During the COVID-19 shutdowns this spring, many practices struggled with finding the right way to communicate with patients. Overwhelmingly, practices that followed a plan and stayed connected to their database and/or used a service like Your Patient Contact Center (YPCC) to make calls to patients realized two great benefits.
First, those practices reassured patients that they were still there for them and would continue to serve their hearing healthcare needs moving forward. As business returned to normal, those practices kept patients informed about the additional safety procedures they put in place as well as any changes to their hours and services. A remarkably large percentage of practices were quick to implement curbside service and offer remote care options to patients who couldn’t come into the office.
Second, but equally important, it was their existing customers who felt most comfortable coming back into their clinics and purchasing new devices. Whether it was a result of pent up demand or increased family interaction placing a greater value on hearing healthcare in general, it was these patients and their purchases that led to the recovery of many practices.
Of course, this didn’t just happen overnight—it was the practices that put a concerted effort into patient recall that saw the quickest recovery to their business. These practices strengthened their patient relationships and stayed top-of-mind because they took the time to pick up the phone and call their patients. They checked to see if their patient’s existing devices were working optimally or upgraded them to newer technology.
In addition to being a smart business strategy, patient recall is and always has been founded in good healthcare. You need to remain in contact with patients—before, during, and after each sale—to maintain a loyal database. Now, more than ever, it’s vital to invest in patient recall. Not only is new customer acquisition expensive, but the industry is becoming more competitive every year. Leveraging your relationships with existing patients is simply the most cost-effective way to build brand loyalty, drive awareness, and increase patient referrals.
Finally, let’s consider another challenge practices face in maintaining patient relationships: rechargeability. For many years, practices have relied on free or low-cost batteries to keep their patients coming back. While certainly a great innovation, rechargeable hearing aids have significantly reduced the number of office visits patients need to make. That’s why practices need to put greater emphasis on outbound calls to engage their database. At Consult YHN, our most successful Associates make patient outreach a priority and are rewarded because of it.
When it comes down to it, you have two choices: hire an additional staff member to handle your outbound dialing or outsource it to a service like YPCC. The good news is that we can help you with either decision. We hear a lot of practice owners express initial concern about the cost of patient recall. What many don’t realize is that it’s actually an incredible bargain when you consider the end result: a more loyal patient database, increased sales, and most importantly, better patient care.
About the Author
Think about the last time you received top-notch customer service. Did your doctor call to check up on you the day after a procedure? Did a restaurant give you extra sauces and napkins with your delivery? Did your accountant send a handwritten note on your birthday?
Now think about the last time you received terrible customer service. How many friends and family members did you tell? Did you rant about it on Facebook? Did you write a scathing Yelp review?
The truth is that the customer experiences we remember are the ones that were either fantastic or truly awful. And unfortunately, it’s usually the latter that gets the most attention:
Customers who have a bad experience are 2-3 times more likely to write a negative review than happy customers are to write a positive review.
Needless to say, bad reviews are bad for business:
80% of people will choose to go elsewhere if they read bad reviews about your business online.
A positive customer experience is key to building loyalty. As the saying goes, “a happy customer is a loyal customer.” And you can’t underestimate the value of loyalty:
Loyal customers are 5 times more likely to purchase again and 4 times more likely to refer a friend.
During my years working in a private practice in Florida, I oversaw all our community outreach events (health fairs, hearing seminars, Lunch & Learns, etc.). Anyone who knows me would tell you, I’m perfectly suited for this type of work. When I wasn’t in the office, I was out in the community, talking to people, learning about their hearing history, and conveying to them how important hearing is to their relationships, livelihood, and overall health.
Once you scheduled an appointment with me, you were my patient. I sent my patients appointment reminders, I called them the day before their appointment to confirm, and on the day of, I made sure to greet him/her upon arrival (“George! Welcome! It’s so nice to see you again!”). This didn’t happen overnight—it took time to build these relationships and good habits. I was fortunate to have a boss who pushed me to do more, be better, and try harder. Sometimes it was difficult, but the outcome was worth it.
I realize the Coronavirus has complicated what good customer service looks like. Healthcare providers have had to quickly adopt new safety and sanitation protocols to protect staff and patients while continuing to provide the same high level of care.
But the pandemic has also made exceptional customer service all the more important. Even something as small as extra bread with my takeout pasta seems to mean so much more. Years from now, it’s the people and businesses that took the best care of us during this challenging time that we’re going to remember most and be loyal to.
Below are sure-fire ways to increase patient satisfaction and build greater brand loyalty—not just today, but in the months and years to come.
1. Be accessible.
Today’s consumers expect and demand greater convenience in every aspect of their lives, including their healthcare. For younger and more active patients, offering services like online scheduling, automated appointment reminders (via email and text message), and live chat can be differentiators for your practice. Keep in mind that some of your patients are also more tech-savvy today than they were just a few months ago. With the pandemic forcing older Americans to remain largely confined to their homes, many have relied on video chat and other apps to shop, work, connect with loved ones, and even meet with doctors. The best thing you can do for your patients right now is to make yourself available to help them, especially the most vulnerable. Consider implementing curbside and teleaudiology services if you haven’t already.
2. Stay connected.
Now more than ever, your patients want and need to hear from you. So much that we recommend overcommunicating with them. Consistent outreach and follow-up with your database is crucial to increasing patient satisfaction and driving sales. Continue to update your digital properties (website, social media, Google My Business, Healthy Hearing profiles, etc.) to reflect any changes to your hours and services as well as the safety precautions your office is implementing. This should also be included in all of your marketing collateral. Use social media to stay top-of-mind with patients and make calling your database a priority. How often should you contact patients to ensure they purchase their next set of hearing aids from you? Click here to find out!
3. Make a good first and second impression.
Your website is often your patients’ first impression of your business. If it’s cluttered, outdated, slow, and/or difficult to navigate, visitors will have a negative perception of your practice (follow these ten tips to take your site from good to great). Just like your website, your office space should be a positive reflection of your brand and the quality of care you provide. Old or unsightly furnishings can suggest a lack of pride and attention to detail while a mini-fridge filled with bottled waters says, “We care about your comfort.” A fresh coat of paint and a fresh pot of coffee (or Keurig) can go a long way in creating a more inviting atmosphere where patients feel welcomed. Once it’s safe to have communal items in your waiting area again, be sure to have fresh new educational and marketing materials (flyers, posters, brochures, etc.) for visitors. Aside from offering valuable information that can help patients make the decision to invest in their hearing, they lend to your credibility as an “expert.” Finally, toss out all those old magazines—no one wants to read about the Royal Wedding anymore (well, except me, but that’s a topic for a much different blog).
4. Don’t keep them waiting!
How do you feel when you arrive to an appointment on time but the doctor doesn’t see you for 20 minutes or longer? Honor your patients’ time with respect. If you’re overbooked and struggling to manage your time, have your Front Office Professional (FOP) do a double knock on the door 5-15 minutes before your next appointment or a single knock when the patient has arrived. This can help keep you focused. Need more time with a patient or wrapping up a sale? Take a quick second and let your FOP know so they can inform your next patient. This is where having a fresh cup of joe and ample reading materials will come in handy.
5. Ask for reviews and referrals.
I’ve already touched on the importance of positive word of mouth but allow me to really drive the point home: nearly 90% of people trust online reviews as much as they trust their best friends’ recommendations and people are 4 times more likely to buy when referred by a friend. If you’ve done everything right and created a positive experience for your patients, then this part should be easy. A satisfied patient is already more likely to recommend your practice to a friend or family member. But why wait for that to happen when all you need to do is ask? There are several ways to ask for patient referrals and, I promise, none are as awkward as you think. In addition, you should be sending automated online review requests through your practice management software (email and/or text message) after each appointment. It helps to plant the seed while the patient is in front of you. Let them know they’ll be receiving a message then explain how valuable their feedback is and that you’d really appreciate it if they could take a few minutes to share their opinion.
Change is hard. I’m the first to admit this. But we all understand the value of good customer service. If you’re following the above recommendations, keep it up. If not, take it one day at a time and gradually make the changes needed to ensure that every person who walks through your front door has the best experience. As my mom always says, “it’s the little things that often make the biggest difference.”
About the Author
Julie Gesuale joined Consult YHN in 2010 and currently serves as an Assistant Account Manager in the company’s Hospital and University Division. Her diverse professional background includes customer service, marketing, and project management. When not working, Julie enjoys spending time with her wife of 15 years and her two rescue dogs, Sheldon and Leonard. She’s also been singing in church and community choirs for over 25 years.
Telemarketing can be an unsettling word for some. It evokes the days of yesteryear when family dinners were interrupted by phone calls and last names were mispronounced beyond recognition.
Forget what you thought you knew about telemarketing. In fact, forget the word ‘telemarketing’ entirely. At Consult YHN, we’ve turned outbound dialing into a service essential to the success of your hearing healthcare practice – Your Patient Contact Center (YPCC).
Through YPCC, our Associates have access to a highly-trained, professionally-managed workforce committed to patient communications and the success of the practice. YPCC’s patient contact specialists act as an extension of your practice, devoted to expanding your reach, securing appointments, and driving new and existing patients through your door.
Retaining current patients while effectively acquiring new ones should be an ongoing priority for every practice. Considering that 45 percent of patients will purchase their next set of hearing aids from a different practice – reinforces the importance of consistent patient outreach and follow-up.
Calling patients, whether it’s your staff or through our YPCC call center, is a beneficial process to implement in your practice for the following reasons:
1. Revenue-driving activity
On average, YPCC books 0.5 appointments per hour, and practices that use their service realize a net gain of 8-10 units per 40 hours of calling. At their competitive rates, your practice could pay less than $100 to book a qualified patient on your schedule. Through our Consult Database Program, 75% of appointments booked are through the YPCC efforts – with the average program yielding $11,400 in total revenue.
2. Keep consistent touchpoints with your patients
YPCC has developed carefully crafted scripts for each segment of your database. This ensures that the patient contact specialists are speaking directly to each patients’ individual hearing health journey.
3. Alignment with marketing activities
Sending just a letter or postcard to your database doesn’t cut it anymore. Making phone calls behind each of your marketing activities – and with consistent messaging – will better convert your warm leads into appointments. Multiple touchpoints help keep your brand top of mind or maintain “stickiness” in the minds of your patients. Additionally, a follow-up call behind a database mailer removes the work by the patient to act on a marketing call-to-action.
4. Outbound and inbound options
In addition to making outbound dials, YPCC also offers inbound options to help with call overflow or after-hours and weekend calls. This ensures your practice makes the most of every call and reinforces your commitment to excellent customer service.
5. Database cleanup
The health of your database will have a significant impact on patient retention. If you haven’t recently scrubbed your database for patients who have moved or passed away, then any other outreach to those patients is precious marketing dollars wasted.
6. Seamless patient experience
With full access to your practice management software, YPCC’s patient contact specialists schedule appointments on the spot.
Employing someone else to call patients on behalf of your practice puts more time back on your schedule so that you can focus on what you do best: helping more people hear well again!
The truth is patient contact centers have become a staple in the healthcare industry. Whether you are a small private practice or part of a hospital network, utilizing a contact center is a cost-effective way to retain patients and fill your schedule with appointments.
About the Author
Julia Shreckengast joined Consult YHN in 2015 and serves as Marketing Account Executive, providing support to Associates by managing creative projects and developing/executing marketing plans. Prior to joining Consult YHN, she helped promote the city of New Orleans as a member of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation. Julia graduated Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Tulane University.
Communication is essential, especially during this time—and it will be equally important several months from now. Hopefully, you’ve used any downtime during the pandemic to stay connected with your patients.
As the economy opens, it’s important to forge ahead with your marketing efforts, including a specific plan to ramp up your marketing activities.
Practices that act now and adapt to the current environment will capture new patients as well as maintain a high volume of patients after the initial influx of demand has settled. Being proactive with your marketing strategy will ensure the near-term demand you experience won’t drop off in one, three, or six months, allowing you to continuously grow your business.
Consult YHN’s COVID-19 Resources Center provides healthcare professionals with strategic business advice and support, including virtual webinars, financial analyses, articles, marketing collateral, and more. A useful resource is our Cash Flow Analysis tool which determines your current and future months’ liquidity. This information allows you to forecast how much you can spend on marketing each month, with a goal to ramp up spend as your budget and timing allows.
Your messaging today is more significant than ever – it needs to be relevant, clear, and consistent across all of your marketing initiatives. It should address patients’ current needs and concerns, like providing a safe and caring environment as well as acknowledging that those struggling with hearing loss are even more challenged by COVID-19 safety measures.
Whether your practice is operating with a proactive marketing budget, limited budget, or no additional spend budget, we have solutions to help you drive new opportunities. There are many ways to stay top-of-mind with your patients without spending a lot of money. Below are Consult YHN’s marketing recommendations based on your practice’s current budget and timing.
Budget: No Additional Spend
- Update Annual Marketing Plan
- Prioritize & Call Database (follow-up as needed via email)
- Tested Not Sold
- Care After “Yes”
- Out of Warranty (3 years+)
- Set up Online Scheduling
- Utilize Consult Marketing Collateral
- Update Digital Presence
- Physician Referrals (call and email)
- Prioritize Community Outreach
- Create Videos for Social Media (how-to, virtual events, etc.)
- Prioritize your patients and schedule
- Fill your schedule with revenue-generating opportunities
- Utilize no/low-cost marketing initiatives
- Prepare for pent up demand from individuals seeking hearing help
- Focus on marketing to maintain momentum
- Depending on the response/how your patients are reacting, move on to higher-cost marketing initiatives
Sample COVID-19 Marketing Collateral, Available for Immediate Use
Budget: Minimal Spend
“No Additional Spend” initiatives +
- Database Letters
- Never stop reaching out to your database!
- Consult Database Program
- Our turnkey solution for database outreach enables your team to focus on closing more opportunities and helping more patients. We help you implement a consistent strategy, targeting each segment of your database with custom letters and follow-up calls that drive appointments and sales. From designing and printing to mailing and reporting—we handle it all, and at a competitive rate that’s included in your monthly Consult statement.
- Email Marketing
- Sending emails to your database is easy and inexpensive. You can check to see who clicked or opened the email in order to prioritize lead follow up via a phone call. For example, people who open and click on your email are the most engaged, so start with them, then work down the list. We recommend ConstantContact because it is easy to use and signs a Business Associate Agreement (BAA).
- Consult Upgrade Program
- For over a decade, Consult Upgrade has been the most effective way for practice owners to reach their patients and increase sales. For a one-time flat fee, a dedicated Digital Technology Consultant will work with you on-site to organize and run an Upgrade event that, on average, yields an additional $51,250 in sales for practices. The schedule for 2020 is almost full – act fast to secure your spot!
- Once you’ve maximized your database outreach efforts, consider:
- Are people responding?
- Do you need to make any changes?
- Have you exhausted all potential?
- Is revenue ramping up?
- Based on the answers above, decide on strategy and timing for direct mail drop and digital advertising.
- Once you’ve seen all of your existing patients as well as all the new patients willing to come in regardless of COVID-19, the next step is crucial – and marketing will be key. Your marketing plan needs to be set now so that you can implement and capture the untapped group of new patients and your demand and revenue can consistently grow.
Budget: Pro-Active Spend
Timing: When Ready (Cash-Flow Dependent)
“No Additional Spend” initiatives + “Minimal Spend” initiatives +
- Direct Mail
- Digital Advertising
- Pay-Per-Click (PPC)
- Facebook Advertising
- Display Retargeting
- Consult Digital Program
- Drive and convert more quality leads with our industry-leading digital solution! We outperform the competition so that your website dominates the first page of Google for the top hearing healthcare keywords. We also track your results and provide you a return on your investment.
- Lead time considerations for direct mail: 3.5 weeks ahead of the event
- If you have the budget, spend it on PPC. Cost per lead is lower right now, meaning your budget will go further than it did pre-COVID-19. For example, based on the current environment there are fewer businesses competing for keywords, etc. This trend will end as business returns to normal. If your budget allows, there’s a significant, yet, temporary opportunity to introduce your practice to as many patients as possible at a lower cost than normal.
Your Account Manager and the Consult YHN team are here to help you develop a comeback plan that’s guaranteed to position your practice for success in 2020 and the years ahead.
About the Author
Approximately 48 million Americans (20 percent) report some degree of hearing loss. Within this population exists a subset of individuals that identify as Culturally Deaf (notated by a capital “D”) or Hard-Of-Hearing (HOH). This group doesn’t focus on the medical diagnosis of a certain degree of hearing loss but rather their cultural identity. They often share a belief system, history, traditions, and a common language (American Sign Language).
This identity makes them unique to most clinical audiology/hearing practices (between 1-3 percent of patients seen annually in hearing clinics). As an Audiologist working closely with this community for over 20 years, below are four key considerations that my patients and I find helpful:
#1. Educate yourself on and understand the beauty of Deaf history and culture
It’s important to be aware that there exists a rich Deaf culture that can be experienced at Deaf school museums, Deaf organizations, Deaf theater, and Deaf groups all over the country. It’s diverse and filled with art and technology and infused with the beauty of sign language.
According to the National Association for the Deaf (NAD), there are three key moments in American history for the Deaf: the 1988 Deaf President Now protest, the 1864 signing of the Gallaudet University charter by President Lincoln, and the 1817 establishment of American School for the Deaf in West Hartford, CT as the first permanent public school for the Deaf. It’s important to understand that historically, many families with Deaf children were told not to use sign language, fearing it would interfere with their ability to learn how to speak. This led to a perception by some in the Deaf community that all Audiologists were simply trying to “fix” or change deafness. Thankfully, as society has evolved, research has made it clear that Audiologists can provide useful tools such as amplification or other assistive technology to support the individual as a whole and not just in terms of their hearing.
#2. Provide access for effective communication for a positive patient experience
Rights: It’s important to know the rights afforded to patients covered by the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) Title III. This law mandates that “covered entities” (businesses and nonprofit organizations that serve the public) provide effective communication for individuals who have communication disabilities. This is by means of “auxiliary aids and services” when needed.
Expectations: In the past, many audiology practices would rely on companions attending appointments to interpret for Deaf patients, but the ADA only allows this when either there is an emergency involving “imminent threat to safety” or if the individual requests this and the companion is not a minor. The ADA ultimately places responsibility on the “covered entity” for providing effective communication and defers to the individual to have primary consideration of the choice of “aid or service” they need unless it results in an “undue burden” (significant difficulty or expense). The key point: consult WITH the patient, don’t dictate TO them.
Communication: Be cautious of using outdated terms such as “hearing impaired,” which is often perceived as derogatory. My friends and patients often prefer Deaf or HOH. Regarding access, the ADA states that you should provide a “qualified” notetaker, sign language/oral/tactile interpreter, real-time captioning, written materials, or printed script of any stock speech. A “qualified” interpreter means someone who can interpret effectively, accurately, and impartially (receptively and expressively). In addition, “aids and services” are defined as a wide variety of technologies such as Assistive Listening Devices (ALDs), amplified phones, videophones/captioned phones, or video relay service (VRS), or telecommunications relay service (TRS) which can be reached by calling 711. Video remote interpreting (VRI) is another option but be sure to have a high-speed connection for a quality signal and a large enough screen for optimal viewing.
It’s important to note that not all patients in this community use the same form of sign language. Some use American Sign Language (ASL) and others use a more English-based sign language or even prefer to read lips with visual cues. Don’t just assume—ask the patient directly how they prefer to communicate. Knowing some basic sign language to introduce yourself and guide the patient to the test area is also a nice way to establish rapport and trust.
#3. Consider modifications to your test protocol
- Common sense prevails here but make sure to provide visual cues and/or show clear written explanations of the test process and directions when possible.
- Try using hand-raising/button-pushing for obtaining responses and consider Speech Detection Thresholds instead of Speech Reception Thresholds to avoid forcing spoken answers or having closed set picture/visual response options.
- Have expectations, test instructions, and recommendations written in advance or write them during the visit on a whiteboard or tablet.
#4. Make recommendations carefully and without bias or assumptions
When providing options for amplification to Deaf or HOH patients, there are several things to keep in mind:
- Power aids are often but not always preferred with a more linear approach to match any possible previous experience with amplification.
- Do not assume that they’re not interested in the latest technology or that they don’t care about quality sound or features like rechargeability and Bluetooth connectivity. Many of my Deaf friends LOVE listening to music and would appreciate streaming options (with a lot of bass).
- Do not assume that they want to conceal their devices as some may be proud and want bold colors.
- Show coupling options with tangible samples so that they can actually see the different sizes available and feel the different weights and materials.
- Be knowledgeable about state funding agencies (i.e. vocational rehab) for coverage of hearing aids as well as Medicare plan coverages for those with “disabilities.”
These are just a few key considerations and suggestions. By simply being prepared and educated, I promise these appointments will be much easier and more enjoyable. There is a long list of agencies and resources available where you can find information and answers to any questions you have. I encourage you and your staff to undergo basic training about the ADA requirements and perhaps even learn a few basic signs!
About the Author
Dr. Heather Carter, AuD., FAAA, is an Account Manager for the Northeast Region and brings a unique perspective to Consult YHN as a clinical audiologist with over 20 years of experience. She received both her master’s and doctoral degrees in Audiology from Gallaudet University, the only liberal arts college for the Deaf in the U.S. Through her graduate studies and clinical work, Dr. Carter has gained the expertise to help patients with all levels of hearing loss improve their communication skills. By providing practice development support and bridging the clinical aspects of hearing healthcare with the necessary business skills as a Consult YHN Account Manager, she helps her clients remain viable and relevant. Dr. Carter has two CODA children who are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) and recently enjoyed a trip to her alma mater where they all were able to use their fluency in ASL to communicate on campus!