The cosmetic physician that can make his/her patients happy with subliminal yet meaningful aesthetic improvement sets himself or herself apart from less qualified competitors. However, while skill and knowledge are the foundation for a successful practice, they may not be enough to support a long-term patient relationship. That's where the entire practice “experience” comes into play. In my practice, we do our best to let the patients know they come first, and while we charge a premium price for that five-star service, my patients have come to expect it. I believe the patient must find the whole experience was worth the visit beyond the outcome. So, from the initial contact with our office we try to offer little touches to show we care and are committed to them having a favorable experience.
In the Details
It's best if every staff member is well-versed on what makes your practice unique. Why are you the best provider for the patient and what makes you special? Of course you know, but does your staff? If a potential patient calls, can your staff list three salient points that distinguish you from others? Are you particularly artistic; do you have more experience with fillers/neurotoxin/lasers; do you dedicate more time to each patient? Are you offering a treatment that nobody else is?
Once you have this information confirmed, then print it on a piece of paper that staff can keep on their desk so that they can recite facts quickly to an inquiring patient. We call these credentialing sheets, and they have proven helpful especially for new staff. Additionally, if our practice was recently mentioned or cited in a publication or television program, we let the staff know as well so that they can answer any questions with knowledge that stems from the recognition. For example, our staff would need to be informed of a news segment or magazine article that mentions our practice.
It has been my impression that the more I invest into bettering my staff members, the more they return. Unfortunately, we seem to spend too much time with problem staff in an attempt to reverse a stubborn attitude or mitigate their bad influence. In essence, we should be spending more time validating and empowering our best staff—and a good staff member can return significantly over time. I routinely spend time with good staff attempting to teach and instill leadership skills. This may range from weekly meetings where we read and discuss chapters from books, to playing chess, to role-playing difficult scenarios. While it is time-consuming, I believe it enriches my staff's experience and that working with me is more than just a way to earn a paycheck. In my practice, good staff are rewarded with trips to educational programs and leadership seminars. Regardless of how skilled the surgeon may be, the support, skill, and knowledge of the staff is critical to the practice's success. One study shows that the most important predictors of patient satisfaction in the outpatient plastic surgery clinic are those related to efficient clinic operations.1
Some simple inexpensive tips to facilitate and better develop a connection between patients and staff is for the staff to list their passions on their nametags, similar to the employees at Walt Disney World. With this, patients have the opportunity to find a connection to staff members. “You are a Sox fan! Well, so am I” is a commonly heard comment in our waiting room. In addition, like most practices, we offer sweets or treats in the waiting room; however, we take it one step further and call out a staff member, such as “Katie's Favorite Indulgence.” A particular employee is highlighted each month and a snack that employee likes is provided in the waiting area along with sheets listing some fun facts about the staffer. When patients ask, for example, “Who's Katie?” we can explain that she is our patient coordinator, and then the patients already know a little something personal about who will be talking with them about the details of surgery.
Our waiting room features a DVD loop on portable DVD players that contains content on our most popular procedures and some information on me both as a professional and on a personal level. Often something as small as artwork above the waiting room chairs or a muffin basket can make patients feel welcomed and comfortable in a new and sometimes nervewracking environment.
One exercise that works for me is to sit in my office waiting room and try to see what it looks like from the perspective of a patient. It forces you to think about the music, paint, flowers, rugs, candles, bathroom décor, food, and water choices you offer—or should be offering—to your patients. Spice it up!
Word of Mouth
In addition to the office itself, I have recently come to the conclusion that peer-to-peer marketing is the future for our success. Therefore, we revamped our practice and website to make it more patient-centric, with real stories and peer-to-peer input. Patient testimonials and before and after pictures of real patients that demonstrate the impact our procedures have on their lives, in my opinion, are the best ways to feature expertise. I don't believe our ultimate outcome is a straighter nose or stronger jawline; rather, it is a patient who has increased self-esteem and confidence, and that is the message I hope my website gets across. To achieve this goal, we created “Patient Profiles,” which pair a patient's before and after photos with a professional photograph and an interview tidbit or direct quote. These packages can be included on postcards, brochures, and websites, once signed consent is received. I even include testimonials on the sidebar of my letterhead.
We do on occasion send out email blasts if we have something of value to say or promote. We ask our patients of their interest in receiving email newsletters, and we use a reputable email service to assist us and to assure that we are not labeled as “Spam.” I believe it is important to track the email open rate, to see what is and isn't resonating. If we do get a big bump in interest, then we know that idea has more potential and we may further develop it for the future. If monthly blasts are causing a decline, opt to send emails only when you have something important to say.
Make it About the Experience
I've indicated that cosmetic surgeons don't really “sell” products or services; they “sell” an outcome. While skill and expertise complemented with an ability to listen are the most important elements for achieving that outcome, the “experience” is also important. Patients expend a good deal out-of-pocket for procedures. They want and deserve the best aesthetic outcome possible, but they also anticipate an enjoyable experience. From the initial consult to the follow-up appointment and each subsequent procedure, we try to remind patients in words and actions that our practice is simply the best for meeting their needs. Every element of their experience we attempt to be top-notch, and hopefully they are convinced they are in the best hands for their procedure. Big things—like overall welcoming, clean, and aesthetically pleasing décor—matter, but little things also make a significant impact.
Overall, patients look to physicians for guidance and reassurance. They want our trust. Small, practical, and easy-to-implement perks and value-added benefits can make a large impact on the aesthetic service experience of our patients.
Dr. Dayan has disclosed relationships with Allergan, Medicis, and Merz.
- Chung KC, Hamill JB, Kim HM, et al. Predictors of patient satisfaction in an outpatient plastic surgery clinic. Ann Plast Surg. 1999; 42(1):56-60.