Patient retention and Customer Referral, Article two, Front Of House.

Patient Retention, Drive Your Business By Keeping Your Patients

By Geoffrey Cooling

In my last article I discussed and laid out an outline for the Patient journey and how I felt it could be used to engender real brand evangelism for a practice. I also said that I thought it could affect Patient retention and Customer referrals. Whilst I discussed the concept in the last article I would like to expand on it and discuss the concept in depth, I will also try to tie the concept to individual parts of the practice. In this article I will tie the concept into front of house operations, in the next article I will move onto the Consultation room and indeed the consultation and so on.

The Patient journey concept is not just about the structure that I discussed in article 1, it is an all encompassing concept covering every aspect of a person’s interaction with a Dispenser and his business, from the initial realization of the business as an entity, to any subsequent phone, web or personal face to face dealings with the business. All of these interactions, some that the Dispenser may not be even aware of, are part of the Patient journey and indeed opportunities to begin to build or cement a relationship with a Patient/Customer.

That is in effect why all Dispensers need to plan out a clear, all encompassing strategy covering Patient communications, within this strategy they also need to cover all aspects of their marketing and advertising. Marketing and advertising are important facets of the Patient Journey and extremely important opportunities for a business to shape a Patient/Customer’s perception of their brand and to begin to build a relationship based on that brand. What in fact is a brand, a brand is everything that a Dispenser thinks about themselves, their business, their ethics and how they relate to people, and a brand is the self talk that they like to present to the world.

All of the aspects of a business speak to its brand; therefore, it is important that none of the elements of the business contradict the brand concept that is trying to be portrayed. This is the key, the reason that a Dispenser needs to carefully consider what exactly their brand is, or indeed what exactly is the brand that they wish to portray. The answer to the preceding questions, dictate major elements of their communication policy.

With those precepts covered, I would like to discuss the front of house of a business and how it relates to the Patient Journey concept. The front of house is the real introduction of any business and indeed its brand to prospective Patients and indeed existing Patients. What does the front of house say about a Dispenser and their business? Particular attention needs to be paid to the answer to this question; I would ask everybody to approach their business with their eyes wide open. It is easy for us to miss things when we are in the environment day in and day out.

Things that worked ten, twenty years ago in this industry may no longer work. They may not speak of a traditional practice as some may think but of a business that is not current or worse one who does not care about their appearance. If a business appears to not care of their appearance or has not cared to be current, how could it be trusted to care about a Patient’s hearing care? That is the very real perception that all businesses risk portraying and fuelling if they are not careful about their branding.

First I would like to discuss the shop window and signage, what do they say about the business and its brand? A shop window is probably the first tangible thing that any prospective Patient observes pertaining to a business. It needs to be used expertly, signage needs to be fixed, clean and talk to the image that the business wishes to portray as does the shop front furniture and colours. For instance a Black wooden shop front with traditional wooden pillar type surrounds and perhaps wrought iron or brass down lights over the headline signage speak of strong tradition.

A well designed aluminium shop front with modern down lighters over the head line signage speaks of modernity and professionalism. No matter which combination or look a business chooses or indeed has, is it clean, in good repair, presentable and speaking of the brand they wish to portray? The window of the shop front, does the business use it for display, if so what exactly do they display and when was the last time they thought to change or update their display?

What does that display say of the business and its brand, have they reviewed it closely recently? A shop front can be used to effectively communicate the positioning of the business and draw in attention from passing trade; most importantly it clearly communicates several things about the business to their Patient and any prospective Patient. Use a window effectively, plan displays carefully and change them often, a lot of the manufacturers now provide sophisticated POS (Point Of Sale) material, Widex humph humph, sorry can’t resist, endless self promotion. All joking aside, the manufacturers supply it, it should be chosen carefully and used for display accordingly.

The glass in the shop front, having the businesses logo, acid etched on it prominently in the bottom left corner particularly as part of a stripe across the bottom of the glass appears sophisticated and attractive. Acid etching is relatively inexpensive, I guarantee no matter where you are in the world, the sale of one set of mid technology set of aids will more than pay for this simple but powerful touch.

The display behind the glass, use a local shop fitting business and choose elements that are attractive which remain constant such as tables, acrylic cubes, light boxes etc. Each business will know best what is indeed best for the positioning they are aiming for and indeed their shop front; these items will be the constant base of any display. A business can go absolutely mad if they are both flush and willing to invest, get a living display, basically a large fixed LCD screen on which can be presented constant loop videos and even better Power points that constantly change and are customized to the changing seasons and campaigns.

Again, a living display is not necessarily that expensive, you can even scrimp and use a large LCD television rather than a purpose built unit, but if that is the strategy taken, it is important to make sure that the cables are expertly hidden from in front and behind. Hanging cables everywhere in a shop window do not speak of an eye for detail. Within the display, the use of some of the attractive instrument dummies or indeed cases full of dummies that are made available by several manufacturers can be quite effective. If posters are to be hung, they should be framed, relatively inexpensive aluminium quick change frames are available again through most shop fitter outfits or indeed through some home care outlets.

Do not hang posters in a display window or indeed the shop with blu tack or sticky tape, it again portrays the wrong image, when you think about it, it is obvious, but these things tend to be done without much thought. Walking through the front door, what greets you, is it bright, airy, well decorated and laid out, a welcoming space? The decor inside, are there soothing colours, think living room or kitchen colours, living room and kitchen colours are pleasing because they need to be, people spend most of their time in these rooms hence the care that is taken by paint companies to choose and design colours for them.

Think minimalism in this space, contemporary minimalism, if there is a row of those classroom chairs, they should be thrown out, high seated soft furnishings maybe brown or black leather are the way forward. The sofas or chairs need to be relatively high in order that older people can sit and raise themselves with ease. They also need to be relatively firm for the same reason, leather is just easy to clean and keep clean. Again any posters in this area need to be in frames, not just stuck to the wall, they can also be displayed in purpose fit light boxes. If there is a coffee table with magazines, the dog eared Vogue from 1983 needs to be thrown out and also the twenty copies of National Geographic from 68.

Honestly your Patients will thank you for it, speaking of magazine offerings, would it not be better for a business to undertake a quarterly or bi-monthly newsletter about their practice and make copies of that available. Instant marketing communications without irritating their Patients by jamming up their mailboxes, new product lines, information on new strategies for tinnitus, the receptionist is having a baby etc etc. It is imperative to fill it with details about the Dispenser and the other people within the practice; these are the very relationship details that encourage a Patient to feel a sense of belonging and to remain loyal.

What exactly does the reception look like, is it a typical office desk that that receptionist sits behind or is it a more substantial purpose built structure? The purpose built structure is the way forward; it speaks again to permanence and professionalism. Is it clean and tidy, does the Dispenser ensure that the receptionist keeps it clean and tidy? The importance of this can not be over stressed, the reception desk and area are the welcome areas to any practice, and they need to be clean tidy and above all welcoming.

Moving on to the receptionist, the receptionist is a pivotal cog in the wheels of every business, I do not think it is too much to say that the business could soar or fail in response to the receptionist that is chosen. A receptionist in most modern practices is for all intensive purposes a practice manager, they manage the diaries, logistics, mailings, the phones and face to face queries and usually nearly all of the administration. This is a core position within a practice, finding the right person for the job is often difficult, finding the person with all of the all round skills is not easy particularly when personality needs to be factored in as well.

It would be nice not to have to micro manage, but if a receptionist is new or indeed not exactly outgoing, ground rules or even scripts for interaction may need to be laid down. When a Patient walks in the door, how long exactly should it be before they are acknowledged, no matter what is happening. They should be acknowledged immediately; even if it is only with I shall be with you in just one minute when I finish with this phone call/Patient/note and of course a big smile.

Staff need to be encouraged to build a relationship with Patients and their families, if need be instruction should be given about the conversations they should have both in person and on the phone. Make very clear what manner is used to answer the phone and exactly what is said and most importantly what action needs to be taken, when and by whom in response to most of the usual queries.

In my practice, I had a receptionist that sold me consistently with nice comments, she actively forged relationships with our Customers to the extent that they would go no where else for batteries because they would miss a chat. One of her little tricks was to ring around Customers two weeks before Christmas to ask did they need tubing, batteries, drying tablets, wax caps, because you know, she didn’t want them to be without while we were closed. She took that upon herself to do, other businesses may well have to put it into their communication policy and schedule it.

All of these elements speak to the brand, these elements allow a Patient to feel comfortable, cared for and they assist and allow the personal interactions with your staff to affect and shape your Patient’s perceptions. These elements allow the building of strong relationships with Patients, the mantra for Patient retention. Human contact and the personal touch, particularly with our demographic delivered in comfortable and welcoming surroundings are the secret to relationship building, as are open questions from the Dispenser and his staff and above all, listening.

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About Geoffrey Cooling

Geoffrey Cooling is an Irish hearing care blogger and the author of The Little Book of Hearing Aids and Audiology Marketing in a Digital World. He has been involved in the Hearing Healthcare Profession since 2007 when he qualified as a hearing aid audiologist. He has worked in private practice and for a major hearing aid manufacturer. He has become recognised as an authority within the field of hearing care and hearing aids.


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