Depending on the source, studies show that it can be 5 to 25 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one. In the healthcare field where lifetime patient value can be several thousand dollars, this figure is most likely at the high end of that range.
Customer loyalty isn’t just about the financial bottom line, especially when it comes to patients. Switching healthcare providers can result in inconsistent care and poorer health outcomes. By building patient loyalty, you can help ensure a healthier community. We’ve included 10 steps you can take to keep your patients coming back for years.
1. Implement a Rewards Program
Rewards programs aren’t just for retailers, coffee shops, airlines, and hotels. They can also be tailored to fit the needs of the healthcare industry. A carefully crafted rewards plan can encourage patients to stay with your practice longer and garner more referrals.
The logistics are different for a health-based business, and there are rules to follow to ensure you comply with the law. A rewards program could go awry if it rewards patients based on what they spend or the procedures they get. The key is to incentivize the right actions; otherwise, patients might elect to receive unnecessary treatments or procedures to boost rewards.
For example, you might not want to give points to people for getting their teeth cleaned. Instead, focus more on the duration of the relationship, not the frequency of visits or amount spent. Other behaviors to reward could be showing up on time, keeping appointments, doing “homework,” like physical therapy exercises, and attending complimentary educational workshops and seminars.
Some incentives for patients that join your rewards program could include:
- Free valet parking
- Partnerships with gyms, pharmacies or other healthcare providers for discounts
- Special VIP pricing on supplements, frames, teeth whitening services, etc.
- Merchandise or gifts to be received on an anniversary or birthday like hats, t-shirts, mugs, etc.
There are a couple of other rules to follow to ensure legal compliance and keep your rewards program ethical:
- You can’t give cash or something that can be converted to cash.
- If the value of the reward is disproportionately high, it can raise some red flags.
As long as you keep your patients’ outcomes in mind and reward them for the actions that are good for their health, you’ll have a system where everyone benefits.
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2. Make It Convenient to Work with You
Have you ever decided not to go to a restaurant you love because it was inconvenient? Maybe the parking situation is always a nightmare, there are long wait times or it takes forever to get served. You might settle for a restaurant that’s not nearly good, but you go there because it has convenient parking and fast service.
Your patients are using similar criteria to judge your office. While you might not be able to uproot your building to a different location, you can take steps to make your patients’ visits easier by making them convenient and as painless as possible.
- Have dedicated parking spaces near your front entrance.
- Optimize your check-in process so that patients don’t have to fill out lengthy forms every time they visit.
- Keep wait times to a minimum.
- Provide refreshments like coffee, water, and fruit in your waiting room or lobby so they can quench their thirst or have a snack while they wait or are on their way out the door.
- When patients call, make sure they’re not on hold for ages, and consider adding texting and email as a communication channel.
- Make it easy for them to pay their bills, either online or through an auto debit system. If you process payments in your office, do it quickly with modern technology.
- Send appointment reminders so that patients don’t forget to come to your office. You can customize when they’re delivered based on patients’ preferences, too!
3. Get Advice and Listen
The best way to find out what you’re doing right and where you could improve is to ask!
Ask your patients what they like about your office and care and gather feedback about what you could be doing better. By asking your patients to share their thoughts, you get multiple benefits:
- Your patients feel heard, and they’ll appreciate that you listen to their needs.
- You’ll be better at serving them when you find out exactly what they want.
- You can address any small-scale or isolated issues before they become massive problems.
We recommend sending online surveys to patients after their appointment with a few questions about their experience. You can also request that they write a review or testimonial for your website or on a platform like Google, Facebook or niche review sites.
4. Make It a Priority and Be Vocal About It
Do your patients know why you entered your profession? Do they understand why your staff chose this field?
It’s easy to assume that patients realize it’s our mission to serve them well and keep them healthy, but the reality is that most people who come to your office probably don’t give it a second thought. They needed their teeth cleaned, their eyes checked, or a medical exam and they chose you either because you’re conveniently located, you had positive online reviews, or you came highly recommended from a friend or colleague.
Being good at what you do will take you far, but to inspire true customer or patient loyalty, it helps to communicate how much you care in everything you do.
Consider adding a mission statement in your lobby, on your website, and in your social media profiles. Share with your patients why you chose this field and how you help them live to their potential.
Communicate with your patients that you’re committed to their care and you want them to choose your office year after year. Let them know that they are your top priority, and always keep the communication channels open for them to share anything with you or your staff that would make them consider switching offices.
When your patients know that you are interested in their long-term care and they’re not “just a number,” then they’ll be more apt to stay with you for generations.
5. Communicate Regularly
Your patients are busy, and it’s easy to forget about healthcare, especially non-emergency checkups or health maintenance. By communicating with patients regularly, your office stays top of mind, and when it comes time to book their next appointment, they’ll be more likely to continue receiving care from your office instead of looking elsewhere.
An email newsletter is a great way to start with a communication strategy. You can share helpful information relevant to your industry as well as official announcements, special VIP offers, and testimonials. It’s also a smart idea to send direct mail pieces such as postcards or letters that remind patients that your office exists, especially when it’s time for them to schedule their next appointment.
One of the best ways to keep communication consistent is with appointment reminders. Typically, these reminders are sent as text messages (or in some cases, a phone call may be the preferred method) about 24 hours before the scheduled appointment time. Depending on a patient’s preferences, you may elect to send multiple reminders or adjust the timeframes to suit their needs.
6. Provide Excellent Customer Service
Providing excellent customer is about more than just being friendly and going out of your way to achieving patient satisfaction. After all, these measures are subjective and hard to measure.
To ensure that you’re doing everything you can to ensure that your patients are receiving top-not service we recommend having systems and procedures in place that give your staff guidance on how to handle both routine and rare situations. Everything from how the phone is answered to how a complaint is handled should have a procedure and script in place.
In addition to being consistent, your customer care team should also be available when your clients need you. This doesn’t mean being on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, but it does involve making yourself available to open up a dialogue.
Having an answering service that can reach you for patient emergencies is vital and having a text message or live chat system on your website can also make contacting your office for inquiries more convenient.
Remember, if your patients can’t reach you, then they can’t keep coming back.
7. Be Flexible
We mentioned earlier the importance of having systems and procedures to provide consistent care and service, but that doesn’t mean having strict or inflexible policies. One of the worst things you can say to a patient is, “Sorry, but that’s our policy.”
While having a policy can give you guidelines to follow, it shouldn’t dictate how you decide to treat someone.
For example, you might have a policy in place where you charge a $20 fee when a patient cancels an appointment without a 24-hour notice. Some patients will own up to the responsibility of keeping their scheduled appointment slot and be prepared to pay a nominal fee when they slip up, but other patients might take offense to this, especially if they had extenuating circumstances like a death in the family or a transportation mishap.
Tacking on a $20 fee to someone who’s going through a tragedy or loss can seem insensitive, even though it’s technically your “policy.” We are all human, and while formal policies can help you set some office ground rules, it’s also helpful to remember that rules are meant to be broken.
Want proof that flexibility and kindness can make a world of difference? Here’s a story about Zappos, the online shoe and clothing retailer, that went viral back in 2010, and it made people love this company:
A customer ordered shoes, and she decided to return them. Before she got a chance to send them back, her mother passed away, and the task of returning the purchase slipped her mind, causing her to miss the return window. She called Zappos, and she explained the situation. Not only did they arrange for UPS to come and pick up her package, but they also sent her flowers and a card, offering their condolences for her loss.
When industry experts talk about stellar customer service and the importance of being flexible, this story continues to make its way into the conversation, a full 9 years after it happened. Imagine what kind of gestures like this can do for your practice.
8. Be Personable
Technology can save time and money while also increasing your level of care and customer service. But, before you automate everything, don’t forget the human element of your practice. You might have a fingerprint scanner at your front desk that allows patients to check in, but don’t forget to greet each of them by name and with a smile when they come in.
You might have an automated appointment reminder system in place, but don’t be afraid to check in with your patients personally with a phone call every now and then.
People do business with people, not businesses. If you make your office a place that patients like visiting, they’re likely to keep coming back.
9. Offer Payment Plans
Healthcare can be expensive! Braces, plastic surgery or oncological care tends to cost thousands, and it’s not always covered by insurance. Even routine office visits might stretch the budget of some patients.
If you offer payment plans for your patients, it helps make receiving care more affordable. If someone has a choice of paying upfront or spreading out payments over time, then your budget-conscious patients might prefer to have the flexibility of making payments, especially if there’s an interest-free option.
10. Build Employee Loyalty
Your patients aren’t just choosing to work with you; they’re also choosing to work with your staff. If your front office has a revolving door, then patients don’t have a chance to get to know your team and forge bonds with them.
If you keep your employees happy, they’ll be more inclined to stay with you. In turn, a pleasant staff can pass along cheer to patients and clients, making your office a place they enjoy visiting.
As you review these tips and begin implementing, always remember the golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated. Think about the businesses you’re most loyal to and why. Then model your behavior, systems, and procedures after your favorite companies. Don’t be surprised if your referrals start going through the roof!
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