A lot of people don’t enjoy dating. First, you have to meet someone with potential, which is hard enough. Then, there’s nerves, unmet expectations, awkward moments (who pays?), uncovered personality quirks, and more. “The dating game” can be a drag, but most folks do it anyways. Why? They want a relationship—it’s just that the stuff leading up to it that is such a pain. Growing your practice with new patients is very similar.
You’ve put a lot of time, money, and energy into attracting new patients. If you retain those new patients, their lifetime value to your practice is well worth it. And if not? You become the “one night stand” of eye care practices. That’s why creating a stellar first impression and patient experience is crucial. You’ve worked hard to bring new patients into your practice, so you must do everything you can to make them stay.
Make Sure Your Practice Looks the Part
“We wish first impressions would be based on our intelligence … but … nope!” says Tami Hagemeyer, ABOC, who taught SECO 2018 attendees about the importance of first impressions. “Initial impressions are instinctive,” she explains. Patients who have never been to your practice before make judgments in the blink of an eye—and you won’t get a second chance. This is true for your physical space (how your front desk is organized, how welcoming your waiting room is), but it’s also true for your people. Aside from basics like coming to work well-groomed, watch out for things like too much perfume or cologne, or too much jewelry, Hagemeyer advises.
“It takes planning to control how others judge you.”—Tami Hagemeyer, ABOC
Calm New Patients’ Nerves
Pre-date jitters are totally normal. That’s partly because you’re going into a situation with lots of unknowns. Likewise, first-time patients can be nervous, too. First of all, a lot of people who aren’t eye care providers are a little squeamish about eyes. Especially when someone gets near their eyes with weird equipment. That goes double if they’re unfamiliar with the doctor and staff. Keep in mind that your practice may not do things the way that they’ve been used to. Take the extra time to walk the patient through what you’re doing through each step of their journey through your practice
Plus, just like romantic interests, sometimes patients bring baggage. He or she may have had a negative experience with their previous provider. If they tell you about it, you can empathize with them and use it as an opportunity to build trust with the patient.
Tip:If a new patient compares one of your practice’s policies to their previous practice, don’t say ‘That’s against our policy,’ recommends Sharon Alamalhodaei, COMT, OSC, another SECO presenter. Instead, say ‘Our practice handles that situation like this …’
Avoid Unmet Expectations
There are a few basics that patients expect when they visit their doctor, according to Rebecca Johnson, COMT, another SECO presenter. They expect that their problem will be identified, that treatment options will be discussed, and that a solution will be recommended, she explains. But nowadays, providing the basics isn’t enough. You must surpass their expectations. New patients have higher expectations than ever before, and patient satisfaction is not something you can ignore.
Alamalhodaei, author of the book 10 Steps to a Phenomenal Patient Experience, recommends taking these actions with each new patient:
- Flag their chart (that way, the new patient status is clear to each staff member)
- The manager or practice administrator should introduce themselves
- Be extra mindful of their flow through your practice
- Give them business cards and ask for referrals
- Tell them about your social media pages
- Encourage an online patient review
- Don’t forget to thank them for choosing your practice
Let Them Talk
Ever been on a date with someone who talks about themselves the entire time and asks you zero questions? Not fun, and it probably didn’t lead to a second date, did it? With new patients you have to go the extra mile to encourage them to talk about themselves. Why? You’ll want to pick up tidbits (favorite sports, upcoming vacations, etc.) to note in their charts. That way, the next time you see them you’ll have a jumping-off point for small talk, and it also lets the patients know that you remember them. Plus, you could glean valuable information. Wouldn’t it be useful to know how a patient found your practice or why they chose you over the competition?
On the flip side, there are those patients who talk so much it seems like you can’t get anything done. Or those occasions, there’s a script you can use to stay on track. Say ‘Oh Mrs. Smith, I’d love to talk with you a little more, but I know that the doctor is waiting to see you.’ This gently ends the conversation while also making the patient feel important. After all, the doctor is waiting on them.
“Don’t underestimate the importance of a name tag,” Hagemeyer says. Likewise, use the patient’s name whenever possible. Demonstrating that you remembered their name makes the patient feel noticed and respected.
Don’t Be Late
“Just a few minutes” to some people may as well be eternity to others. And while a long-time patient will usually give you some leeway if you’re running behind, that’s not so true with a new patient. A patient’s overall satisfaction with your practice is affected by their perceived wait time. Not the time they actually waited, but how long they felt they waited. If patient wait times are a problem in your practice, make a plan to deal with the culprit, whether that means poor scheduling, employees arriving late, or bottlenecks in your patient flow.
Find out how well you’re retaining new patients by calculating your new patient ratio. To do that, divide the number of new patient visits by the sum total of new and established patient visits. A higher number signals that you’re doing well bringing in new patients, but not so well keeping them. A lower number may be a sign that your practice is either having trouble attracting new patients or fitting new patients into the schedule.