Getting new patients through your doors takes hard work, time, creativity and yes—money. In fact, the average cost per acquisition (CPA) for the hearing industry falls between $256 and $450 per new patient, depending on practice location. Given the amount of resources that go into growing your patient base, it’s easy to see why the art of keeping those patients within your practice is worth mastering.
Patient retention isn’t an exact science, but the tried and true methods of providing exceptional service, prompt communication, and small gestures that show just how much you care will always be its foundation. Additional considerations like having flexible office hours, convenient parking or public transit options, and stocking your waiting room with amenities like coffee and snacks will also remain effective strategies for getting patients to continually choose your office for their hearing healthcare needs.
Beyond these time-tested methods lies an evolving world of options and features made possible by digital technology and the Internet. And let’s face it: everyone is going on the Internet these days. It’s important that your practice stays abreast of the new expectations your patients are developing for convenience and perceived value as a result of these recent advancements. It’s no secret that the hearing industry is a saturated one and using digital technology to bolster your offerings can quickly put you ahead of the competition. Let’s explore your options:
Get a Modern Website
These days, having a business without having a website is nearly the same as deciding not to put a sign on your storefront. Your website, in fact, is your storefront—for the largest marketplace in human history: the Internet. But having a website “that works” isn’t quite enough when considering patient retention. People have an unprecedented ability to evaluate businesses and the people who run them with a few strokes on a keyboard.
Your website needs to be designed in a way that speaks to the modern level of care your practice provides. It doesn’t need complicated bells and whistles, but it does need to share the most important information about what you do in an intuitive and easy-to-navigate format. If patients have a hard time getting information about your repair services, for instance, and decide to read about it on a competitor’s website instead of calling your office to find out more, well, you may have just let one fly the flock, as they say.
Make Seeing You a Breeze
It’s important to prioritize your appointment system as a key element of your patient retention strategy. The best solutions offer online appointment setting (synced to your calendar) with automatic email confirmations and reminders. These backend software solutions can get pricey, however, so the next best option would be to offer online appointment requests as a simple form on your website that are then responded to by your front desk staff. Making your office’s phone number easy to find on your website and any marketing materials is also important. The idea here is that every patient who wants to get in to see you is able to do so without having to “follow-up” on any email, inquiry, or call that somehow wasn’t returned. Otherwise, that patient might not return, either.
Gather All Information Upfront
Many practices overlook the importance of their patients’ basic contact information on their initial intake form. Just asking for one phone number, for instance, is a mistake. When patients move, change phone numbers, or switch to a new email address, you want to be sure you’ve gained enough contact information to stay connected. And the best way to ensure that your intake forms are filled out completely is to offer them online.
Patients filling out forms online are less likely to skip areas because of the ability to make fields “required” and the convenience of auto-generated information stored by people’s browsers. Perhaps you’ve experienced this when entering your own payment or contact information online, where you’ve encountered the convenient option to simply select which information you want to add from a drop-down list of your own details. Patients who are not as comfortable with filling out paperwork online can easily have the option of downloading and printing your forms, or simply filling them out in office as usual. These days, it’s all about having options.
Be Easy to Find
To keep your patients, you want them to be able to reach you anytime they need your help. Being easily found online today is like being easily found in the phonebooks of yesteryear. There are many successful strategies to ensure your website isn’t invisible online (and we discuss many of them here and here), but you also need to consider directories where patients might look for your business information.
Popular online directories like Google MyBusiness listings, Bing’s business directory, Yelp, and others like these are important places for your business to be accurately listed. Ensuring your information is up to date on all of these directories can feel like a tedious process, but it’s well worth it in the end. The most thorough practices will endeavor to get listed in the nearly 100 directories online, and the savviest ones will consider this tool we created to make that process much easier.
It’s said that “content is the new currency” and, in the Age of Information, this comes as no surprise. People are consuming information online at unprecedented rates. Sharing useful content, in the format of a monthly newsletter, for instance, keeps you connected to your patient base while providing something of value at the same time. The main goal for anything you send to your patients is for it to be opened at all, and having a helpful article about something you know is important to them (such as, “How to Get the Most Life Out of Your Hearing Aid Batteries”) can be an easy way to invite strong engagement. What’s more, you can easily translate any content you put in a private email newsletter onto your website’s blog—an excellent way to promote your knowledge to a broader audience and boost your website’s visibility online.
Establish Your Value
In addition to providing valuable content on a regular basis to your patients, it’s also wise to remind them of your value as a hearing healthcare provider. An easy way to do this is to highlight any patients who have given you an online review or submitted a testimonial for your practice. By expressing your gratitude for these reviews, it promotes other patients to take the time to write an online review for you and it also reminds them of why they chose you in the first place. Fear not, this doesn’t have to feel like gloating. Simply noting any stand-out or new reviews at the bottom of your newsletters will do the trick.
Be Swift with Damage Control
Even the best practices deal with the occasional negative review or unhappy patient. The difference is, they have proactive strategies for handling them. As part of your patient retention strategy, as well as your digital marketing efforts, it’s imperative that you have a review management plan. We’ve discussed the details of this before, but can sum it up like this: encourage new patients to leave you a review and monitor online review sites well to respond quickly to any negative reviews that might arise.
The truth is, an unhappy patient doesn’t have to mean the end of your relationship with him or her. By patiently listening to any complaints and responding with words and actions that reflect your interest in their satisfaction, many issues can be happily resolved. The main goal is to deal with these conflicts head-on and quickly. Negative reviews without a response from the business owner have a much stronger effect on reputation than reviews that have been properly addressed.
The best customer service is done preemptively. When you can anticipate your patients’ needs before they express them, your knowledge, sensitivity, and patient-centered approach will be rewarded with strong loyalty. Beyond using this approach in your appointments, it’s wise to bring it into an automated email campaign as well. Setting up your appointment system to send automatic fitting, maintenance, and check-up reminders is an incredibly helpful approach to patient retention. Any other personalized emails that highlight your office’s attention to detail are also useful, such as an email or digital card wishing them a happy birthday. These types of messages can be automated with the right system, or take a few extra minutes of your staff’s time to send off. The difference between you and a local competitor may very well be in details like these.
Track Your Results
This may be the most important piece of any successful patient retention strategy, since only by tracking your results can you know what is and isn’t working for your practice. As you decide which methods your practice can implement to improve your patients’ experience in your office, you should immediately set up a way to easily track the metrics of your efforts.
This doesn’t have to be difficult: simply noting your monthly revenue would be a good start. Of course, you could get as detailed as you want here, tracking everything from how many new patients return for their follow-up visits to the open rate on your monthly email newsletters. To get the clearest sense of what aspects of your practice are most appreciated by your patients, you could also send out an online patient questionnaire to get direct feedback from them. Either way, make it a point to document what tactics are worth your time and to let go of those that aren’t.
It’s easy to think that offering great service is enough to keep your practice growing and succeeding. After all, why wouldn’t patients want to stick with what works? But choosing (and continuing with) a healthcare provider is more complex than ever now that patients have direct access to abundant information online for each provider, by way of reviews, biographies, and any published content. Luckily, the digital realm offers a new set of tools for providers, too. Tools that can help you engage with patients—prospective and current ones alike—in ways that create value for you and them.
The time is now to brush up on how your practice can thrive with these digital strategies. Learn more about how to do this on your own, or feel free to contact us directly if you’d like a professional assessment of your practice’s digital strategy.