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Make Your Practice Thrive By Improving Conversion Rates

Understanding your current and prospective patients is critical to driving conversions.
By: John Larson


“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

—Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

A prospective patient enters your office for an initial consult. He or she may have found out about you by visiting your website, seeing an ad you may have placed, or by getting a referral from a friend or physician. They may have read an article about your practice online or in the local media. In any case, they were sufficiently interested in what you have to offer that they went through the trouble of calling up to arrange an appointment. They may even have had to take off from work to make time for their visit.

The key question for you and the success of your practice is: “Will this person who has already gone to some length to visit my office actually elect to have a procedure with us?” In fact, the ratio of Total Patient Procedures to Total Patient Consults may be one of the most important metrics you should track if you want to build a successful practice. For purposes of this discussion we will give this ratio a simple name, Conversion Rate. Your ability to convert a consult into a procedure is probably the biggest driver you have if you want to grow your practice.

Successful retailers have understood the importance of conversion for years. Let us suppose, for example, that instead of becoming a physician you elected to open a small clothing store. Let us also suppose that every day 100 customers enter your store and that 50 of them make a purchase with an average value of $20. Your conversion rate is thus 50 percent, and your daily revenue is $1,000. Now suppose you could increase your conversion rate to 60 percent. Other things being equal, your daily sales will rise 20 percent to $1,200. For every 100 customers who enter your store you will now be making $1,200 instead of $1,000. Stated somewhat differently, the resulting percentage point increase in conversion (10 percentage points improvement from 50 percent to 60 percent) translates into an even greater percentage increase in your sales (20 percent boost from $1,000 to $1,200).

Given the significant financial leverage obtained by increasing conversion rates, it is not surprising that many large retailers monitor this metric at each of their stores on an ongoing basis. For example, many retail chains have installed equipment to monitor and record the entrance of customers into individual stores. At the end of the day, these retailers have fairly accurate estimates of the number of total visits to each of their stores. They can then go to their point-of-sale systems to determine total transactions that day—total transactions divided by total visits equals each store’s conversion rate for that day.

The point of this example is not to have you go out and implement a sophisticated system to measure your conversion rate. That would be absurd. The point of this example is simply to illustrate that a lot of pretty sophisticated retailers understand the importance of conversion and have gone to significant lengths (and expense) to measure it on an ongoing basis.

Let me make another very critical point. I have spent nearly 40 years consulting with some very successful organizations in a variety of different businesses. Over that time, I have also worked with some companies that were clearly operating on borrowed time. One critical lesson that I have learned from this work is that success is not random. Companies succeed because, like Atticus Finch in the quote at the start of this article, they have stood in their customers’ shoes and looked at things from their point of view. Based on this perspective, successful companies are able to identify what is truly critical to their customers and meet their needs consistently over time.

Applying this lesson to the topic at hand, one thing we can conclude is that conversion is not random. Prospective patients do not select you over another provider by tossing a coin or picking your name out of a hat. They do it because of specific things that you have done that make them prefer you over some other practice.

The specific methods you employ to help drive conversion can be grouped under two general themes:

1. You attract the right prospects
2. You deliver a superior patient experience in the consult

Below, I will discuss the importance of each of these two points. I will also highlight some of the things you and the members of your practice can do to develop a clearer understanding of what is truly critical in each of these areas.

ATTRACTING THE RIGHT PROSPECTS

Attracting the “right” prospects for your practice can significantly increase your conversion rate. The sources of information the patient employs to find your practice in the first place are critical. I have typically found, for example, that prospects who have been referred to you by one of your former patients convert at much higher rates than those who find out about you in some other way.

The economic and demographic characteristics of a prospect can also have a powerful impact on conversion rates. Similarly selected psychographic factors can also play a role.

I strongly recommend that you or your staff ask each of your prospective patients how they came to learn about your practice. Did they come in as a referral from another patient? Did they come in as a result of a recommendation from another physician? Did they visit your practice’s website? Did they read a review of your practice, either online or in print? You get the basic idea.

This should be done on the day of the initial visit. That way, as you build up a database of information you will be able to compare the referral sources of those who eventually had a procedure with you against those who did not. As your database grows, you will start to detect patterns that will allow you to identify which information sources result in higher conversion rates for your practice.

I mentioned other factors, such as economics, demographics, and psychographics, that could be highly predictive of greater conversion rates. While this information might be obtained from some of the people who visit your practice for an initial consult, you may find others to be reluctant to provide you with this information on a first visit. Should you think this information could be helpful to your practice, I would recommend that you retain the services of a professional survey research firm that can collect this data for you in an anonymous fashion. This firm can then provide you with aggregate results for those respondents who had a procedure and those who did not. (A reputable survey firm will also be familiar with HIPAA guidelines which will need to be followed when patient information is shared with an outside third party.) A comparison of the information you obtain on the converters and non-converters may yield important insights that assist in your future outreach efforts. You may find, for example, that prospects within certain age or income ranges convert at much higher rates.

DELIVERING A SUPERIOR CONSULT EXPERIENCE

I strongly urge you to speak with each of your patients at some point after their procedure to learn from them what they liked or did not like about their initial consult with you. If some of them had consults at other practices before selecting yours, find out from them what it was about your consult that made them select you. Do not hesitate to probe them to gain a better understanding of the things you might have been able to do that would have improved the initial consult for them and made their decision to select you even easier. Your patients will be more than happy to provide you these types of insights that will help you provide a better initial consult and increase your conversion rate.

I do not recommend that you or your staff personally contact prospects who came in for a consult but did not get a procedure from you. Please do not misinterpret me on this point. I firmly believe there is much to be gained by speaking with “Trier-Rejecters.” It is just that getting candid information from “Escaped Customers” is often difficult, with responses such as “You were too expensive” being a standard but not very helpful answer in the industry. It takes unusual skill and experience to gain useful insights from this important group. Should you elect to pursue this group (and I encourage you to do so), I again recommend that you retain the services of a professional survey firm to gather this information.

Comparing the responses from patients who had a procedure at your practice with those of prospective patients who had a consultation and opted out will give you much of the perspective you need to follow the advice of Atticus Finch. And whether you decide to approach this analytically or intuitively, once you stop to consider things from your patient’s point of view I promise you will be struck by some profound insights. For example, I continue to be amazed at the number of prospective patients who report that the last person with whom they spoke before leaving the office after their initial consult was a “Patient Coordinator,” whose job it was to assist them in financing their procedure. Often the only person at the practice who will ever follow up with them post-consult is this same finance person.

Now ask yourself this question: Do you really want to have a finance person be the last person at your practice to speak to your potential patients? Or would you rather they speak with someone from the staff who maybe had undergone a similar procedure? Or perhaps the nurse who assisted you, the surgeon, in your consult? If you were to climb into your patient’s skin, would you rather walk out of the office juggling thoughts of financing options or having just lingered over a conversation with a staff member who leant a sympathetic ear? I think we both know the answer to this question.

Watch Rates Climb

So heed the words of the great Atticus Finch. Learn from your patients. Understand what they really valued in their initial consult with you. If there was something they did not like about that first visit, make sure you understand what it was and why the patient did not react positively. Do this and watch your practice’s conversion rates climb.

John Larson
• John Larson is the senior partner at John Larson & Company, a pioneer in the field of customer loyalty and the author of Capturing Loyalty. Prior to starting his own firm, John held positions at McKinsey & Co., Monitor Company, Lieberman Research Worldwide, and J.D. Power and Associates, specializing in the areas of strategic analysis, organizational effectiveness, and customer satisfaction and loyalty. John has worked with clients to address the specific organizational barriers that can impede effective implementation.