Build Your Lens Practice With Internal Marketing
The key to your practice success starts with focused communication with your patients.
By Rhonda S. Robinson, OD
Dr. Robinson, who received her doctorate from Indiana University School of Optometry, is in private group practice in Indianapolis, Ind. She is an education consultant for Bausch & Lomb. She currently serves as president of Women of Vision, a professional organization for women optometrists. Visit www.wovonline.org for more information.
In these times of ever-tightening budgets, dwindling profits, and increasing competition, how do you plan on continuing and increasing success? I believe you can be successful even in the midst of a recession by implementing a few of the marketing ideas in this article. But, before you take that step, let�s review the difference between external and internal marketing.
For most of us in eyecare practice, external marketing is advertising or communicating with people you do not know (potential patients) while internal marketing is advertising or communicating with people you do know (your current patients). Examples of external marketing are the Yellow Pages, practice Web page, billboards, direct mail, TV, or radio.
Although these vary in price, they do increase expenses. After your investment in these advertising techniques, you sit back and wait — and hope — for your office phone to ring with new patient appointments.
Internal marketing usually doesn't cost much and can be much more successful as you have a captive audience already. (See "Examples of Internal Marketing" below for a list.)
Concentrate on allowing your own patients to advertise for you. It's a known fact that the number-one way patients find practitioners is by personal recommendation from friends, family, or colleagues. Use that knowledge to impress your patients with your expertise and care so they will spread the word for you.
Happy patients — especially contact lens wearers and, even more so, "specialty" contact lens patients — refer more patients than any other patient in the practice. The key to getting them to "work" for you is communication.
Start the Lens Discussion
Are you a good communicator? Gallup polls have shown that many practitioners have missed a huge opportunity to even discuss the option of contact lenses with their patients. Consider the results of this 2006 Gallup Study of the Consumer Contact Lens Market.
Current spectacle wearers were asked if they were interested in wearing contact lenses. In 2006, 36 percent were very interested; 61 percent were somewhat interested; 2 percent were not too interested; and 1 percent were not at all interested.
These numbers indicate that almost all were at least somewhat interested in contact lenses. Next, these same consumers were asked if they discussed contact lenses with their eyecare practitioners. The majority answered no (57 percent) while 43 percent answered yes. If the response was yes, the next question was "Who initiated the discussion about contact lenses?" The overwhelming majority (86 percent) said that they did while only 14 percent responded that their practitioner began the discussion.
Unbelievable! What a missed opportunity! Even though this particular poll was taken a few years ago, the issue still remains: are you asking?
If you are interested in building your contact lens practice, the first thing you should do is discuss lens options with all of your patients. Here's the "catch 22" — practitioners may not think that patients are interested in contact lenses if patients do not inquire about lenses. Patients may not think they're candidates for contact lenses if practitioners don't initiate the discussion. Thus, both parties have failed to communicate. This will inevitably lead to a stagnant practice and less-than-satisfied patients.
In my office our technicians are trained to ask patients as they are pretested if they're interested in contact lenses. If the answer is no, the next question should be, "Have you worn contact lenses before?" Many patients have discontinued lens wear for a variety of reasons, but few practitioners inquire about past lens experience. The answers may surprise you. "I stopped wearing contact lenses because my heater unit broke and I didn't like how cumbersome it was." "I was told I couldn't wear contact lenses because of my astigmatism." Whatever the reason was, it is likely that there is something new to try that would address the original problem.
The key is asking the right questions. Ami Abel, OD, in Birmingham, Ala., says, "I believe if you ask every patient whether they are interested in contact lenses, even if you don't think they are good candidates, you can increase your numbers drastically. If they are not good candidates, I explain why I feel that way and at least they don't leave wondering. Many are surprised to hear that there is a great lens for them. It may be a daily disposable, a monthly silicone hydrogel or a GP. Be proactive."
Using New Technology to Communicate
Another method of internal marketing is a newsletter. Today newsletters have to be unique because our patients receive so much of this type of mail almost daily. With newsletters, the key is to be modern and showcase how you keep up with technology.
Did you save your patient's address and telephone number? Of course you did. What about mobile phone number and e-mail address? Assure your patients that their e-mail address will not be shared or abused, but remember to utilize patient e-mail addresses for regular e-blasts about new technology in your practice. New contact lens materials and designs, spectacle lens advances, even new frame styles might be some technology that you want to highlight. You'd be surprised how inexpensive and effective e-mail is to continue communicating with your patients about the services you have to offer.
Also, confirming appointments via text messaging will save time and money, but only if you have the information and technology you need to do it.
You may think that service agreements are a thing of the past now that most patients wear disposable lenses, but communicating your expanded services is never a thing of the past. It represents the future for the patient's welfare. To increase your sales of annual supplies, make your patients who choose this option feel valued and appreciated. If a patient purchases an annual supply of lenses, we in turn provide "special" services:
- Emergency on-call service 24 hours a day, seven days a week
- Replacement of torn or lost lenses so patients won't have an unequal number of lenses
- Lens exchanges with the new, correct prescription if a prescription changes during the year
- Manufacturer rebates along with a discount on annual supplies
- Direct shipment of annual supplies to home or office address at no charge
- A discount on spectacle lenses (to encourage upkeep of backup glasses)
- Sunglass discounts
Most offices offer these same services, but they are not communicated in a formal way. Providing a brochure to patients with information about lens care, fees, and services ensures that each patient receives the same communication — even if you get behind and are unable to discuss these things individually during the exam.
Open House Events
Open houses are a fun way to introduce new technology to patients and extend a casual atmosphere of congeniality. Encourage patients to bring a friend. Frame trunk shows, dry eye seminars, and multifocal consultations are just a few ideas to get you started. Manufacturer's representatives are typically more than happy to help and usually provide the snacks. We post sign-up sheets at the front desk to get the conversation started from the moment patients enter our office.
Rewarding patients who send a friend with referral discounts is truly the best practice builder that we've used. We give patients a card that encourages them to refer a new patient if they have been more than satisfied with our service. For every new patient referred, patients receive a credit on their account that they can use toward anything in our office. Of course, the amount of the discount is your decision. Our office gives $50. After all, what is a new patient really worth?! Patients can use these referral cards as many times as they want, so that $50 credit can add up to a lot!
Our patients love the card option. I've often seen them use these cards to upgrade to a more expensive frame or sunglasses, or even to get a second pair of glasses.
The Most Important Message: Yours
Displays and posters encourage communication, but be sure to control your message. Having every contact lens manufacturer's pamphlets all over your office not only looks cluttered, but sends the message that you have no specific recommendations.
I like to highlight my favorite contact lenses and spectacle lenses that coincide with the latest in technology advancements. For example, a poster about anti-reflection coatings is crucial to making the recommendation that vision is better without all those annoying reflections. Patients can understand the message better with a demonstration or picture. Nothing is more powerful than your recommendation, so utilize those posters or brochures to help make your point (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Dr. Robinson emphasizes her recommendation with a brochure.
Here is an example of an invisible recommendation by Tom Stout, OD, FAAO, of Morgantown Eye Associates in Morgantown, W.Va. "We have been sparking interest and increasing our sales in daily disposables by recommending that appropriate patients wear a pair of daily disposables while selecting their new eyewear in the optical," Dr. Stout says. "Many find the initial comfort so good that they choose to buy a few boxes for occasional wear."
Greg Forsyth, OD, of Raleigh, N.C. says, "I'll even go as far as putting patients in a multifocal lens and letting them see what they will experience before charging them our usual fitting fees. If they like it and want to pursue the modality, then they will be charged. All it costs me is five minutes, and most people do pursue lenses." The key is the recommendation!
The conclusion of every examination should begin with the words, "I recommend." For a patient, everything begins and ends with your recommendation. From that point, you can explain your services as you hand the patient your contact lens brochure. Next, a customized discussion of recall, "You need to see me again on…for…" Lastly, hand the referral discount card to the patient. "We are accepting new patients, so if you've been happy with our services, I'd appreciate you telling your friends, family, and colleagues about our office."
Remember, the keys to success don't need to be expensive. The key to your professional success is what you already know how to do best — communicate with your patients.
Tom Hobbs, OD, of InSight Eyecare in Warrensburg, Mo., says it best. "The best form of internal marketing is not posters on the walls or even video presentations that show in the waiting area. The most effective internal marketing comes from a free flow of information from the patient to the staff and doctor. This starts with a welcome form that asks the correct questions to elicit the needs and interest of the patient. The staff then takes the information from that form and generates interest by discussing new eyecare and eyewear options that would benefit the patient while performing preliminary testing."
"The most important part of the process is that the practitioner uses this information to make the appropriate vision recommendations to the patient during and at the conclusion of the examination," Dr. Hobbs concludes.
Clear communication with your patients can yield exceptional returns. And don�t ever forget to remind patients of how your care will not only help them to see their best, but to look their best as well. CLS