PREMIUM PRACTICE TODAY: Word of Mouth in the Digital Age

PREMIUM-PRACTICE-TODAY-Word-of-mouth-in-the-Digital-age

Does your virtual reputation reflect your real-world practice?

The Internet has changed people’s lives in ways they might not have fathomed just a decade ago. One of the ways it has had an impact on the lives—and reputations—of surgeons is with online rat-ings and reviews. In contrast to word-of-mouth impressions shared by patients with a handful of family and friends, reviews on sites like HealthGrades.com (http://beta.healthgrades.com) are available for the masses to peruse at their leisure…

 

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PREMIUM PRACTICE TODAY: The Happening

PREMIUM-PRACTICE-TODAY-The-Happening

Staging an event—or participating in one—can help introduce potential patients to a practice in an up-close and personal way.

Your surgical skills are stellar, and you have the out-comes to prove it. In the competitive world of refractive cataract surgery, however, it takes more than word-of-mouth referrals and a well-designed Webpage to attract the volume of patients necessary to convert significant numbers to premium implants…

 

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Groupon for Surgery: A Bad Idea

Like many of you, I get a daily Groupon e-mail and will often take a look and see what special deal is being offered.   I admit to being intrigued by the upcoming Tomato Battle taking place in my town next weekend (modeled after the annual rite in Bunyol, Spain), but I’ll leave it up to a few thousand others to enjoy that event.

 

While I have serious reservations about the longevity of the business model (which were confirmed by Groupon’s recent financial reporting), this type of offering has struck a nerve with deal-seeking consumers whose spending patterns have been permanently altered by the economic battering of the past few years.  For consumers, Groupon (and its cousins on Living Social, Schwaggle and the hundreds of other deal sites) can be an enticing way to try or buy something for the first time.

 

For providers – and I am speaking directly to those of you who market your services – Groupon can be a risky proposition for the business.  There are countless examples in the media of the restaurant or bakery being overwhelmed by Groupon redeemers.  They simply didn’t have or plan capacity to meet demand.   In some ways, that’s a high quality problem for a business owner.     And for providers of annuity-type, non-surgical medical services, such as facial aesthetics (eg, Botox, teeth whitening), enticing a first-timer with a good deal makes sense.   What I am concerned for are those services that are in the “once-in-a-lifetime” category, such as LASIK.

 

Grouponing LASIK is a bad idea for one simple reason: No opportunity for repeat business!   You’ve given away the farm to someone who will only pay you one time.  And if it’s word-of-mouth you are hoping for, you need to recognize that what you are doing is stimulating consumers to talk about the great deal they got on LASIK instead of talking about the miraculous improvement in their vision.

 

I could dive right in to economic principles to support my assertion, but choose to limit them to their punch lines:

 

Don’t treat LASIK like a commoditized good.  There’s no “supply” of LASIK that risks becoming obsolete on the shelf  (such as last season’s trendy sweater) or spoiled (like those gourmet cupcakes).

 

Discounts don’t work to increase demand for LASIK.   Historical trends over 15 years demonstrate an inelasticity of demand, as decreasing prices have correlated with decreasing demand for the procedure.

For  a “one time” procedure, all a discount does is lure a person who has been actively considering the procedure; he or she would eventually have a sufficient trigger and pay the going rate.  The LASIK example illustrates how providers mistakenly believe they can attract the much larger market of spectacle and contact lens wearers; history has shown they aren’t motivated by low price.

 

My view is that demand for LASIK is going to improve steadily over the next few years.  See my commentary “Is LASIK Dead?” to learn more.  (Thank You Note: I’m gratified to see this was the most widely read article in the August 2011 issue of Cataract and Refractive Surgery Today).

 

Doing a few hundred extra LASIK cases at half the price does little to boost the bottom line.   But it does a lot of damage to the long-term pricing integrity of that provider and continues to foster the myth that LASIK is a commodity and can be had for cheap.

 

In short, leave the grouponing to repeat-visit offerings where the goal is to stimulate a trial or sample purchase, and don’t undermine your long-term brand or market position by using groupon as a promotional tactic.  The risk of backfire is much higher than any possible short-term reward.

Social Media Helps The Help

A recently released movie called “The Help” finished this past weekend as the top grossing movie, beating out bigger budget flicks about apes, kids, and a re-made barbarian.  What’s remarkable about this feat is that The Help didn’t open as the top movie its first week.   Opening week sets the tone for a movie’s revenue trajectory,  and revenue as well as ranking typically fall with each succeeding week a movie is in theaters.    The Help broke that trend, appealing to males and females 35 years and older.  Several movie analysts have stated that social media had a big impact, citing that The Help was trending strongly on Twitter in the days after it opened.

 

Social Media is on my mind a lot these days;  just a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of co-teaching on the topic with my friend and colleague Dr. Mark Kontos  at the inaugural meeting of the American College of Ophthalmic Surgery (ACOS).    We  started our session with this eye-opening video on the impact of social media and interviewed five surgical practices about how they are using the internet to start and build relationships with patients.  (Three surgeons were interviewed via Skype, which was neat in and of itself).

 

Admittedly, I’ve been a bit skeptical on the new media, viewing it as too much “social” with too little impact.  But I’m convinced that this trend is for real and represents a shift in how we communicate, and you can read the key facts about social media on my website (gleaned from the above-mentioned video).     In addition to this e-mail, you can now access my thoughts on premium experience via Facebook and LinkedIn as well as follow me on Twitter.   It’s a whole new world of communication out there, and those of you that build your business via word-of-mouth have a golden opportunity ahead.

Tipping the Market in Your Favor

Tipping the Market in Your FavorFanning the flames ignited by word-of-mouth marketing.

In 1996, laser vision correction was hardly known beyond the circles of eye care professionals and a few thousand patients. In October 1999, however, LASIK became known to all as Tiger Woods’ became the most famous pair of eyes among more than one million that had undergone the procedure. The skyrocketing awareness of LASIK between those two dates occurred without any organized promotional launch or national media effort…

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