I retract my recent post: building a subscriber list isn’t the foremost marketing tactic for growing an integrative medicine practice or brand. Unequivocally, that distinction belongs to securing customer loyalty, in turn, driving patient lifetime value.
According to Wikipedia, customer lifetime value—what we’ll refer to as patient lifetime value (PLV)—predicts net profit attributed to the entire future relationship with a customer. Though extraordinarily important, it’s often overlooked by most integrative and functional medicine practices.
Acquisition vs. Retention
Fact: acquiring a new patient costs more than retaining one. However, greater emphasis, energy and resources are regularly placed on the former. Businesses collect and measure analytics to attract and land new customers; they develop smart frameworks for evaluating their return on marketing and promotion investments. Regrettably, most integrative and functional medicine practices fail to identify nevertheless weigh this important lead acquisition to sale conversion metric.
Let’s take a closer look at the even-more critical retention side: keeping current customers to build your patient panel organically over-time to maximize PLV.
The Lifeblood: Word-of-Mouth Referrals
Consider that quite a few in-demand, successful l integrative, functional and lifestyle medicine clinics don’t spend a dime on marketing and advertising to secure new patients. Seriously, they don’t need to! Their secret: stellar reputations fostering staunch customer loyalty generating invaluable referrals. They developed and maximized PLV over time!
Family, friend and social media recommendations were cited by 88 percent of responders as most influential and trustworthy, according to a 2021 Nielsen survey.
Here’s the key:
Satisfied Patients + Loyalty = Retention = Word-of-Mouth Referrals = Earned Patient Lifetime Value. (tweet this)
How exactly do we create PLV with loyal customers evangelizing our brand and generating precious word-of-mouth referrals?
Make sure your staff understands and consistently reinforces these often common sense yet fundamentally key tenets!
1. Don’t make them wait!
Show respect when even 15 minutes behind schedule by having your front office communicate.
2. Pay attention to the patient in front of you!
Don’t fixate on your computer or tablet screen periodically looking up at your patient. You’re actually creating a wall. You’re sacrificing genuine patient engagement for short-term administrative efficiency!
3. Treat patients with empathy.
A pleasant front desk goes far in creating an all-important, company-wide customer friendly ethos. In addition to skilled, well bedside mannered clinicians and positive outcomes, this is critical to locking in true loyalty that drives PLV.
4. Check in periodically.
When did you last proactively call a patient without it being in reaction or response to a message? Perhaps after he underwent an invasive procedure or known to be struggling with a physical/emotional issue? True, you’re busier than ever but selective out-reach makes an incredible statement and pays dividends to both your soul and bottom line. It demonstrates a level of empathy and care that differentiates you and your center while creating brand evangelists.
5. Listen, show you care.
Surveys show there’s little chance to retain patients if you lack good listening skills, interrupt or rush. Besides creating trust, active listening often yields valuable insight and info … and those highly sought word-of-mouth referrals.
[See NYT OpEd: Doctor, Shut Up and Listen]
6. Don’t take trust for granted.
Following your name with ‘MD’, ‘DO’ or any other initials doesn’t guarantee trust. But encouraging patients to share relevant health stories and concerns helps. Create an open environment to engender confidence and infuse energy around your practice … your brand.
When patients share web-sourced info regarding their condition—whether self-diagnosed or not—take a close look. OK, ‘Dr. Google’ can be maddeningly frustrating when it comes to poorly sourced or off-the-mark data. When so, acknowledge and provide pertinent information, but never act curt or dismissive. Respect and encourage your patient’s commendable effort at self-efficacy.
7. Don’t Confuse Satisfaction with Loyalty.
Regardless of how well your clinic appears to be doing, annually survey a sampling of your patient panel to gain useful, actionable insight for operational and clinical improvement.
Remember, if you switch from a third-party payer to a direct pay or concierge model, or, no longer accept medicare, the loyal patient—unlike the merely satisfied one—will probably stay!
8. Engage Patients Outside the Clinical Setting.
Provide original content including text, video, workshops and seminars to effectively support your in-clinic lifestyle recommendations. You’ll earn trust by establishing both subject matter expertise and thought leadership.
Communication is king. Any quality content you create and disseminate to educate patients and prospects about specific health conditions, lifestyle change or wellness underpins vital opportunities to earn PLV and build your business.
9. Perception Drives Reality.
Be mindful of the halo effect: the tendency for an impression created in one area to influence opinion in another. Though you deliver 21st century cutting edge integrative or functional medicine, you may appear behind the times if your clinic hasn’t been updated (i.e., technology systems, logo, artwork, furniture, carpeting) since the mid ’80s. How about your website where the lion’s share of prospective patients visit before making appointments? If your static site fails to meaningfully engage and communicate, it’s time to revamp your image.
Bottom line: Creating and maximizing patient lifetime value starts by creating genuine patient loyalty. It goes beyond improving health conditions. Importantly, it’s also how they feel about and perceive you and your practice.
Each and every patient interaction provides an important opportunity to impress and influence with kindness, respect, and information (education). Within every dimension of communication, strive to create brand (practice) evangelists to sing your praises and promote your business.
FON is a leading integrative health and medicine business development and strategy consulting firm. FON specializes in custom solutions for growing patient volume, developing programs, and increasing product sales. Our practical business models are driven by innovative marketing, clear messaging, and customer engagement via branded storytelling.
Contact us today to schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation to discuss your business development or personal brand needs.