Gyl A. Kasewurm, AuD, is Founder, President, and Owner of Professional Hearing Services in St. Joseph, MI, which receives more than 16,000 patient visits a year. Readers may contact Dr. Kasewurm at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past installments of Gyl's Guide, visit the HJ archives at www.thehearingjournal.com.
Previous commitments caused my husband and me to be in different cities recently before leaving on vacation. As a result, I had arranged a short flight from Chicago to Detroit so we could fly together. When I arrived at O'Hare, I was surprised to learn that the airline had no record of my reservation. After some research, I discovered to my surprise that I had actually booked my flight for a day in June, which was problematic since this happened on a day in March! When I realized there were no other flights that would get me to Detroit in time, I had no choice but to change my travel plans.
On my way, I mulled over the unexpected changes I had been forced to make and wondered,
“Is it time to make changes in my business plan?”
Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you know that our economy has experienced dramatic change in the past year. The HJ Report column in the May issue of this magazine noted that the hearing aid market experienced stagnant growth in the first quarter of 2009 after declining in the second half of 2008. Therefore, it may be time for a change of plans. Perhaps one answer is to focus less on getting new patients and more on keeping the patients we have. Here are some suggestions that might help:
Take better care of current patients: Patients are entering the hearing aid market at younger ages and living longer, so it makes sense that retaining current patients is even more important for your business now than in the past. What special services or attention can we offer to patients that will cause them to commit to our organization for a lifetime?
People like to feel special, so we should look for every opportunity to make our patients feel like part of our hearing healthcare family. Send them cards on their birthdays, remember special occasions with flowers, or make a personal phone call to inquire how they are hearing. When introducing a new product or service, take patients out to lunch or coffee and get their impressions. What you learn may surprise you. It's the personal touch that matters. In case you haven't noticed, a patient can go anywhere to buy a hearing aid, including the Internet or their local drug store. So, make it obvious to patients why they should choose you.
Get patients to spread the word: It's said that consumers will tell two people about a pleasant experience and ten people about an unpleasant experience. Simple math tells us that a business really can't afford any unhappy patients.
Happy hearing aid patients tend to forget to tell others about how well they hear because they take it for granted. So, if you want more patient referrals, you have to recruit them. Have cards printed and try to persuade patients to distribute them to everyone they know. When a patient refers someone to your office, thank them for the referral and then remind them to keep up the good work. The cost of a patient-referral program is low, so the extra revenues contribute directly to your bottom line.
Don't let good prospects get away: According to some informal research, the average hearing healthcare practitioner convinces only about 50% of the patients they see who need help to get it from them. So what happens to the other 50%? They either continue without help or they go to another practice that does persuade them to take action.
Every practice needs a follow-up program for these individuals. Even if the original visit failed to produce results, don't give up on them. If their hearing loss is sensory, they will remain prospects for the rest of their lives. Make sure to include an internal marketing program for such prospects, as there will be many opportunities to help them.
Patients who have lived with the gradual onset of hearing loss often have difficulty understanding what it would be like to hear well again. Demonstrating the actual benefits of improved hearing can be a very effective way to convince a patient to do something about their problem. Too often, we tell patients what they should do, but fail to have them and their family members actually experience what better hearing sounds like.
Communicate frequently with patients and prospects: Given the information overload we all deal with, it's easy for current patients to forget about us if we don't stay in touch. While it is possible to communicate too frequently, especially if we only correspond when we want to sell something, patients want to hear from us.
Start a patient-recall program and contact patients when it's time for their annual hearing test. Or send notes when you haven't heard from them in over 6 months. Ask patients for their opinion. Kochkin reported in his MarkeTrak studies that consumers who received any form of post-fitting survey were generally more satisfied with their hearing instruments.
If your practice or organization isn't growing, take another look at your business plan and don't hesitate to make some adjustments.