By Maria Higgins, OD
April 19, 2017
Anyone in the retail arena is in a fierce battle for the consumer’s dollar. Options abound for eyecare and optical goods, so how can ODs differentiate their practice in a way that attracts and retains patients, and induces them to spend their dollars in the practice? One prime way is to build value with the patient by showing deep appreciation for their patronage.
Patients want to know that you appreciate their business. They appreciate knowing that you’re thankful when they visit your practice, or, even better, refer friends and family. Here are four low- and no-cost ways to show your appreciation, so patients continue visiting your office, and send others to do the same.
All of these ideas were successfully implemented at my former practice, Unique Optique, in Frederick, Md. I sold the practice over a year ago, and now own a marketing consultancy company, The Unique Technique, helping other small businesses achieve marketing success, including helping them put together customer appreciation programs like these.
Give a “Token” of Appreciation
What is the idea and how did you do it?: We gave a token to every patient who referred someone to us. We asked every new patient how they found us, gathered the person’s info if they were not already a patient, and sent them a handwritten personalized thank-you note with a token for each person referred. Our cards said, “much obliged.” Our tokens said “an eye for an eye,” and gave the recipient $10 off. Multiple tokens could be combined.
How expensive was it?: About $200 to get the tokens and cards printed. About $400 to have them designed by a graphic designer.
Why did people appreciate it?: People felt special when they got an actual handwritten, personalized thank you in the snail mail. They also appreciated the discount off of their purchase. We had many patients actively collecting the tokens.
Results: I would recommend tracking the tokens that are redeemed. At the time, we did not.
Editor’s Note: Some states do not permit paying patients for third-party-covered services, so see if your state board permits this approach before trying it in your own practice.
Throw Patients a Party
What is the idea and how did you do it?: We loved to throw parties on Saturday nights at Unique Optique. My motivation for these shindigs was patient appreciation, exploiting our personality and getting our name out there. After all, everyone loves free booze and food.
We had a party every year on our anniversary/birthday:
Glasses Are Half Full six-month anniversary party: Served Arnold Palmers, half lemonade, half ice tea, had a 50/50 raffle where we donated half to the local halfway house, and played (Half) Minute-to-Win-It games.
Better on One first-year anniversary: A themed party with “We are One” foam fingers, a balloon artist, a crazy cake, face painters and a pipe cleaner glasses competition.
Better on Two second-year anniversary: We had a “silent disco” in which the company SoundOff came and DJ’ed into headphones, an ugliest glasses competition in which people posted and voted on pictures on our Facebook page of their ugliest glasses, and the winner won free glasses.
Leather and Lace third anniversary party: The traditional gift for third anniversaries is leather, so we had a leather or lace costume contest, and bring your clothing donations (leather, lace or otherwise) to donate to Goodwill. We also had a henna tattoo artist in the office.
Glow: We blacked out the windows and everything glowed in the dark, from the food to the drinks, to the jewelry, and we had makeup and nail technicians doing glow-in-the-dark makeovers. I wore a glow-in-the-dark blond wig, and we played “Pin the Glasses on the Lass” for free glasses.
How expensive was it?: Our parties probably cost about $500 each.
Why did people appreciate it?: People loved to have something to do on a Saturday night that involved coming downtown. They got free food, drinks, gifts, contests and fun.
Goal/results: The goal was for everyone to have fun– and that they remembered us the next time they, or a friend, or family member, needed an eye exam, glasses or contacts.
Organize Local Charity Events
What is the idea and how did you do it?: We held a free American Sign Language class for our patients (and the town, as it wasn’t a requirement to be a patient to come). Frederick is home to the Maryland School for the Deaf, and there are an unusually high number of deaf people. We wanted to provide a community service for our patients by having a class to help facilitate this communication.
How expensive is it?: $300 for the sign language teacher.
Why will patients appreciate it?: We had standing room only. Patients really loved that we wanted to improve communication in the town.
Results: We provided the class for free, but had a number of townspeople return after the class to purchase glasses from us.
Give a Free Taste of Services
What is the idea and how did you do it?: There is an event in Frederick called In The Street, which all the merchants and restaurants take to the main street for one day. We approached this event as a thank-you event, and handed out free contact lens solutions, artificial tears, had contests for practice t-shirts, and even offered free vision acuity screenings.
How expensive is it?: It cost us just $25 to reserve a spot, but that $25 was then given back on the day of the event when we showed up to participate.
Why will patients appreciate it?: People love free stuff. They will remember meeting you, and your staff, when it’s time to make an appointment for their next eye exam.
Results: We had a lot of new “likes” on our Facebook page, as we prominently displayed a bar code on our table for visitors to scan and share. We also had a popular e-mail signup form for our practice newsletter.