This morning I was listening to an online marketing presentation about ways to become irresistible to your customers. One of the things they discussed that struck me as really relevant and important for people in the business of healing was to create a series of “business rituals” for how your business communicates with patients...from the very first "touch" (phone call, visit to website, meet at a health fair, whatever) until the final day they leave your practice. Most of us have some of these processes in place intuitively without having labeled them; but what do we mean by this and why should you bother?
First I will discuss why it is valuable for you and your patients. Then I will give some possible examples.
What can business rituals do for you?
1. You only need to invent the wheel once. The process of designing rituals for your patients as a planning tool for managing all patient and prospective patient interaction. This is valuable to you first because it means you have a created a system that can be repeated in the same way, in the same order, and with relatively predictable results with every patient. Of course your system can be tweaked whenever, as needed, but how you communicate and manage patients becomes built in.
2. Most parts of this process can be delegated. You want and need to focus on treating your patients; it is what you were trained for. So, creating a series of tasks that are all repeated in the same way and same order and then taught to your front desk staff or other subordinate (if you don't ahve such a person, make it a short term goal to hire one!!) frees you up to be the healer that you want to be.
3. Some of your rituals can be designed to increase your patients trust and belief in you, increase their perception of value for your services, or help you tell your unique "story." Let's face it, with only 5% of all Americans using Chinese medicine and acupuncture, what we do is downright weird in some people's minds. We have some work to do to gain the trust of more potential patients. Some of the information we may send/give out or post on our website for the benefit of potential patients (things that all potential patients should receive) should be designed to increase their trust and belief. More on that below.
4. One ritual you can use would be to "pre-qualify" your patients to see if they are a good fit for our services. This can be done with a questionnaire or with a pre-intake free consultation. You may say that you want to simply take every patient who might walk through the door, but it really is not true if you think about it, and it's not even good for your practice or the industry. For example, if a prospective patient shows up with a condition that you have no experience with and you know that someone across town is an expert at this condition, it's probably best for our profession in the long run if you refer that person to the expert. If you make sure they know that you were the source of the referral, perhaps they will return the favor. I've had the question in classes, "What do you say when someone says 'I've tried acupuncture and it did not work.'?" Such remarks are very discouraging, but one response might be, "Perhaps you were not with the right practitioner for the condition you have." Also, most of us have had the experience of trying to work with a patient that, for whatever reason, just wasn't right for us and in whose presence we feel uncomfortable. Such pre-qualification rituals can help us know immediately whether a patient is a good fit for us, and probably whether or not we can really help them. I believe it’s a bad idea to take a patient that we don’t think we can help…just for the short-term income. If we are not able to help them, we don’t get any good word of mouth from that interaction and it leaves a bad taste in both our mouth and theirs.
Secondly, the pre-qualification ritual add to a mystique of exclusivity...perhaps making a potential patient really want to become our patient simply because we are not immediately herding them into our treatment room.
5. Follow-up and follow-through rituals are often what make the sale. Let’s say you give a free lecture at the library called “Insomnia? What Can Acupuncture Do For You?”. Fifteen people show up and one actually makes an appointment with you on the spot. Ten others leave you their contact information. What are you going to send them after the lecture to convince them to trust you and come in for care? Whatever the piece is, it should be ready to go before you ever gave the talk. This could be a coupon for a free private 15-minute consult attached to an article you wrote quoting some research and with a current patient testimonial at the bottom of the letter. It could be a phone call thanking them for coming to the talk and asking if they have any other questions they may want to ask in private. Whatever that follow-up looks like, it should be a built-in, standard part of giving public talks…a business ritual. If two more bite, you still have relationship building to do with the other eight that gave you their information. So then what? Perhaps a monthly email with a link to your website articles section? Perhaps a phone call to see if they are still interested in hearing from you?
What could be a list of standard business rituals?
- Giving one free talk per month, with appropriate handout literature and follow-up procedures (see above) until your practice is as full as you want it for three months in a row.
- Your website includes a free report, a video, an ebook, or some other downloadable educational tool that requires people to leave an email address. Anyone who signs up for this free download gets a thank you note and an offer for a free consult or to have you answer one question for them free of charge. This item is refreshed with new copy at least once per month.
- Potential clients are always scheduled for a free consult to see if he or she is a good candidate for your services, or not. If not the right patient for you, have a list of referrals available as a hand-out.
- If they are a good potential patient, a simple treatment plan form to give them at the end of the consult so they know what to expect when they come in. This gives patients confidence that they know what is going to happen…no secrets. Also, don’t try to sell 12 treatments if you really think you only need five! If you don’t know, suggest 4-5 treatments and then a review of progress.
- When patients first come to your clinic, what info, gift, educational materials, or free samples do they get?
- A free tea and cookies service in your waiting area?
- A play area for young children?
- Send out “haven’t seen you in a while” letters to patients who have not been in for six months. Send out birthday cards for this month’s birthdays with “Get a free Tx on your birthday!” coupons.
- Bonding calls to follow up with first-time appointments (‘How are you feeling? Any further question we can answer? Looking forward to seeing you at your next appointment. Please call if you have any questions at all.”…etc.)
- You have both morning and evening check-lists for your front desk staff to perform daily, weekly, monthly. (e.g., pull charts at 9 AM, back up the computer at 5 PM, do reminder calls after 3 PM, check needle inventory in all treatment rooms each morning, order needles and herbs on Friday afternoon, etc.).
- A monthly promotion for the community…”Come in this Saturday, get an acupuncture treatment for $35; All Proceeds Donated to the Local Homeless Shelter (a different non-profit each month?) When people come in, have handouts, “sign-up for our newsletter” forms, brochures, business cards. A different non-profit every month will draw a different crowd. Get the non-profit to help to promote this.
- Asking for a testimonial note whenever a patient says “I feel so much better. Thank you.”
- Standard “release from therapy” letter…for patients who are better and have gotten a great result.
So there’s my list. Yours could be completely different…but it’s good to have one. You know what “happens next” with each patient or potential patient. Check out the new edition of Points for Profit: The Essential Guide to Practice Success for Acupuncturists at http://www.bluepoppy.com/Practice-Management/products/39/