While attracting new patients or promoting new treatment offerings are important parts of any aesthetic practice's overall marketing campaign, utilizing in-house marketing efforts is an essential component to any practice's success. The classic business motto is certainly true in aesthetic medicine: 80 percent of your business comes from 20 percent of your clients. Patients who trust and like you and your staff will sign on for new procedures with less “convincing” than someone new to your office. And there is no better referrer than a happy patient. Of course, key to developing long-term, trusting relationships with patients is always putting the best interests of the patients first. We've all had patients ask about procedures that are not indicated for them because friends or family had it or the media raved about it. Telling that patient “no” can paradoxically increase trust and lead to more business as word spreads that you are a physician who isn't just “pushing procedures” for financial reasons.
The key is education: getting information about what you offer—whether old or new procedures or simply your special vision of aesthetics—in the hands of the right people. Often procedures for men are first introduced to them by the women in their lives, or procedures suited for young patients by your current patient population of their parents. So education made available to your patients can hit even new target populations. And it can be done inexpensively, ethically, and effectively with in-office printed collaterals, videos, and email outreaches. Most patients appreciate being kept informed.
As core cosmetic physicians, our training forms the foundation on which we decide which services to provide and which to recommend. Part of patient education in marketing should be focused on building an appreciation of what that training and board certification mean. Be sure your patients understand and appreciate that cosmetic procedures are being done in a medical setting by aesthetic physicians. If procedures are being delegated to ancillary staff, patients need to understand that they are being done under your direct supervision by professionals that you personally have trained and trust. Of course it goes without saying that all those who work under your supervision must be trained to your satisfaction to recognize when a patient shouldn't be treated and when s/he must be given immediate access for your care or counseling.
Another way to distinguish your practice and expertise is by branding a treatment. For example, offering your own special combination of treatments that your patients cannot get anywhere else prompts inquiries and allows you to separate yourself from others. If you have new equipment, for example, offer it in a package with another product whether it be skin care, neuromodulators, or filler and give it a unique name to help you defeat commoditization while growing your practice and expertise. However, be sure that the “package” is right for the patient and you are not upselling.
Building loyal patients can also involve “VIP” programs. Patients who do more at your office might be offered official special discounts for birthdays or just given something special like a new cosmeceutical or extra procedure before a wedding or start of a new job or to show condolence at a loss. While it is critical that the doctor-patient relationship have boundaries, ideally we see patients over a lifetime and can't help but share good times and bad both in our lives and theirs. Our offices become a safe haven for patients to share their lives and worries and we help them to manage their insides by feeling better on the outside.
Keep in mind that all of your marketing efforts are futile if you are not surrounded by courteous staff. The front-desk person is often the first representative of you that patients will encounter. Patients will leave a practice if mistreated, no matter how successful their treatment outcomes. Secret shoppers are a great way to ensure that your customer service is up to par. For example, even if staff is always polite and helpful, there may be small changes you can make to make the office even more hospitable. Phones may be answered quickly, but the person answering may forget to introduce themselves or forget to ask the patient for his/her name to create a more personalized call. Many practices invest in a patient coordinator to handle all financial conversations with patients—to allow the physician to be divorced from the financial discussion. That position does not work for every office—patients should still know they are being treated in a medical office where the physician is at the helm, not a salesperson.
Finally remember that the environment of your office makes your patients feel calm and well cared for from entry to exit. Consider colors and art that are calming and fit both your aesthetic and your patients'. Be sure to have non-educational reading material for those who look at their wait time as their only disconnected time. And wifi is always appreciated for those who can never disconnect. If you offer beverages or candy, just be sure you have the staff who will keep areas clean, water cold, and coffee hot, or a positive can quickly become a negative.
Steven Dayan, MD, FACS, and Heidi Waldorf, MD, FAAD