Everyone knows the trigger that kicks off a buying event for a patient. The patient identifies a problem or a deficit that is causing an issue for them and they go out to seek a solution.
We also know how this scenario ends.
The patient identifies and purchases services or products that they believe best solves their problem and satisfies their needs and wants.
Between these two points is a complicated process that is highly dependent on the skills and approach of the practice staff. They must communicate to the patient, the value that the service and product will deliver, and how this is uniquely positioned more than any other available option on the market to fulfil their requirements.
But creating a sense of value for a patient is no easy task.
They Don’t Really Know What They are Buying
To complete their “wants” profile patients need knowledge and information. They lack information and understanding about what we do and what we provide for them. Most patients cannot assess the value or quality of any of our services or products.
The lack of knowledge = RISK
For example, most patients do not understand:
How an eye works
What an optometrist does
What all that equipment is about
What is wrong with my eye
What lenses are good or better
What does a good frame look like
What makes a good frame
What will it cost
Its easy to overestimate how much patients know, or make assumptions about what they want to know, particularly when coming from a point of deep expertise.
Fill the Knowledge Gap
If we are to be effective in helping patients make good decisions, we must firstly have a detailed knowledge of the products and services we sell.
When dispensing staff create a sense of value for patients by developing their understanding, the patient begins to see the service and product as unlike any other, almost like a market segment of one. We also reposition the competition and we de-emphasise price. Price will always be AN issue, but it should not be THE issue.
When you develop a patient’s knowledge you do three things. You give them independence to make decisions in their own interests, and secondly, you give them the ability to assess your advice and recommendations and they will appreciate your expertise. Thirdly, they will be able to make a judgement based on cost-benefit, rather than simple cost.
This requires a change of approach from staff. We do not sell, we mentor, teach and guide patients to a decision.
Get Inside Your Patients Head
Getting inside the mind of your patient is crucial for your practice. If you don't make the time to really understand what makes your patients tick, your business could be seriously missing the mark.
Practices can become so fixated on their internal processes and systems that they forget what their practice looks like from the patients' perspective. You must regularly consider what the customer experiences when they walk into your store or interacts with you online.
Ask them. When talking to a patient, ask open questions to understand their needs and challenges, rather than asking questions to find a fit for your product or solution. The more you get the patient talking, the better chance you have of understanding what they really need. Try and find out what's causing them frustration and how you can help them by really listening. That way you won't make assumptions.
Watch what they do - You've got to get out of your comfort zone once in a while. Sit in the middle of a shopping centre near you and watch your customers. Look at where your product or service fits into their lives and what triggers their interest. Check out your competitors. Take a coffee and prop outside Specsavers for a bit and watch what happens.
Look beyond the conversation - When dealing with your customers face to face, you don't have to be a psychologist to uncover a few key truths. If a customer drops that they holiday overseas regularly, for example, you know they have a high disposable income.
Actively listen when your patient is talking to you. They often give up a lot of information about themselves as they're talking. Look at their facial expressions and find out what they're interested in.
A lot of the time we assume we know our customers, but we don't because they're always changing. A customer may have lost their job or bought a house - you don't know what's happening in their lives. You can also research your customer by looking up their website or reading their tweets, which can help you service them better next time.
Make Sure They Understand You
As well as us understanding our patients, they then need to understand our practice.
Let them know why we do what we do and the philosophy that drives our practice. We need to be clearly different to our competitors; otherwise it’s just about price.
Practices should do this by communicating with patients during the different stages of the buying cycle and the interval between visits to the practice. Newsletters, letter box drops, local paper articles and advertorials, recalls and in-practice media opportunities are all important ways of communicating with patients.
You want to increase your communication in this economic environment, not reduce it, so that you're top of mind when the customer reaches the top of the buying cycle again in two years
Match the Market Carefully
We need a range of products and services that are in demand. That’s what running a business is. Filling a gap. You need to make sure your frame range and lens options, and pricing are appropriate for your practice demographic and strategy.
This is one of the most complicated tasks in optometry, but we must get it right. Playing “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” with product selection is not going to cut it. Data will tell you how well you are matching the buying patterns of your clients, and what gaps need to be filled. This is hard work and requires some data crunching, but you must do it.
Summarise and Close the Deal
The final important step is to make sure the patient goes home with a very strong understanding of the cost-benefit and exactly what they have purchased in very sense, and why.
Support the communication with written summaries and product information. Verbal communication about a complicated and poorly understood purchase is not going to cut it. The patient needs to take home something that will prompt their memory of the information you told them, and the benefits they have acquired.
To be truly effective in communicating to patients takes time, expertise, patients and understanding. Get it wrong and you will be open to losing patients and managing dissatisfaction. Get this right and you will be guaranteed better outcomes and a more successful practice.
If you would like more information about specific tactics or a presentation for your staff, please contact Ideology Consulting.