In a world where your competitors are just a click away, patient loyalty is the new marketing. Today’s patients have access to an endless amount of information about your medical practice and the unique services your offer. Research shows that patients are willing to stop hopping from one doctor to another and stick with practitioners who go the extra mile to create a fantastic patient experience. When patients feel taken care of, they are more inclined to come back to your practice and recommend you to their family and friends.
Here are some of the reasons why patient loyalty is so important:
- Most patients have a choice. Despite being limited by factors beyond their control, most patients prefer to change their doctors to get a better patient experience.
- Better patient experience makes everyone’s job a lot easier. Patient satisfaction leads to more accommodating patients, which makes a smoother experience for your practice overall.
- Higher patient loyalty means more referrals and word-of-mouth business. When patients have a good experience, they are more likely to talk about it to their family. That means more word-of-mouth referrals, which means more patients and an increased bottom line.
The Power of Patient Loyalty
As an individual practitioner or a small-practice owner, you may lack the capital or need more staff members. However, you can remain profitable by serving your existing patients well. According to studies, nearly 67 percent of practice owners do not understand the value of patient loyalty. These practice owners often miss the opportunity to gain lifelong patients and brand ambassadors.
When a patient is loyal to your brand, it means when faced with a decision between you and your competitors, he or she picks you every time. Clearly, all practitioners want patients to prefer their brand over their competitors. However, the key is to learn about your patients’ preferences from the very beginning. A report stated that almost 48 percent of patients think the most critical time to gain their loyalty is when they make their visit to your office. This is the best time to offer a consistent experience that addresses their needs and solves their problems. It is essential to understand how the patient experience affects brand loyalty.
When your patient calls to ask for help, do not be passive. Make sure to familiarize yourself with a patient’s background so you can take charge of the conversation. Brand loyalty is strengthened with every interaction your patient has with your practice. The key to patient loyalty is always to meet or exceed your patients’ expectations. When patients become loyal, they not only come back to your practice, they become emotionally attached to your brand. Loyal patients will recommend your brand to their friends and family, develop an emotional connection and act as brand ambassadors. Brand loyalty is an essential investment for your medical practice and you must offer value in order to become invaluable to your patients.
But Why Do Patients Leave?
According to an insightful report, the number-one reason patients stop visiting a medical practice is poor patient service experience. But what reasons lead a patient to describe a service experience as “poor” or “unacceptable”?
The report stated that incompetency, staff manners and slow service define poor patient service. Almost 73 percent of patients described the incompetent staff as their most prominent reason to “dislike” a practice or practitioner.
This candid feedback from unhappy patients shows that competent and polite staff is more critical than the speed of the service. So how do you build a brand that wins over the hearts and minds of your patients? Let us look at four ways medical practices can move relationships with their patients.
1. Engage with your patients: Patient loyalty is about reaching out and nurturing the patients who help your practice grow. Engaging with your patients will help you create a sense of belonging. You can use social networks to inform patients of special deals and exciting developments. If you can make your patients involved in your practice, they are more likely to have positive associations, and engaged patients are loyal patients. According to the Pareto principle, 80 percent of results come from 20 percent of efforts. But for most medical practice owners, the disparity between your best patients and the rest is stark. The top 5 percent of your patients are worth as much as 1800 percent of the average patient lifetime value. So adding a few more loyal patients might be the smartest thing you can do to grow your practice. Adding and retaining patients often starts with figuring out how and where you are losing patients: Why do so few patients become loyal members of your practice? In most cases, this is due to poor patient service. It is important to make sure your patient service is impeccable, and if you play your cards right, this can be an easy victory for your practice. Provide a positive patient experience, safeguard your online reputation and encourage patients to stick by your brand long enough to develop loyalty. One of the most effective strategies to retain patients is by recognizing and fulfilling their needs. You can use your patient behavior data to assess what your patients are likely to expect from your practice and offer it to them.
2. Use technology to improve patient experience: The latest tools and technology can be used to help improve your relationship with your patients. When patients understand that you are delivering a unique experience and exceeding expectations in order to meet their demands, they will return the favor by giving you their time and information. This symbiotic relationship is valuable as it helps create trust, which should be the goal for every medical practice.
Providing data-driven services can increase revenue for your brand. According to a study, nearly 86 percent of patients said that personalization plays a role in their decision to choose a healthcare provider. In addition, almost 73 percent of patients said they preferred to visit practices that use personal information to make their experience more relevant.
Once your practice has earned the trust of your patients, you can employ patient portals to gain intelligent insights and solutions. Such portals will enable your patients to create, edit and delete their profile and use it whenever they want. Patient portals will help your staff have quick access to valuable insights about the needs and preferences of your patients. By engaging your patients with data aligned with their preferences, your practice can provide a better patient experience.
3. Use social media to show patient appreciation: Social media is an excellent way to build brand loyalty and improve patient engagement. According to a study, when a business – including the healthcare market – uses social networks to communicate with their target audience, people listen. In fact, more than 81 percent of people said they had more confidence in a medical practice when its doctors are using social media.
When you communicate with your patients on social media, it helps build brand loyalty, and those patients can become your brand ambassadors. Replying with a personal message or updating your patients with general healthcare-related news is a great way to humanize your brand and strengthen the relationship.
Your medical practice likely has some brand ambassadors continually engaging on social media. You must surprise them. Go beyond the typical reply with a special discount voucher or complimentary service. The cost will be minimal, and you can rest assured that the recipients will post about it for others to read. This shout-out or acknowledgment on social networks will help attract more patients and increase the positive exposure of your brand. Showing that your practice cares about its patients and their experience will separate your brand from the competition.
4. Deliver value: Patients are looking to identify with your practice’s mission and values. To them, what you offer is who you are. How can you help your patients identify your brand’s values? The answer is: Be definitive. The more specific you can be about your skills and services, the more your patients will understand what value you can offer them. You need to make sure your patients understand what you do and the value you add to their lives. This means you need to zoom in on just one service or unique proposition until it fills the screen. Even the most effective brand loyalty campaigns will be futile if you do not deliver value through your unique services and focus on your patients’ needs. You must promote your unique selling proposition and use it as the foundation to design and deliver your brand loyalty campaigns.
Do Patients Forgive Poor Service?
Despite your best efforts and intentions, mistakes are bound to happen when dealing with patients. A lot of small issues may make their way into your service provision. However, the good news is: Occasional mistakes will not damage your reputation unless such errors become the norm.
But what about serious errors? Will patients forgive a massive error? It is important to understand the thought process and associated actions of dissatisfied patients. As mentioned in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, most patients who suffer an injury due to a practitioner’s negligence do not sue their healthcare provider. A common factor among those patients who pursued legal action felt like they did not get enough time with their doctor. Most of the litigious patients described their interactions with their doctor as poorly diagnosed. However, most of these patients are willing to give their doctor a second chance.
Speed and quality of service are the innocent culprits in most of these situations. Trying to respond to patients as quickly as possible decreases your chances of ignoring critical details, something that is very important to patients.
It is believed that by 2020, more than 89 percent of patients will shift to practices providing better patient experience and engagement. Your competitive advantage must focus on building patient relationships and improving experience.
Gone are the days where practices offered basic healthcare services. If you expect brand loyalty, it is time to treat patients like people, not numbers.
Always pay attention to what your patients are telling you. Do not be a transaction-focused practice. It is critical to building a practice to serve people and care about them, and they may return the favor by caring about you. This is the key to nurturing brand loyalty.
Remember, engaging patients and strengthening relationships is a practice-wide endeavor. It is not just for your front-desk staff. Brand loyalty and patient satisfaction are everyone’s responsibility.