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Call centers add muscle to marketing dollars

Article-Call centers add muscle to marketing dollars

Sonoma, Calif.— Want to attract new patients but don't have the staff to adequately handle their inquiries? A new type of business promises to bring more patients into your office.

Describing Patient Link, launched in June for dermatologic and cosmetic surgery practices, Lindsay Atwood, CEO and founder of TruVision, Inc., says, "The service is designed to help practices compete, become more professional, and maximize their advertising dollars."

How it works This is how it works: You have taken training courses, learned new procedures and reorganized your practice to offer them. But demand isn't building as you had hoped. To get the word out, you advertise with a local newspaper or radio station. The tag line is your office number.

What happens next is often less than optimal. A prospective client puts her children to bed then picks up the newspaper. She sees your ad for laser hair removal and tells herself to remember to call the next day during office hours. She forgets.

Or maybe she jots a note in her calendar and places the call. The harried young man who answers the phone has a job description a mile long. He doesn't have time to answer her questions. Frustrated, the prospective patient hangs up without making an appointment.

Services such as Patient Link recast the scenario. During lunch, evenings, weekends and whenever things get too hectic, your receptionist can forward calls to a tollfree number. A customer service representative will answer, click on a description of laser hair removal, describe the procedure using a script you've approved, then set up an appointment for a consultation.

What's the bottom line?

The bottom line in evaluating such services is cost and closing rate (percentage of calls from prospective patients converted into appointments).

The system uses existing phone lines and computers, so no new equipment is required. All Patient Link plans begin with a $1,000 set-up fee to customize your Web-based interface with information about each physician — bios, procedures performed, a description of each procedure and costs.

Patient Link offers a basic service at $495/month for 240 minutes of talk time. The premium service is $1,295/month for 1,200 minutes.

With LASIK, a service previously launched for ophthalmologists, Mr. Atwood says, "We have a closing ratio of 50 percent or better."

What's the average closing rate for U.S. cosmetic surgery and dermatology practices? Mr. Atwood doesn't know, but he suspects it could be as low as 10 to 20 percent in some practices.

"Sometimes the office staff is too busy to even get back to their voice messages," he notes.

Most sense Call centers are not suited for every practice. For instance, established, busy practices may have little need for such a service. Small practices will experience a longer payback time and higher cost per new patient. The service is not suited for episodic use due to the $1,000 set up fee.

According to Mark Ray, vice-president of practice development at TruVision, the service makes the most sense for "practices that are going after new patients or that want to advertise new elective procedures."

Figuring out how to coordinate scheduling can be challenging.

"There are about a hundred different practice management software systems," Mr. Atwood says. "It is almost impossible to directly interface with all of them."

TruVision settled on an indirect system of linkage. Users login to access a proprietary Web-based scheduling system. Office staff open or close appointment slots designated for use by customer service representatives. The program automatically notifies staff when an appointment has been made or when the number of available slots dwindles.

Importantly, says Mr. Atwood, the program provides subscribers with performance statistics: the name of the caller, the time of the call and whether an appointment resulted.

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