Building Patient Loyalty by Spending the Extra Buck
By Mary Hollis Stuck February 25, 2020
Everything you do in your practice affects your bottom line. As a business, it is important to focus on profit margins, to ensure you’re keeping costs down and being as profitable as possible. Tracking these benchmarks is a vital part of practice management. However, there is a point where, as they say, you have to spend money to make money. That is what it will take to create patient loyalty.
When considering the important margins to track, most practice managers immediately think of number exams, complete pairs of glasses sold, profit margins on frame lines, and other quantities that can be easily measured. For some, administrative software such as Office Mate will handle these reports. Others use products like Edge, or review reports from their outside labs to verify numbers. With a few clicks of a button, you can view the number of exams billed or frames sold. You can easily track employee productivity. The programs measure the effectiveness of your opticians, and their ability to upsell products like anti-reflective lenses and high index materials. Your scheduling software will alert you to the percentage of no-shows, gaps in your doctors’ schedules, or how far your doctors are booked out. Computer systems have made it possible to maintain constant vigilance, and some practice managers will truly consider the cost of every penny they spend.
What is considered less is the actual cost of patient loyalty. Being easier to track, managers tend to focus on numbers, such as multiple pairs sold, or number of established patients versus new. However, a successful practice will create patients that are not just satisfied with their prescription and the cost, but loyal customers who will recommend your practice to others in whatever way they can. When considering the information gathered by a 2015 ECPU study that states the median gross revenue per appointment is $306, if one loyal patient who refers one family member and two friends, they are worth about $1400. ¹ To gain these vital patients, you have to learn what to give up.
Let’s get back to spending money to make money. This is true in various avenues, and creating patient loyalty is one of them. The optical is actually the department that can create the most loyal patients, because they provide tangible goods and services to people all day long. Many practices have prices in effect for things like adjustments, repairs, or replacing screws or nose-pads. This makes sense, financially; you are paying your opticians to take the time to handle these repairs, and the materials you use do cost money, even if it menial. However, these items create patient satisfaction, which leads to patient loyalty and retention.
Say a person is traveling to your city, visiting a friend, and their nose-pad breaks. They may end up in your dispensary because of proximity to their hotel. They walk in with their local friend, who has never been to your office. By fixing the problem they see as emergent, waving them off when they ask how much they owe, and wishing them a wonderful day, you have just made a positive impact on that person’s life. Their local friend will notice that, and although the person you assisted may head home the next day, you could easily gain their business, and that of their entire family. All for the cost of two tiny pieces of silicone, and five minutes of your optician’s time.
The value of a loyal patient doesn’t stop at the actual income that single person brings in. By avoiding nickel and diming patients, you create an added value to your practice that many others do not have. Nobody likes having to worry about the “fine print” in any situation; their optometrist’s office is no different. If they are paying $800 for a new pair of glasses, but you throw in the $11.99 shipping and handling fee to special order their new frame in a color you don’t have in stock, it throws up red flags to the patient. They might start reviewing every dollar they’ve spent at your practice, and consider the alternatives.
A loyal patient is a rare gem that is cultivated by providing value in the services and materials you provide. They will prove to be worth their weight in gold. They will add to your practice’s bottom line, not by paying the shipping fee, but by spreading the word that you provided them with a service they truly appreciate. Just remember that not everything must be tracked and not every profit margin analyzed. Sometimes, just by focusing on customer service, you will grow your practice in ways you couldn’t even imagine.
Management and Business Academy. Key Metrics: Assessing optometric practice performance, 2015 edition. Available at: http://ecpu.com/media/wysiwyg/docs/paa_keymetrics_0415.pdf. Accessed 01/21/2020.