cost. But, whether you like them or not, vision plans can result in a large number of new patients and they also drive a great deal of regular repeat business to your practice. Other forms of marketing are effective, but it is hard to top the volume of patients created by a vision plan that is popular in your area.
Once a vision plan patient reaches your exam chair, many things can happen to create revenue. The case may need medical eye care or contact lenses or multiple pairs of glasses. It may lead to family members who need vision therapy or low vision care. It all evolves from more people in your office. So, if you truly need lots more patients, consider accepting more vision plans.
All of these strategies require quite a bit of time to implement. There are many logistical demands with any marketing project. I recommend the doctor take on a leadership role to develop the marketing plan for the coming year. A smart staff member can be given the role of marketing coordinator to assist with the plan and carry it out. Marketing your practice deserves a decent budget; 3% of gross revenue is typically used as a good starting point.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor,Optometric Management Tip of the Week