OD News Articles

2nd April 2007

Create Patient Loyalty

by Donald James, OD Lewiston, ID

In today’s medical environment, you would do well to develop a high level of patient satisfaction. Happy customers can then be nurtured into loyal patients who will tell others about your wonderful care. Rather than just satisfy, set a goal to exceed expectations. I challenge you to delight your patients—knock their socks off!

Satisfied vs. Loyal

As a customer service term, satisfied is excessively mediocre. People who are merely satisfied will quickly go elsewhere if they believe they can get better service. On the other hand, loyal patients would rather fight than switch. Year after year they keep coming back. These folks are your most effective sales force. They tell the world how great you are. Considering that it costs six times more to acquire a new patient than it does to keep an existing one, creating a loyal patient base is one of the most cost effective marketing campaigns you can undertake.

Loyal patients are:

  • More likely to stay with you even if they move and your office is less convenient.
  • Less prone to go elsewhere when they change insurance plans and have to pay more out-of-pocket for your care.
  • More tolerant of appointment delays and minor problems.
  • More willing to follow the course of treatment, and thus more inclined to achieve positive therapeutic results.

All of these factors translate into practice growth and financial success. In addition, happy, loyal patients are fun to care for and will decrease staff turn-over. As your team gains pride and satisfaction in their work, they will be less apt to search elsewhere for employment—reducing hiring and training costs.

Don’t confuse patient retention with loyalty. If you are the only eye doctor in town, you will retain patients. But what would happen if another practitioner moved into the area? Unless fiercely loyal, patients can be lured away.

Feel-good Service

Focus on delivering what patients desire from their encounter with you. They want to feel better as the result of their visit—emotionally and physically. Patients don’t come in skipping and whistling a tune about how delighted they are to have their eyes tested, poked and dilated. So anything you and your staff can do to make their visit a positive experience will be greatly appreciated.

Feel-good service is the responsibility of everyone in your practice. One weak link in the chain can ruin the entire encounter. Negative experiences often cause patients to see small inconveniences as major events. Their displeasure induces stress and can incite temper flare-ups all around. Customer service minefields are always lurking between patients and staff. Acknowledge their existence and work closely with your team to help them recognize and diffuse explosive potential. Staff should be instructed and coached with listening and communication skills. Role playing can help show right and wrong ways to interact with patients.

Be Flexible

Most practices have particular ways they like to do things. For example, patients are often instructed to wear their contact lenses when they come for an exam, or bring their old glasses and a list of current medications. How does your team react when these instructions are not followed? Does the receptionist, technician or doctor present a tone of annoyance? If so, even the slightest hint will hurt your reputation. Patients will feel bad and their entire experience will be tainted.

Many details that customers overlook are minor in the big picture. If you are still going to see a patient in spite of them not following instructions, why make them feel chastised? A better strategy is to get credit for being an incredibly nice practice. Be understanding and empathetic. When a non-compliant customer throws a curve ball, see if your team can respond as if nothing unusual has happened.

You Set the Tone

Realize that you set the tone for building patient loyalty. It is a top-down initiative. The way you treat your staff has a huge influence on they way they interact with patients. Some doctors are weak in customer service skills. But morale declines if doctors are not accountable for delivering the same quality of patient service expected from the rest of the team. Workplace attitudes are significantly affected by the way employees are treated by their boss. Your behavior is the model for how your team will relate to others.

Loyalty Program

With increasing access to information and eyecare providers, patients have many choices. If simply satisfied, they may not be as loyal as you think. Take the time and effort to show your interest in their care. A commitment to creating highly satisfied patients requires more than just lip service. It needs a plan. Practices that implement patient loyalty programs are much more likely to create truly happy customers, achieve growth and financial success.

Asking patients what they think about your practice shows your concern. Their input and constructive criticism is vital if you wish to stay informed of successes or failures. This can be gathered with questionnaires, suggestion boxes and phone calls, but regular feedback is the only way to know what patients really think of your care. Click here to see the questionnaire Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute mails to all cataract surgery patients.

Conclusion

Operating in a patient-friendly manner pays big dividends. If you and your staff clearly understand that positive experiences lead to positive relationships—and positive relationships are the foundation of patient loyalty—you will be well on your way to success.