Having worked with aesthetic providers from coast to coast for over 25 years, I am seeing a disturbing trend in our industry. In years past, patients were loyal to their doctors—OB/GYN's without a doubt; family practice and pediatricians, definitely. But when it comes to aesthetic medicine, a patient cannot recall the name of their cosmetic or plastic surgeon.

In fact, when working with practices on their consultation skills, it became commonplace to observe patients seeking a second cosmetic procedure did not remember the name of their previous surgeon or dermatologist. Given that patient acquisition cost is estimated at an average of about $800-1,000/patient (factoring in marketing, website, office and staff expenses) every patient lost can represent hundreds of thousands dollars in long-term revenue. Add this to the fact that anyone in medicine today that has even an ounce of entrepreneurial blood running through their veins is trying to move into aesthetic medicine. Competition has never been greater than it is right now.

Outside of surgical revenue where fees are generally high, the most lucrative procedures are those where patients return for additional treatments over and over again—and where physician extenders can provide the services. This should be obvious, yet practices lose patients routinely over very small price differences where loyalty should have stepped in. So why didn't it?

Today, most people are price shoppers when it comes to Botox, fillers and the like. Unfortunately, the inaccurate perception is that it really doesn't matter who administers the treatment. Furthermore, savvy patients can predict when you're going to have a monthly discount on a specific treatment and they wait until the price drops. This impacts the steady flow of revenue, shrinks your patient base and causes a drop in referrals.

Creating a loyal clientele is an art. Always keep in mind that almost everything you offer is elective and out-of-pocket so patients expect a much higher level of service than they do from their other medical, insurance-based providers. How can you meet these expectations? Make sure your office, your staff and your marketing materials are impressive, customer-oriented and professional. Patients want to walk into an attractive surrounding and feel welcomed by a well-groomed, caring staff. No long waits. No tired-looking waiting room.

Make sure your print materials and website are professionally done. No amateur brochures, mailers, posters, etc. You are selling beauty, so there's no room for ho-hum marketing tools. If you have been under the impression that all that matters is your skill as a surgeon or aesthetic provider, I would ask, as Dr. Phil often does, “How's that working for you?”

Hire staff that is patient-focused by nature and those that are excited by the work you do. Treat staff to free non-invasive procedures so they can be your strongest brand ambassadors. That small investment is one of the best you can make and, oh by the way, will increase their loyalty to you. Think of a time when you asked a waiter if the bouillabaisse is good and he answered, “I haven't tried it.” Staff excitement is contagious and absolutely impacts your bottom line. Most practices have some kind of an employee treatment policy based on length of service, which makes sense. However, I think you also have to weigh the benefit of a truly excited employee who is telling the world about her Forever Young BBL results or her CoolSculpting treatment. For my money, I'd rather have “Suzy Que” talking about her treatment than to be concerned I may have given her something too soon and she might leave before I could retrieve my investment. Personally, I think it falls into the training and education category. Companies know they are going to invest in their employees even though there is staff turnover.

Want patients to come back again? Create a Loyalty Program

Loyalty Programs do just what they say—create loyalty around ancillary services. Some stats that should get your attention. When done right and professionally, practices with loyalty programs can see as much as a 35% increase in sales across all service lines: procedures, injectables, skincare and, yes, surgery too. Furthermore, those practices see figures of $70,000-100,000 in loyalty program membership sales alone.

The perception (and reality) is that patients get back in discounted services what they pay in fees. Paying an annual fee for discounted services gives patients “skin in the game” and a reason to keep them coming back for additional treatments. This type of mutual loyalty tends to be more successful than “free” programs that require no up-front monetary commitment from patients. Once a patient develops a deep relationship with your practice—they know you, your staff and what to expect (great outcomes and great service hopefully)—you will be the surgeon they will choose when it comes time for that facelift or breast augmentation. When you observe practices that have mastered the art of the old sitcom, Cheers' tag line “Where Everybody Knows Your Name,” you fall into the category of “the fortunate practice.” This is where you cannot tell who is a patient and who is staff. They are laughing and joking, and oh by the way purchasing a lot of BBL, skincare and CoolSculpting. It's fun and it's the “in” spot to be. There is always a celebration of beauty going on somewhere in the practice.

How to Maximize Your Loyalty Program

I have seen loyalty programs of all kinds (some great, some a waste of energy) and here are the elements of the most successful programs:

  • They made it memorable. There's nothing worse than a lackluster attempt at this kind of a promotion. You cannot do this with amateurish materials or a thrown together list of services and a slapped on 10% discount. I've seen plenty of these and they almost always fail. It has to be truly special in every way and it has to look like it was given some thought. How the program is packaged is almost as important as the content, so whether it's a commemorative tote bag with the loyalty name or a really cute t-shirt, or a key chain, make it special. Special enough for your patient's friends to notice.
  • They create awareness. It's not enough to just have a loyalty program, you need to make everyone aware that it exists through in-office posters, social media, blogs, eblasts, brochures, membership cards, and a dedicated page on your website. You will need a loyalty program brochure that explains how it works and why it is worth it. Comp a few products or services up front. You will get your money back from the “buy-in” amount patients spend to join.
  • Their staff mentions the loyalty program to patients. Nothing is better than “face-to-face marketing,” particularly by an enthusiastic, informed staff member. Get together as a group and talk about ways to introduce the loyalty program to your patients. Your staff will surely have great ideas about how to open that conversation.
  • The offers have good perceived value. They think of ways to make special offers based on the season. They create events that for members only and time with the doctor(s)…There is always an exciting new product or treatment being talked about, and the perks of membership are worth sharing with their friends. You do not have to forfeit other industry programs such as Brilliant Distinctions, by Allergan®. You can just roll them right into your own customized program. We think there is a huge advantage to your having your own completely customized loyalty program because it shows your creativity and allows you to be identified away from your competitors.
  • The practice holds member-only events. These practices send out special invitations for after-work or brown bag lunch talks on popular aesthetic subjects and sometimes do demonstrations. Hold the event in a comfortable room, offer refreshments and be sure to take time to speak with each attendee after the presentation.
  • They send out sneak-peek previews. They tease upcoming events and reminders of their loyalty benefits, and new staff members. Everyone likes to feel like an insider and to anticipate ways they can improve their appearance. I also suggest you occasionally email links to really informative articles on something that is new and exciting.
  • They offer financing options. When it comes time for surgery, many patients cannot just reach into their bank accounts for the total cost. Equally common are the patients who have the cash but would rather use someone else's money. Make it as easy as possible for patients to afford the procedures they're yearning for by becoming the friend who is thinking about all of their options.

How often should you contact your Loyalty Program Members?

My advice is to send an eblast once a month and a text in between. Not so much to become annoying but often enough to remind patients about the great services you offer. I also recommend that you do an annual plan that lays out the timing, messaging and offers you will be promoting. By creating a “campaign” that is well thought out, well-paced and customer-driven, you will see the very best results. “Reactionary marketing” is never the best strategy. It often causes a practice to appear scattered and not as professional as a well-thought-out marketing plan. “Marketing from the hip” is often expensive because of rush charges, redesign and wasted time for you and everyone on your staff.

Give yourself an edge

We've already talked about how competitive the aesthetics industry is, but you are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. The Titanic is here. You live it every day. Yes there are more patients seeking aesthetic solutions, but there are more and more providers. My advice is to give your practice a “physical.” Figure out how you can be the practice that patients want to visit. It's up to you to make sure your practice meets the expectations of a demanding public.

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