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Episode 17:
Patient Loyalty

Service businesses, including urgent care, are successful to the extent they can cultivate a following of loyal “fans” who not only use the center whenever a medical need arises, but tell others to do likewise. Because urgent care patients are drawn by marketing, and marketing is an investment made by the center in future visits, loyal patients require less marketing spend than completely new patients and thus have a lower “acquisition cost.” So, over time, the cheapest patients for a center to serve are its existing patients. Loyal patients, however, do require some maintenance…there’s much that urgent care can learn from hotels, airlines, restaurants and other service businesses who effectively cultivate a loyal following.

Just Checking In: Episode 17 - Facility Checklist

Good evening, this is Alan Ayers and I am Just Checking In from my car here in Plano, Texas. And tonight I am going to be speaking to you about Patient Loyalty in Urgent Care. So, the reason why patient loyalty is important really goes to marketing cost. Urgent care is what you would call a volume-driven business, which means after you see a sufficient number of patients to cover your fixed cost–things like rent, utilities, and base staffing models–every increment visit to your center contributes directly to the center’s bottom line. So, obviously the most successful urgent cares are those with the highest volumes, and the highest volumes you obtain volume in urgent care is by having more patients.

Well, you get more patients by spending money on marketing. When we look at marketing in urgent care it is an expense and I would really consider it more of an investment that has an ROI. But effectively you are spending money to raise awareness within the community. Patients see your advertising, they respond to the advertising, and they come to your center. So, for every new patient in your urgent care there is what we would call an acquisition cost–there’s a cost to get that patient through the door. Well, if you’re a new center attracting new patients, the acquisition cost is fairly high. You know, it takes various multimedia tactics and it takes some time before patients really get the idea that your urgent care exists and until they have an urgent care need to use your center. So, the reason for loyalty really goes to acquisition cost. People tend to be creatures of habit. So if you can get a patient into the center initially, you’ve already invested acquisition cost, you’ve invested in marketing to get that patient in. Well, once the patient uses your center, you become their provider of first choice; your marketing spend for that specific patient can fall dramatically. And over time, as you have more loyal patients, more repeat patients, your marketing cost should go down because your loyal/existing patient is the cheapest patient that you have.

Now, if you lose a loyal patient that means you have to replace that patient with someone off the street which requires an entirely new marketing investment and then that new patient coming in would have an extraordinarily high acquisition cost. The fact of the matter is over time, if you can’t keep your existing patients, you’re continually turning patients, having to continually pull new patients in off the street. Well, if you have a bad enough reputation or eventually exhausted the number of new patients available in a community, it’s going to become increasingly difficult or increasingly expensive to attract new people.

So, clearly the reason for loyalty is that your loyal patients are your cheapest patients. But not only are your loyal patients your cheapest patients from an acquisition standpoint, but they are also patients who will do your marketing for you. So these are patients that presumably will tell friends and family whenever they have a healthcare need, “Hey, you know such-and-such urgent care, I’ve been going there for years and I know they can take good care of you.”

So we know loyal is extraordinarily important to the long-term success of all service businesses. If you look at service businesses outside of healthcare, they’ve really mastered this system of patient loyalty.

In Chicago sometimes if I have an early morning flight I’ll drive down the night before and there is this specific Hampton Inn at the Chicago O’Hare airport that often I will stay at. So recently I went to the Hampton Inn and when I checked in my room there were a number of items left for me. One was a note–it was a note from the housekeeping staff saying “Welcome back to our hotel.” They had remembered that I had stayed there before and left me a note, just welcoming me back and thanking me for my loyalty. And then there were a couple of little gifts. They left me a coffee mug so I would have a reminder of my favorite Hampton Inn–not really a coffee drinker but if I were, every time I go to make my morning coffee there’s my favorite Hampton Inn. And they also left me a little Chicago Windy City keychain. So that little investment showed that this one specific hotel really valued my loyalty and recognized that I was a loyal guest.

And so I ask, “in your urgent care what do you do to recognize loyal patients?” Often times I hear or see an urgent care center when a patient walks in, the front desk uses medical billing terminology: “Are you new or established?” New or established? What does that mean? When you walk in, the staff should recognize you as being a repeat patient or being a loyal patient and if they do it should really be a greeting like the 1987 sitcom Cheers. In Cheers, Norm would enter the bar and everyone was like ”Norm!” You know, it was the place where everybody knows your name and you’re always welcome. Well, that’s really how your urgent care should be. Now you really can’t expect your front desk staff to have 5,000 or 10,000 faces memorized, but still checking in the system, if you identify a patient has been there before, do you say anything to recognize that patient’s loyalty? Do you say thank you for your loyalty, or welcome back, or it’s so good to see you again or how can we help you again today? Just little things to recognize that the patients put forth an effort to return to your business.

So again, the point is loyal patients make for successful urgent care centers.

If you have any additional marketing questions feel free to contact us at Practice Velocity. Again, this is Alan Ayers and I am Just Checking In, thanks again.

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