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January 14 2010
In the third article from the CIBA Vision Academy For Eyecare Excellence, 'Best Practice 10' business campaign, optometrist David Brett-Williams (pictured) explores how to maximize opportunities for communication to make better use of your existing patient base
Some months ago a friend of mine, Nigel, who I’ve known since our college days, called me. He had a problem. It transpired that he wanted to increase the turnover of his business. He had decided to convert more of his existing patient base to contact lens wearers.
He said: “I told my staff what I wanted them to do during a meeting and I put a memo up in the staff room. I even went as far as emailing the optometrists to let them know, but they just don’t seem to get it because nothing has changed.”
Let’s look at his objective and his challenges. Increasing your turnover is a good, positive objective; however, we are in a ‘recession’. With less people spending, that aim can prove to be difficult in the present economic climate.
However, there are several ways to increase turnover: increase the number of patients coming through the door; have your existing patients return to purchase more frequently; and increase the sales per visit of your patients. The first way seems the most obvious, but attracting new people into your practice is an expensive marketing exercise and could your practice even deal with significantly increased patient volumes?
In Frederick Reichheld’s book ‘The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits and Lasting Value’, his analysis showed that the cost of acquiring new customers was five times the cost of servicing existing ones.
Bearing this in mind, Nigel’s decision to have more of his patients become contact lens wearers is a productive one. It has been demonstrated that practices which embrace contact lens wearers – by reducing ‘dropouts’ and continually attempting to increase the number of new wearers – see significant financial benefits over practices that don’t embrace the contact lens wearer. Considering professional fees and contact lens sales per patient over a five-year period, the difference in potential revenue could be up to two times more in practices proactively recommending contact lenses.
He was aware that in addition to wearing contact lenses, contact lens wearers also need spectacles and sunglasses. Moreover, offering these fundamental services will bring additional value to his and your contact lens-wearing patients.
In 2006, Ritson published results comparing the lifetime value of a contact lens wearer to a patient who only wears spectacles. Ritson found that spectacle wearers are likely to be more profitable to a practice in a single transaction; however, contact lens wearers are much more profitable over a lifetime. He summarises his results and the reason for his conclusion in the following points:
- Practitioners will begin to see that the profit contribution of contact lenses initially is lower, but eventually becomes greater than that of spectacles alone.
- They will begin to move their business model from one that focuses on a single transaction to one that builds long-term, recurring relationships with patients.
- Practitioners will begin to realise the additional selling advantages of long-term relationships with contact lens patients as they purchase spectacles and sunglasses in addition to more contact lenses during repeat visits.
- The final advantage occurs as long-term, satisfied contact lens patients recommend their practitioner to other potential patients.
The business objective could be restated as: ‘increase our turnover by converting more of our patients to contact lens wearers, hence having them return more often and increase the total spend per patient’. Nigel knows that anything you look to change has to be able to be measured; otherwise it makes it difficult to gauge progress towards your objectives, so the figure he chose to use was percentage contribution to his total turnover from contact lens sales.
So far so good – so why the complaint that “they just don’t seem to get it”?
Internal communication is simply the communication that an organisation undertakes with those whom it has a relationship, principally employees or members. My colleague had used some traditional methods of internal communication including staff meetings, memos, as well as a more current one, emailing the optometrists, who by the way, were not expected to attend staff meetings.
The challenge clearly lay in the internal communication strategy he employed. Initially he revisited his team meetings. Attendance for all staff was obligatory and he closed his practice for 30 minutes to facilitate this. He explained why this shift in business objective was important and he created a very clear picture of what he wanted to achieve by this alteration.
Through interactive discussion, they jointly determined the intermediate targets and the time-frames in which they would achieve them. This was very useful as they would be able to gauge progress, but more importantly it broke the objective down into more easily managed pieces and created a sense of urgency as deadlines approach.
Nigel realised the importance of creating team momentum towards the objective. Everyone had to work together; from reception to dispensers to optometrists, otherwise one person’s efforts could be undone, and they could be added to the conversation unmotivated to continue to promote contact lenses. He was constantly on the lookout for ‘easy wins’ and continually praised people’s efforts.
One of his first steps was to have contact lenses introduced to patients when they made an appointment. They could be added to the conversation by simply asking the patient if they wore them. If they answered no, then they followed up with, “Did you know you would be suitable to try them?”.
This worked well, especially when they remembered to add a note on the patient’s record card.
When the team discussed the many differing ways to introduce contact lenses to patients, they came up with over a dozen other ways from the point of first contact with the patient through to the eye examination and the dispense.
Having improved their internal communication, which cost very little, they were surprised at how many of their patients were receptive to contact lenses. This generated greater sales. From that success, Nigel now wanted to target their external communication. It is said that repetition breeds recognition, and he applied that principle with his marketing message. Advertisements and leaflets were designed to comprise the same message in the same font and in the same colours.
How many years have you seen the golden arches of McDonalds or the Coca Cola logo? Large corporations realise that repetition breeds recognition so will rarely alter corporate logos or colours. When it comes to marketing your practice, if something is working, which again requires that results can be measured, stay with it because repetition breeds recognition.
I am pleased to say that Nigel is well on his way to reaching his objectives. In fact, he enjoyed the objective setting so much he has now set a series of further business goals. He found that improving their internal communication, the communication they undertook to inform employees of the direction and performance of the business, shaped their external communication. This helped present a favourable image of his practice and contact lenses to his patients and helped grow sales in a difficult business environment.
He now fully realises that when it comes to internal and external communication your chatter matters and he is out there communicating clearly, in a consistent, prolific manner.
Focusing on internal and external communication, my colleague took the following steps:
- Thought Strategically – Decided from our business plan specific business objectives (to convert more of our patients to contact lens wearers) and developed a communications strategy that would effectively drive the change.
- Established a clear 'Reason Why' – Made the 'reason why' something everyone on our staff could relate to.
- Developed a clear set of messages that defined the vision – Made the picture of perfection (what we wanted to achieve) very clear for our staff and showed how to achieve it in progressive steps.
- Established a sense of urgency – Set time frames to get things moving.
- Built momentum for change - The aim was to get to a point of critical mass when the momentum was unstoppable.
- We were prolific and consistent – We were not afraid to over-communicate.
- To keep the momentum a constant and consistent stream of communication was provided to the staff and the patients.
- Empowered others to act – Empowered team members in the business that are key communicators to take the message forward.
- Looked for personal engagement and involvement – Scoured the business to share successes and highlight acts of involvement.
- Ensured the leaders role modelled the change – Everyone looks to the leaders to set an example so we made them role model policeman and asked them to set an example.
- Created short-term wins – Our picture of perfection required a series of small steps. In creating short-term wins it reinforced the messages that defined the vision and helped maintain momentum towards the picture of perfection.
- Maintained a focus on the bigger picture – Never forgot the vision and kept it central to all our communications.
Quick and easy tips for improving internal communication
- Make it two-way and face-to-face as much as possible. That means listening and acting on it too.
- Explain your vision, values and messages – so that your team understand how their own work and individual behaviour fit into the bigger picture.
- Make it interesting and focused – plan your internal communications and be imaginative.
- Be honest – tell the bad news as well as the good news, this helps to explain the need for change.
- Tie it in with external communications – your staff do not want to find out about your latest promotion by reading it in the local paper.
Find out how your staff prefer to be communicated with and engage them in this manner.
David Brett-Williams is a practicing optometrist at Specsavers in Luton. He is also a faculty member of the CIBA Vision Academy for Eyecare Excellence (email@example.com).
1.Reichheld F. The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits and Lasting Value. Bain & Company USA 1996.
2.Brujic M, Miller J. The business of contact lenses. Review of Cornea & Contact Lenses. January 2008;37-40.
3.Ritson M. Which patients are more profitable? Contact Lens Spectrum. March 2006;38-42.
‘Best practice’ advice or information provided by CIBA Vision is intended for general information purposes only and is provided without any warranties as to its accuracy, completeness or freedom from errors or omissions. Any information or advice provided is not a substitute for professional business advice and should you require advice regarding your business, you should consult a professional business services provider. CIBA Vision accepts no liability for any issues arising as a result of reliance placed on information provided.