the business of contact lenses
Creating a Smarter Strategy for Patient Discounts
BY GARY GERBER, OD
Discounting is dangerous on many fronts. From a business perspective, the biggest global danger is that you'll make less money. That's something no sane business person strives for. Discounting also may taint your image by giving the impression of offering less value. For example, if you charge less for contact lens fitting, a professional service that's thought to be equivalent among practitioners, you risk a prospective patient thinking, "He's charging less — I wonder if I'm getting less?"
While a prospect interested in discounts might indeed convert to a patient, will he have the same consumer DNA as a patient who wasn't attracted to your practice because of a discount? Will he expect discounts at each successive visit — assuming he comes back? Will he jump at a competitor's future discount and never return? Will he send friends to you and tell them to ask for the same discount he got?
Many successful retailers correctly use discounting as a tool to spike sales, and we can use it to grow our practices. After all, a legitimate sale or true bargain is a powerful marketing aphrodisiac that few can resist.
How then can we harness the powerful attraction of a discount without conjuring the potential negative image building it might create? The answer is to give away a bonus in addition to your regular services for a limited amount of time. This works because the value-added bonus concept resides in the same consumer synapses as a discount.
Here's an example of an added bonus. X normally costs $100. When it's on sale for $80, the prospect saves $20. But if you sell X and include Y which normally has a value of $20, the prospect "pockets" the same $20. The key is to ensure the added item has legitimate value and isn't something you always do. Customarily including follow-up care with the initial fitting fees would be an example of something that wouldn't do well as a consumer bonus.
Ideally, search for items that are valuable to the prospect and have little absolute cost to the practice. The value of the bonus should supersede your inherent impulse to save on its cost since it's only a one-time event with a finite time limit.
In the case of a new patient who is concerned that he might fail with contact lenses or require extra care, offering follow-up care above and beyond what you usually do might be an inducement. However, a patient who is new to your practice and a longtime lens wearer will perceive little or no need for ongoing care, so offering this as a bonus would likely not attract this patient. Instead, offering a complimentary refractive surgery consultation or a complimentary pair of new colored contact lenses makes more sense.
To come up with other ideas, do what our clients do: ask your patients! Via an online survey or comment form (eyecarepro.net is good for this) ask patients, "What extra services would you like to receive with your contact lenses?"
While some may ignore "services" and respond with, "lower your fees," you'll nearly always get a gem to test and hopefully use. One client actually had a patient respond with, "Preferential appointment times for longtime patients." This led to a "Frequent Flyer" program for this client's patients that proved successful.
Pairing Bonus and Patient
By choosing value-added items and aligning them with the proper prospective patient or current patient, you can take advantage of the cognitive driver of discounts without literally giving away the store. CLS
Dr. Gerber is the president of the Power Practice — a company offering consulting, seminars and software solutions for optometrists. You can reach him at (800) 867-9303 or DrGerber@PowerPractice.com.