Alex Melconian is a Senior Account Manager with American Hearing Aid Associates in Chadds Ford, PA. Readers may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Historically, the hearing healthcare industry has relied on expensive and often inefficient marketing methods to attract patients. Moreover, many practitioners have failed to develop prospect-management strategies that protect the investments they have made to acquire patients.
Today, it is more important than ever for practice owners to become more efficient in the planning and execution of their marketing efforts in order to realize a good return on investment (ROI). Our field is seeing a continual decline in marketing ROI while the cost per lead keeps rising. For example, the number of persons who call and do not make an actual appointment has risen by 25% in some American Hearing Aid Associates (AHAA) practices. Further, the number of TNS (tested, not sold) patients has risen by as much as 100% in others.
A prospect is any person in need of hearing healthcare services, especially one whose hearing problems can be helped with hearing aids. Whenever our office phone rings, we have to assume that the caller is a prospective hearing aid purchaser. Therefore, it is imperative that the staff member who answers the phone always get the caller's name, address, phone number, and referral source—whether or not an appointment is scheduled at that time.
This is the first step in tracking and marketing to these prospects. Capturing the contact information affords you the opportunity to continually communicate with these prospects until they eventually have their hearing problems addressed—in most cases through hearing aids. Finding out who referred prospects to your practice helps you plan future marketing programs targeted at potential referral sources.
Well-designed prospect management is important because you have already invested money in motivating these consumers to contact you. You have done this through strategies such as direct mail, newspaper ads, signage, and telemarketing.
In these lean economic times, a practice that invests 10% of its gross revenue in an advertising budget must have a front-office staff that is thoroughly trained to turn every call into an appointment. This requires training employees to follow a structured, consistent procedure for tracking and following up with no-shows, canceled appointments, and TNSs.
Also, bear in mind that “warm” leads are more valuable than older ones that have cooled off. So when new prospects come to your attention, don't wait to follow up on them appropriately and effectively.
In evaluating your process for managing prospects, first identify all the entry points through which they come into contact with your practice. Whatever the point of contact, be sure that your front-office staff not only collects each prospect's name, address, phone number, and referral source, but also that they actually ask for an appointment. That last point may seem obvious, but often practices overlook it in staff training or they do not monitor employees to ensure they are making an effective effort to schedule appointments.
Setting an appointment is a good start, but it does not ensure that the prospect becomes a hearing aid user. Where do patients drop out of the sales cycle in your practice? And how do you get them back? Most practices can identify one or two steps after a no-show occurs, and then the process becomes fuzzy. Persons who make appointments but don't keep them remain valuable prospects, so keep track of them.
The same is true of the patient who comes in for testing and has an aidable hearing loss, yet for whatever reason does not purchase hearing aids. Many practices either have no tracking and follow-up plan for TNS patients, or they have one but fail to use it.
Tested, not sold patients are your first-tier prospects because you have already created a relationship with them. So, they must be tracked thoroughly. Those who call but don't make an appointment also remain good prospects. Carefully record these groups in your database so you can regularly communicate with them. Related to this is to identify and fix any points where call-in prospects may be slipping through the cracks without your capturing relevant information about them.
Since you have collected the key information about these prospects, you should use it to implement targeted marketing tactics designed to bring them back.
The dispensing professional should be the first person in your practice to contact TNS patients. You should try to do this within 72 hours. The longer you wait to contact prospects after a visit, the more difficult it is to recapture them.
This call establishes a high level of professionalism and very often leads to agreement on a follow-up schedule. Most practices also remain in contact with TNS patients via mailings or internal telemarketing efforts.
Calls to appointment no-shows and cancellations should be made within 48-hours of the originally scheduled appointment. Many practices employ telemarketers to make these calls.
Subsequent follow-up letters should be sent until the patient appears on the schedule. At AHAA, we recommend tailoring different letters for several distinct prospect groups in your database. These groups include TNS patients who were referred by a physician, TNSs who were not referred, no-shows/cancellations, and patients who are not yet likely candidates for hearing aids, but may be later. In the case of patients referred by a physician, send the MD a letter as well.
The marketing landscape has changed in hearing healthcare. The weak economy is likely to continue to make it more difficult to attract new patients in the foreseeable future. However, by strengthening your prospect-management process, you can help your practice continue to grow.
© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.