While reviewing a spreadsheet that detailed patients' most recent visits to my office, I was dismayed to learn how many we had lost touch with. Considering the lifetime value of a patient, this represents a significant loss of potential revenue. I had to wonder,
“How can I improve patient retention?”
Patient retention is vital to the success of any business. According to Frederick Reichheld, an expert in patient loyalty, a typical company loses 10%-30% of its customers a year.1 In an industry that typically grows less than 5% a year, just imagine what an increase in patient retention can mean to the profitability of a practice. So, how can we improve patient retention? Here are a few suggestions.
Market to your own patients
One way of growing a business is to increase sales to existing patients. So, when you write a marketing plan, develop a segment targeted at them. Are there additional products or services you can offer them? When you buy a new car, dealers will try to sell you an extended warranty. An extended warranty program has the potential not only to increase revenues, but also to keep patients connected to you and your practice. When a new technology is released, invite current patients to be part of a focus group that evaluates it.
The more that patients know about you and your accomplishments, the more they will see you as a professional they can trust. Let patients know when you or a staff member completes an educational course. Communicate with your patients at least four times a year. Whether it is by an e-newsletter, monthly flier, a reminder of an annual hearing evaluation, or a holiday greeting card, reach out and let your patients know you care and want them to come back.
Take steps to insure that patients are satisfied by making follow-up calls or mailing satisfaction questionnaires to them after they visit your office.
Maintain a loyal workforce
Building patient loyalty is a lot easier if you have a loyal workforce. It is especially important to retain the employees who regularly interact with patients. I've been fortunate to have the same great people in customer service for years, and the compliments from patients make it clear they appreciate seeing the same familiar faces in our service department.
Employees can build relationships with patients that keep them coming back. Make sure to acknowledge good employees and reward them for their loyalty to you. Also, empower staff to make decisions that benefit patients and encourage them to solve problems or complaints as quickly as possible. Excuses such as “That's the boss's policy” or “Sorry, I'm not allowed to do that” may turn a patient away permanently.
Give patients a reason to return
According to Don Marsh, as few as 3% of tested-not-sold (TNS) prospects return to that same practice when they decide to purchase hearing aids and 30% will eventually decide to buy elsewhere.2 Therefore, it's important to follow up with TNS prospects immediately after the initial contact, with another contact 10 to 14 days after that, and then at 30-day intervals.
Try to create a “speed bump” that will cause the person to reconsider you and your practice. For instance, I read that someone sent a lottery ticket with a letter stating, “Take a chance on better hearing.” The tactic isn't as important as the effort and letting patients know that you want to be the one to help them with their hearing loss. TNS patients remain great prospects, so use targeted campaigns to encourage them to return to you before they visit your competition.
Finally, and most importantly:
Identify your best patients
While we want to treat every patient well, there are some patients who deserve extra-special treatment. Identify the people who have been the most supportive and spent the most money with you and consider offering them special treatment such as executive hours, no-charge service on certain items, extended payment plans, or trials on new products before they are released to the public. I am sure we all have experience with patients who spend the least, expect the most, and cost the business money. When you find a loyal patient, do whatever you can to make him or her a patient for life&
Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will happily send you examples of surveys for your current and TNS patients.
1.Reichheld F: Loyalty Rules: How Today's Leaders Build Lasting Relationships. Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2003.
2.Marsh D: 10 pathways to marketing success in challenging times. Hear Rev