Time is money. When a patient walks in for an exam, your practice grows. Pauline Blachford, a client communications expert in optometry, trains recallers to make this happen in a comfortable, results-oriented, positive way.
“If we’re not reaching out to patients, we’re not building our practice or our schedule,” she says. “If we don’t first care for our patients, how are we going to put people in the seats for the doctors?”
Great point. So how, exactly do we get patients into those seats? According to Blachford, whose background is in accounting, it’s the good old telephone.
“The greatest myth is that telephone recalling is too expensive,” she says, “but once an optometrist takes the time to determine the average value of a booking and calculates any missed opportunity, they realize that it’s penny-wise, pound-foolish to not engage in truly caring for their patients this way.”
The benefits of loyal clients include more purchases over time and clients who are more willing to pay premium prices. It costs several times more to attract a new client than to properly service an existing one. Your recaller — who ultimately is a salesperson — is a valuable asset to your practice’s growth.
Other approaches for recalling — postcards, emails, texts — are good as backup, and online booking gives patients another option when they can’t decide immediately. Using the phone, however, is still the best way to go.
Blachford offers these tips:
Elevate the recalling position
Treat the position of the recaller as an income generator, not as an expense. The person in this role should have a private, quiet space for placing calls and should not be seen as easily replaceable. Blachford explains that the average eye exam is valued at more than $300. “Let’s say there are five doctors in a practice,” she says, “and each has one opening left in a given day. Leaving those five openings unfilled is like forfeiting $1,500 per day — that’s $72,000 per year!”
Establish a voice
Leave messages people will save, as hearing your voice makes people feel like they know you. “Just by tweaking the way a staff member speaks on the phone makes such a difference,” Blachford says. Take recalling to new heights by mentioning things that are of interest to patients or following up on life events (“How was your son’s wedding?” or “How is college going for your daughter?”), which you can keep track of in notes.
Create a database
We’ve already mentioned the idea of taking notes, but this entails more than jotting a few points down in a notebook. Maintaining a working knowledge of a practice’s entire patient list requires the assistance of a highly organized database. Blachford stresses the importance of recallers being comfortable with technology that helps track everything, including patients’ personal events.
Check all contact info
People’s email addresses, phone numbers and even home addresses change more often than we think. Always take the opportunity to update this when you are speaking with a patient — in person or over the phone.
Look for multiple-booking opportunities
Recallers should ask about who else in the household may need eyecare, then book those family members’ next appointments as well. Pre-booking at the close of an appointment should include a look at other household members’ needs as well so as not to lose those recall opportunities.
Manage appointment length
If wait times are routinely too long, patients will shy away from rebooking. Blachford recommends leaving enough time in the schedule to serve your patients well. Recall efforts can help solve these issues in the following ways:
➜ Build pre-screening into the schedule.
➜ Avoid booking several senior patients back to back. Senior appointments sometimes require a bit more time for explanation. This should be part of the plan, not squeezed in.
➜ Between seniors, book patients who may be in more of a rush. This will keep things moving and can help balance out the day.
Give a suggested time for as soon as possible. While some patients need to put appointments on the calendar well in advance, it’s worth letting them know first if you have a same-day opening. Strategic planning also helps quite a bit. Summer vacation is a good time for booking kids. Daytime weekdays are often ideal for seniors. Early August and late December are popular for college students.
Keep patients informed
To keep patients loving your practice, communication is key. If the staff is running behind schedule, have someone let upcoming patients know. Just a quick note along the lines of: “We’re running behind because there was an emergency on the playground, so your appointment will start about 40 minutes late. Our apologies.” This can make a huge difference in someone’s day and he will remember the kind gesture when it’s time to rebook.
follow hipaa regulations
Recallers should always be careful with confidentiality, even when communicating with a spouse. Use email to contact the patient directly. Once people know your priority is their eye health, they will be happy to share the easiest way they can be reached.
BECOME A matchmaker
Ensure your recaller has received an exam from each doctor in the practice, so he can offer patients a sense of what the experience will be like. If a patient is not happy with a doctor, and you’re in a multi-doctor facility, no problem! The recaller will have an understanding of the patient’s issue and personality and make a match based on what he’s learned.
Be proud, not apologetic! Calling patients is helping them. A recaller must understand that he can have great impact when he calls. It is a service, not a nuisance.