Top-performing practices often attribute their high patient retention rates to several key elements:
- Personalized care where every patient feels recognized and valued. Maintaining a detailed history and referring to past discussions or concerns ensures continuity in care.
- Adopting modern technologies, from advanced diagnostic tools to telehealth solutions, ensures patients feel they’re getting state-of-the-art treatment.
- Consistent communication, whether through reminders, newsletters, or follow-ups, keeps patients engaged and informed.
Optometry, like dentistry, relies heavily on repeat visits for regular check-ups. While specialties like surgery might have a one-time interaction, optometrists must ensure ongoing satisfaction for long-term relationships. High patient retention rates in optometry, thus, are especially crucial as they translate directly to consistent revenue streams.
Patient acquisition vs. patient retention
If we’re talking about patient acquisition, then we’re talking about marketing. In the book ‘Traction,’ authors Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares, renowned in the startup and marketing world, outline 19 distinct marketing channels to acquire customers, including TV, radio, search, social media, and more. Our article will narrow in on how retention drives acquisition and reduces its need. The driving reason for that focus is the high cost of acquiring customers.
Acquiring customers is increasingly a digital game, and the digital landscape is becoming more saturated. The advertising media cost rises as more practices (and every other small business) compete for visibility on platforms like Google or Facebook. Also, crafting compelling, compliant content that stands out in the healthcare sector requires expertise, often leading to higher marketing expenses.
Drawing from the Harvard Business Review studies, acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one. In optometry, this statistic holds profound implications. You won’t have to expend energy, time, and precious resources hunting for a new patient if you can simply provide consistent, high-quality care to the ones already walking through your doors. And, the best part is that happy, returning patients often become advocates for your practice, sharing their positive experiences with friends and family. In essence, the act of retention fuels acquisition.
So, what drives retention? In a word: delight.
Satisfied is not the same as delighted
To better understand the underlying forces at play in retaining patients, let’s borrow from the world of User Experience. User Experience, commonly called UX, is a discipline dedicated to crafting delightful and meaningful interactions between users and digital platforms. UX emerged because the technology industry is a high-stakes customer acquisition space that can only survive with a rigorous strategy. At first glance, the worlds of optometry and user experience (UX) design may seem oceans apart. However, ODs can learn much from UX about what truly resonates with individuals.
Jared Spool, a luminary in the UX field, emphasizes that merely satisfying the basic needs of customers (or, in our case, patients) won’t necessarily make them loyal or turn them into advocates. It’s the delighters – the unexpected and thoughtful touches – that can turn a satisfied patient into a raving fan. In his words: ‘Delightful experiences are the ones we remember and share. While meeting basic needs might keep us from leaving, it’s the unexpected moments that genuinely bond us to a service or product.’
For an optometrist, this principle is illuminating. While it’s crucial to meet the fundamental expectations of patient care, Spool’s insights highlight the difference between a patient leaving the clinic satisfied and one leaving genuinely delighted. A satisfied patient has had their basic needs met. In contrast, a delighted patient has experienced something exceptional that resonates deeply with them, making them more likely to refer your services to others.
In hospitality, some high-end hotels leave personalized notes or treats for guests based on preferences they might have mentioned at the time of booking or during past stays. For instance, if a guest says they love Diet Coke, they might receive it in their room on their future stays.
Similarly, dentists often give kids a small toy or treat after a check-up, turning a potentially scary experience into a delightful one. These are examples of “delighters”.
The key takeaway is that consistently meeting basic needs is what patients expect. Sprinkling in some delighters makes all the difference in patient retention and word-of-mouth referrals.
How to delight patients
Tailoring the Patient Experience by Generational Needs
When it comes to eyecare, recognizing and catering to generational differences can significantly impact patient satisfaction.
- Baby Boomers, for instance, might appreciate more traditional means of communication and service. They may value in-person consultations, paper-based information, or phone call reminders for their appointments. Their emphasis often lies in personal connection, trustworthiness, and consistency in care.
- Generation X, the bridge between analog and digital, often appreciates a blend. While they’re comfortable with digital communication, they also value human interaction. Providing them with options such as both online booking and over-the-phone scheduling can be beneficial.
- Millennials, having grown up in the tech age, tend to gravitate towards practices that embrace modernity. They often appreciate online booking systems, digital reminders, virtual consultations, and swift digital communication. Convenience, efficiency, and tech-savviness are key factors for this demographic.
- Generation Z, the digital natives, not only expect technology to be deeply integrated into their healthcare experience but also look for personalization, immediate feedback, and seamless omnichannel experiences.
By understanding these nuances, optometrists can tailor their services to meet the specific needs and expectations of each generation, enhancing overall patient satisfaction and loyalty.
Differentiating Your Practice in a Competitive Landscape
Standing out is both an art and a science in a world brimming with optometry practices. Here are some key ways to stand out:
- Personal Touch: Regardless of the technological advancements, a personal touch goes a long way. By getting to know your patients, recalling previous interactions, asking about their families, or remembering their preferences, you build a rapport that’s hard to replace. Consider the success of Maria Sampalis, OD. At her practice, in 2017, they had a retention rate of 43%. Not bad when you consider that Luxottica reports an average of 25%. Five years later, her retention rate doubled to around 90%. She gives excellent examples of sharing personal stories about what is going on in her life. She makes it a point to ask specific questions about her patients. For instance, she reminds her clients who have kids about the free one-year warranty for glasses in case they break them. It’s the kind of touch that makes patients feel seen.
- Ambiance and Environment: The physical setting of your practice plays a pivotal role. A calm, serene environment can enhance patient comfort. One of the best ways to do this is to take the non-patient care tasks out of the office. Working with a Business Process Outsourcing firm can make that transition smooth. It takes the sounds of phone calls and administrative conversations away from the exam and waiting rooms. Consider elements like ambient lighting, soft background music, and comfortable seating to put patients at ease.
- Operational Efficiency: The patient experience should be smooth from when a patient books an appointment to the post-consultation follow-up. Incorporating online forms, digital reminders, efficient queuing systems, and prompt responses can transform the patient experience, especially for the generational expectations we mentioned earlier.
Enhancing Staff Performance
In any healthcare practice, the staff makes or breaks the patient experience. Therefore, it’s crucial to invest in their continuous development. Regular training ensures they remain up to date with the latest medical advancements, can confidently use your patient management software, and are proficient in soft skills. Holding periodic workshops focusing on empathy, communication, and patient-centric care can do wonders for the patient experience.
Remember, the quality of patient care often goes hand in hand with the staff’s ability to provide it. For example, a staff member’s understanding of a new diagnostic tool can drastically change a patient’s comfort level during an examination. Equipping staff with both the technical and soft skills they need is essential to ensuring optimal patient care.
Staffing post-pandemic has higher turnover. Ensuring continuity in a healthcare practice is crucial. A frequent turnover of staff members can be detrimental to patient satisfaction. Consistent faces and familiar interactions can go a long way in building trust and rapport. Patients, especially those who visit regularly, find comfort in seeing the same staff members, as it often means not having to re-explain their histories or preferences. High staff turnover can interrupt this trust-building, potentially reducing patient retention.
One effective solution to manage this is to select a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) firm. These firms can handle many administrative tasks, allowing the in-house staff to focus solely on patient care. By outsourcing non-core tasks, the practice can ensure continuity in patient care, even if there’s a change in administrative roles. Moreover, BPOs bring in operational efficiency and expert handling, reducing the burden on your primary staff.
Staff Morale’s Impact on Patient Satisfaction
It’s a well-documented fact in business: A happy employee equals a happy customer. This principle applies even more in an eyecare setting too. The mood and behavior of staff directly influence patient loyalty and the overarching goals of patient retention and acquisition.
When staff members feel valued, understood, and equipped for their roles, they perform with greater enthusiasm and efficiency. They’re more likely to go the extra mile, showing genuine care and empathy, which patients can sense and appreciate. Therefore, a crucial element of patient retention is ensuring the morale and well-being of your staff.
Strategies for Positive Reviews
Positive online reviews can significantly boost a practice’s reputation and credibility. Simple tactics can make a difference. For instance, ask satisfied patients for reviews post-consultation. You can send them email reminders with direct links to review sites, making it easier for them to share their experiences. Another effective strategy is sharing success stories or positive patient outcomes on your practice’s website or social media, with due permission, of course. It celebrates the good work and encourages others to share similar stories. Here are some simple steps you can take to solicit reviews:
- Post-Visit Surveys: Post-visit, send a Customer Satisfaction survey (also known as CSAT, but think of it as patient satisfaction) to gauge patient satisfaction. CSAT is a standard tool that measures a customer’s satisfaction with the service they’ve received. In the context of optometry, it allows ODs to measure patient contentment and gather feedback. These surveys typically involve a single question asking patients to rate their experience, often on a scale of 1-5.
- Feedback Analysis: Once feedback is received, categorize the responses. Feedback that indicates a delightful experience, ratings at the high end of the scale, identifies patients who had a particularly positive visit.
- Request Reviews: Patients who reported delightful experiences are prime candidates to solicit reviews from. Send them a personalized message thanking them for their positive feedback and encouraging them to share their experiences on popular review platforms. Consider including the original feedback they entered in the survey to help them with the content for their review. Patients most appreciate it when you encourage them to leave their honest feedback.
Positive feedback is a testament to the effectiveness of your practice’s strategies. It can be leveraged to build a stronger online presence.
Addressing Negative Reviews
Negative feedback can paradoxically enhance the credibility of your online presence. Research has shown that consumers are often skeptical of businesses with exclusively positive reviews, deeming them too good to be true or potentially filtered. Some people even look for the worst review and, if it “isn’t that bad,” still go with the product or service. On the other hand, if something appears too good to be true, they may avoid it. In a way, negative feedback humanizes your practice, showing potential patients that while you strive for excellence, there are times you might miss the mark — just like any other business.
However, it’s not the negative feedback itself but the way it is addressed that truly matters. Handling criticism with grace, transparency, and a commitment to improvement showcases your dedication to patient care. It demonstrates a level of professionalism that potential patients respect.
Here’s a step-by-step approach:
- Acknowledge and Respond Promptly: A swift response shows that you value feedback and are committed to addressing concerns. Even a simple acknowledgment can go a long way.
- Express Empathy: Express understanding and genuine regret that the patient had a less-than-ideal experience. Remember, the response is public; others will see how you handle criticism. Responding to messages that question the legitimacy of the feedback or try to dismiss it can do more harm than good.
- Maintain Confidentiality: While addressing the issue is crucial, ensure you don’t disclose any personal or medical details in the public response.
- Take it Offline: After the initial response, provide a way for the patient to contact your practice directly—whether through a phone call or email—so you can further discuss and resolve the matter.
- Implement Feedback: If the negative review highlights a genuine area for improvement, take steps to address the issue internally. This might mean additional training, process refinement, or even simple patient journey changes.
- Follow-up: After resolving the issue, consider following up with the patient to ensure they’re satisfied with the outcome. This not only mends the relationship but can sometimes lead to the patient updating or amending their review based on the favorable resolution.
By embracing negative feedback as an opportunity for growth and demonstrating a proactive approach to resolution, optometry practices can build deeper trust and loyalty with their existing patients while appealing to potential new ones.
Measuring Retention Rate
Retention rate gives a clear picture of how many patients continue to choose your services over a defined period. They provide deep insights into its performance and patient satisfaction. Regularly monitoring and analyzing retention rates can help identify areas of improvement and highlight successful strategies worth replicating.
Here’s a simple way to calculate retention:
- Start with a Period: Define a period you want to analyze, e.g., a year.
- Determine Initial Patients: Calculate the number of active patients at the beginning of the period.
- Calculate Patients at the End: By the end of the period, determine how many initial patients remain active (don’t count new patients you acquired during the period).
- Use the Formula:
- Retention Rate = (Number of patients at the end of the period / Number of patients at the beginning of the period) x 100
For instance, if you started the year with 200 patients and 180 of those patients remain active by year-end, your retention rate is (180/200) x 100 = 90%.
And the metrics don’t lie. By tracking the number of returning patients and the frequency of their visits, and comparing these numbers with new patient acquisition rates, practices can get a holistic view of their operational success. Pairing these numbers with qualitative feedback from patients can provide a comprehensive understanding of how the practice is perceived, what it’s doing right, and areas needing attention.
Lessons in Retention and Acquisition
While the world of optometry might seem far removed from the cut-throat dynamics of digital startups or luxurious hotels, the principles of patient care, satisfaction, and retention remain strikingly similar. Whether it’s investing in staff training, enhancing operational efficiency, or addressing feedback, the end goal remains the same: to provide exceptional care so exceptional that patients return and become loyal advocates for your practice.