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Internal marketing strategy enriches patient relationships

Article-Internal marketing strategy enriches patient relationships

Joyce Sunila
Cosmetic surgeons are among the most highly trained professionals in private practice. Beyond medical knowledge and surgical skills, their artistic judgment has been honed to a rare level of refinement. Yet, they spend vast sums of money on image-building ad campaigns, but little or nothing to make sure they're harvesting the full lifetime value from each patient they attract.

"They're talking to strangers when their goal should be to get 50 percent of their new business from patients they already have. Stimulating this income stream costs a fraction of what it costs to advertise," says Karen Zupko, president of Karen Zupko Associates, a Chicago-based practice management firm.

With the mushrooming popularity of injectables and less invasive procedures, cosmetic surgery has become more markedly dependent on repeat business. The public now starts anti-aging treatments at younger ages than in the past, often in their 30s, allowing for potentially 30 or 40 years of continued treatment.

Importance of trust

Cosmetic surgeons are completely dependent on their patients' trust to stay in business, particularly because they provide a service tied in to one of humankind's most complex and volatile character traits: vanity.

Karen Zupko
To avoid poor results, patients rely on other people — friends who have tested the waters for them. Cosmetic surgeons are in the most referral-sensitive business on earth. People overwhelmingly choose aesthetic surgeons their friends have gone to. New business grows organically out of the old business.

A marketing strategy should acknowledge this by placing a major emphasis on building relationships. Bringing in new, potential patients is the least of a surgeon's concerns. It won't turn the practice into a self-perpetuating business because there exists no such ad that, on its own, inspires real trust.

Internal marketing is key

The type of marketing that will cultivate relationships with current patients is internal marketing. By turning satisfied patients into loyal fans, surgeons can capture all the repeat business and referrals they deserve.

The only way to build relationships is the old-fashioned way, through contact. This includes:

  • the right contact during office visits
  • follow-up phone calls after surgery.
  • thank you letters for referrals
  • birthday cards, special discounts
  • patient appreciation luncheons
  • E-newsletters showing off the expertise and integrity of the surgeon.

Internal marketing vs. advertising

The good news is that internal marketing costs only pennies on the dollar compared to advertising.

According to Ms. Zupko, staff training also is a form of marketing. She says, "You already have an office staff. What does it cost to hold staff meetings that make sure everyone's up to snuff on phone etiquette, aware of the patient schedule and prepared to address every patient — by first name — who comes in?"

Follow-up phone calls are also an easy way to reassure patients, she says. "It's been documented that depression is common during the two weeks right after surgery. Follow-up phone calls of encouragement and reassurance during that time have a profound effect on how patients perceive you. Again, it costs nothing."

Scheduling software

Computer systems also have potential that cosmetic surgeons often do not use fully. Most practitioner scheduling software can be programmed to automatically notify patients by e-mail when they are due for repeat procedures, such as Botox (Allergan) and facial fillers.

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