Growth is fundamental to any business irrespective of its size and complexity. In the market for optics, where patients or customers have an abundance of choice and loyalty is increasingly hard won, planned growth is paramount but only given token priority in many practices.
Within retail optics, growth means either increasing the amount of profitable revenue with existing patients using current or new services and products, and/or, finding new patients for existing or new services, ideally within the framework of a business plan.
Having a desire for growth is not enough. It demands an understanding of the basic principles of planning and management – and it requires time on behalf of the owner/manager to establish the framework necessary to drive the initiative forward. Further, there is a very real need for the team to work in harmony to achieve pre-determined objectives. The rewards, however, can be significant.
Essentially, one must start by knowing the motivations and needs of those patients already loyal to the practice. Why do people choose one practice over another? There are a myriad of reasons that guide people to make choices. A few include: convenience, access, location, products, pricing, promotion, PR, image, and of course recommendation – the most powerful of all.
Once through the door, consumers only become loyal patients if their experience of customer service is met in good measure, from the consulting room to the retail area, and thereafter on a consistent basis. Loyalty today is very different from a decade or two ago when competition was less intense. It is essential, therefore, that the practice team comes together to identify the principles and practices that create their unique selling proposition and then sets about communicating them effectively.
Understanding current patients in terms of their profile and needs can be established through database analysis and patient surveys. It is almost certainly the case that the annual growth required in most UK practices could be achieved by either charging more for professional services, or more effective product promotion to existing patients. In the US, it’s reported that practitioners aim to see patients once or twice in between eye examinations, taking advantage of opportunities to closely fulfil the needs of the individual. This is rarely exploited in the UK.
It is estimated that it costs about seven times more to attract a new patient than satisfy an existing one. If this is true, then logically the emphasis for any promotional activity should be firmly placed on existing patients. There are exceptions, of course. If, for example, you have decided that your future lies in attracting a greater number of younger patients to the practice, then you will need to prepare a different strategy to achieve that objective.
So, how do you go about promoting yourself to existing patients? They will already know something about you, but there will be services and information about the practice they don’t know. First, be clear what it is you are offering, and importantly what differentiates you from the competition. They will be only too aware of your competitors and, indeed, may already have visited their premises and taken advantage of their products and services. A patient survey, if well constructed, will provide a wealth of information about the wants and needs of patients and will assist you in better responding to their requirements.
Two things you will certainly need to consider are practice brochures and newsletters. A quality practice brochure is a powerful way of telling people about the practice, and should include information about the management and staff, specialities such as a low vision clinic, the kinds of frames and lenses you offer, your location and opening times; and, if you have invested in new technology such as a retinal imaging system, you will want to publicise that too. Ideally, the brochure should be professionally written, designed, and printed to present the right kind of image for your practice.
Practice newsletters are another valuable communications tool and should be distributed at least twice a year to existing patients and used as medium to attract potential patients. The latter could be achieved via door-to-door deliveries. Newsletters are just that ‘news letters’ and should not be seen as a substitute for a quality practice brochure. To produce newsletters can be a time-consuming exercise and is often best left to experts. If you have them, make sure they are actively distributed to your target audience and certainly with reminders.
Growing your business demands a commitment to change, to new ways of thinking and working. Get it right and the practice will thrive and shrug off everyday competitive challenges.
John French is Chief Executive of SightCare – the business membership organisation for independent practices.
Tel: 01256 781522 email firstname.lastname@example.org