In today's competitive and demanding aesthetic marketplace, physician skill, expertise, experience, and beautiful results are simply not enough to grow your practice to where it needs to be. Research says that only one-third of the total patient experience is about you, the doctor. Two-thirds of that experience is related to your staff and how well they interact on the phone, over email, in person, and at every patient touch point. Good doctor + bad staff = negative reviews. And, as you know, the quality of your reviews is what drives people to or away from your practice.

Insurance-based medical care can get away with a lot more than an elective practice. The expectation is different. Most patients have become apathetic and think they have to wait or, if the front office person gives them “that look” when they ask a question, somehow they'll put up with it. Poor customer service has become the norm. But not in your world! This is how today's aesthetic patients feel: “If the money is coming out of my pocket…and generally not a small amount … I expect to be treated like a queen or I'll take my business elsewhere.”

Here's the bottom line: A well-trained and dedicated staff can turn a struggling practice into a highly successful scheduling machine – producing happy patients that tell their friends and family, generating even more patients. Likewise, a thriving practice whose staff has lost their touch or been the victim of too much turnover can sink and wonder where all the patients went. The trick is to hire right and maintain a staff with the right balance of great customer service, sales ability, and a knack for connecting authentically with others. Computer skills and procedural knowledge can be taught to any smart person. But you can never turn a sullen, disinterested, negative person into an asset. That's why I recommend having a 30-day trial period for every new hire. You can determine a lot from an interview but you could also be sorely disappointed once you hire them. Perhaps they do not get along well with other staff members. Or they take too much personal time off. Or they do not treat your patients with the care you do. In a customer-service oriented business like aesthetics, it's wise to test the waters.

What Makes for a Great Staff?

How do you build a patient population that comes back again and again and raves to others about your practice? From a physician's point-of-view, you might think it is about the amazing results you provide, and that would certainly make sense. However, what I have found from working with thousands of patients coast-to-coast is that they often equate the quality of their surgical outcome with their overall customer service experience. If the customer service is poor, they are much more likely to find fault with the doctor.

The real answer is simply to create an amazing overall experience at every touch point and two-thirds of that experience lies in the hands of your staff.

  • Every member of your staff (front office, patient coordinator, nurses, etc.) should go above and beyond what is expected. The “Nordstrom service mindset” should be the norm in your office.
  • Make sure your phones and emails are answered well and quickly. Here is where communication training can be worth its weight in gold.
  • Have your front office person greet clients and please do not keep them waiting. If that means scheduling fewer consultations, so be it.
  • Let your practice be known for your follow-up. Do what you say you'll do. Make sure your patients are informed and catered to (yes, catered to).
  • Be sure patients are aware of their options in terms of financing, scheduling dates, products etc.).

a real-life example of how just one staff member can cause you to leave money on the table

While doing some consulting for a very high profile aesthetic surgeon last year, I sat in on his consultation process for a day. It was shocking how much money was lost over the course of six hours. I observed the doctor complete one fabulous consultation after another. He was gracious and genuine; he made the patients feel so comfortable with him and with moving forward with surgery.

But once he left the room, his well-meaning nurse talked one patient after another out of having surgery. This very sweet, well-meaning nurse was personally very afraid of having surgery herself and felt it was her duty to go over every possible risk in minute detail, even though the doctor had already addressed it. By the time these patients left, they were exhausted and scared. The interesting thing about this practice is their safety record was impeccable.

And at the end of the day, I calculated the lost revenue. I figured somewhere around $55,000 is what it cost to have five patients talked out of surgery. Only 1 out of 6 scheduled that day and with the majority of consultations being combined surgeries the average fee was around $10,000. It was a sobering discussion that the surgeon and I had, but he took action immediately and a new patient coordinator was soon hired. His numbers turned up in an extraordinary way as a direct result. The well-meaning nurse is now very happy in a hospital position and everyone is better off.

A Summary: The Do's and Don'ts of internal marketing

Don't spend money on marketing if you are going to neglect the first line of contact with your office. It doesn't make sense to let unqualified staff answer your phones and respond inappropriately to email inquiries. Your reputation is damaged and potential patients are lost forever.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that unmotivated, lackluster people will change. They will not! In other words: don't send ducks to eagle school. Find motivated sales and customer service professionals and train them well. Do not keep people who are not moving your business forward.

Do focus as much (or more) effort on your internal marketing as you do on your external advertising. Your current patient base is your best asset and should be activated to promote you.

Do assess yourself as well as your staff. You never know, you might also be talking patients out of surgery and not even realizing it.

You Are Not Alone

Could I be talking about you? If so, you are certainly not alone.

Even the greatest surgeon is doomed to fail if his/her staff pushes prospective clients away, and no amount of marketing can fix the problem. Sure, effective marketing can get more feet through the door, but they'll walk out just as quickly if what's promised in your marketing is not what's delivered. I remember hearing about a fantastic advertising campaign in the '60s for a beer in Washington State. The company made a huge investment in marvelously effective TV, newspaper, and magazine advertising that caused a near stampede into stores. However, the beer turned out to be rancid. That company never rebounded because, forgive the pun, it left a really bad taste in their customers' mouths. So until you can brag about your staff and you're sure they will treat patients as you would, don't invest in driving new patients to your door.

Are your staff members great “Brand Ambassadors?”

Can they intelligently speak about you, your wonderful results, how you work, your experience and specialty? Are they truly excited to brag about you? Can they answer patient questions as you would? If not, perhaps you have not spent the time to train them, inspire them and even experience your work for themselves. This function is called the art of transferring belief, and it is truly an essential part of a successful team that can help you convert consultations into surgery. Think about the last time you were in a restaurant and the waiter raved about the Veal Marsala because that's what he had for dinner. Likely you ordered it just based on his enthusiasm.

Yes, your staff is your greatest marketing “tool,” but be sure they know what is expected of them. Make sure they know that it is, in large measure, their responsibility to fill your schedule and show them ways to do it. Hiring a training company is another great investment. Just be sure that training company knows the industry inside and out, understands your goals, and your way of running your practice.

Staff Determine Success

I have trained over 1,500 practices from coast to coast and one thing I know for sure is that your success is dependent on your staff. Hire well. Train. Inspire. And create a family that works together for the good of the practice and the good of your patients.

And finally, 8 rules for keeping great employees

  1. Make them feel part of the “team”
  2. Verbalize clearly what your expectations are
  3. Be available for questions, concerns and ideas
  4. Pay them well (maybe more than your competitors)
  5. Make your work environment warm, non-competitive and fun
  6. Give lots of positive affirmation (catch them doing something wonderful and tell them so)
  7. If you need to correct someone, do it in private
  8. Set goals and give rewards for a job well done

Dana Fox is President of Strategic Edge Partners, Inc., a consulting firm focused on aesthetic medical practices.