By John Scibal, OD
In today’s environment, there is much emphasis on social media. And rightfully so – it is a great way to reach your patients – both current and potential. But even those in the marketing industry would agree that online presence must be complimented with other marketing efforts.
Back in the stone age (in other words, throughout most of the time I owned my private practice), there was no such thing as the Internet – GASP! Yes, people actually had to learn about you from something called a newspaper. And back then we spent a lot of money on yellow pages (those are part of something called a “phone book”.) In order for a patient to find you, they actually had to dig out their phone book, look you up, and call you to find more information. Other external marketing tools included radio, television, and direct mailings.
I contend that there is still a place for all of those marketing items (with the exception of Yellow Pages- those are gone forever!). People still listen to the radio, and watch TV, and a lot of us old-timers still prefer to read the news the old-fashioned way: on our favorite chair reading a newspaper, with a cup of coffee.
But as all of us know, the most important advertising is through your patients’ word of mouth. And basing your entire practice on creating the best and most personalized experience for every single patient that walks through your door is a guaranteed path to huge success. Creating that bond, an emotional bond, with each of your patients is what makes them tell a story to their family and friends.
So let me tell you about a simple but powerful technique I used to help set me and my office apart. As often happened, the idea came from one of our weekly staff meetings. We had always done sporadic follow up phone calls to patients who had received glasses or contacts from our office, and people were always appreciative. In some cases, particularly with large sales, we had our opticians write a brief thank-you note to the patient, and sometimes gave a little gift. Patients were very appreciative.
So the staff asked: “Why not take it to the next level and have the doctor send a thank you note to every new patient”? And that is exactly what I did. I bought nice personalized stationary with envelopes, and sent a short thank you note to all the new patients. It was typically only two or three sentences, but the patient response was overwhelmingly positive. The common response was “This is the first time I got a letter from my doctor”.
Well of course, at the next office meeting, the staff now says “hey doc, this is working so well, how about you send a note to ALL our patients! We shouldn’t leave out the established patients. They’re the ones that built our business – let’s show them our appreciation, too.” Uh, well, OK, I guess. So I bought more stationary and sent a personal note to every patient that I had examined (and so did my associate).
These were hand-written notes, including addressing the envelopes, and now there was a practical concern: this was taking a ton of time, and I was getting writer’s cramp! And it was difficult for me to remember who was new, who was established, and anything personal about that particular patient.
Going back to the original premise of creating an emotional, personalized bond with each and every patient, we ended up creating a system:
- Once a week, the staff would hand me two stacks of charts: new patients and established patients. They would also indicate whether the patient was a contact lens or glasses patient.
- Each chart had a pre-addressed envelope. (You’d be surprised at how much quicker it was if you don’t have to do the envelope yourself.) Sending the note to the work address is the best – it always brightens up the patient’s day, and they will share it with their co-workers.
- In order for me to personalize the note, the staff would jot down something personal about the patient. Example: “this is the lady whose grand-daughter just graduated from high school”; “this is the guy you talked to about fishing”. Honestly, without those notes I never would remember these things.
- If the person had a large purchase, they indicated that as well, and I would include a Starbucks gift certificate (from $5.00 to $25.00 depending on their purchase).
- Once a week, I sat at my desk and wrote the notes. The beginning of the note was generic, and categorized as either a new or established patient. And whenever possible I would add a personal touch. Here’s an example for a new patient: “Dear Mrs. Smith, Thank you so much for choosing our office for your eyecare. We know there are lots of choices, and we are honored you chose us. I hope your contacts are doing great, and that they help you at your grand-daughter’s graduation!”
- Staff applied stamps and in the mail they went.
Sexy? No. Cutting edge? Maybe not – but deadly effective. And the only cost is stationary and stamps. It took me from 30 minutes 90 minutes per week. And if we were running any kind of promotion (an upcoming trunk show, for example), we of course would include a flier as well. People love getting things in the mail besides bills – and this is a simple way to interact with them personally. They can’t get that from Facebook!
Photo: Copyright: robbiverte / 123RF Stock Photo
Dr. John Scibal is the owner of Scibal Consulting, a company that is focused in both the Optometry Business Appraising and Optometry Management Consulting fields. Dr. Scibal is fully certified by the Institute of Business Appraisers (CBA). While working as a practicing optometrist for twenty-five years, Dr. Scibal developed one of the largest and most successful independent optometric practices in North Carolina. A veteran lecturer throughout the U.S., Dr. Scibal is also a prolific author who has written extensively on a wide-range of practice management topics.