The following article was featured in Loyalty 360 magazine and in their monthly newsletter sent to thousands of subscribers.
Healthcare professionals often cite patient retention as a key to success, when in reality, it’s patient loyalty that causes long-term, exponential revenue growth.
Every new patient should make a doctor feel like a nervous 20-something courting a potential girlfriend. This applies to brands as well, every client and customer should make you feel the same way! You go on a first date when a new patient (or customer) comes in for a first visit. When they walk out the office door, you hope you performed well enough to score a second date, despite the “proud mother” behind the front desk embarrassing you.
Once the patient leaves, the relationship leaves your control. A “second date” depends upon the patient, not you. You text, they don’t respond. You invite them to “like” your Facebook page, they don’t bite. So you send an email offering an amazing second date. You’re coming off pathetically desperate, and the poor girl feels sorry for you. She finally takes you up on that amazing “second date” offer.
You just retained a date. But without an emotional connection—a desire of loyalty—that gal will spend next weekend with a different guy.
Retention and loyalty are two very different concepts that consumer-facing businesses, including healthcare providers, often mistaken as interchangeable objectives. You’ve heard the 80/20 Rule: 80 percent of your future profits will come from just 20 percent of your current patients. The difference between loyalty and retention maximizes the revenue of that 80 percent.
Emotional connection separates loyalty from retention. The nuances and usages of “retention” and “loyalty” demonstrate that difference. For example, which of the following two doctors yield more power?
Doctor A retained 10 patients.
10 patients were loyal to Doctor B.
In that example, Doctor A only scored 10 second dates. Doctor B, on the other hand, has 10 happy, committed girlfriends. What a sleazy player! But, for the sake of argument, we’ll let this be a good thing.
Back to that first date. Afterwards, would you rather send a text to your date, or receive one from them? Imagine them saying, “Thanks for tonight. Let’s do it again next week.”
That’s loyalty. You want patients to want you, to voluntarily search you out, to contact you. If patients call your practice solicited, after receiving a text, email, special offer, etc., then you’ve only retained that patient, they’re not loyal … yet.
Retained patients can progress from the retention phase to the loyal phase. You can’t expect a girl to marry you after the first date. It should take a few interactions, combined with appropriate loyalty-grooming initiatives, before a patient becomes fully loyal to your practice.
Then again, customer loyalty veteran Rich Hanks, author of “Delivering and Measuring Customer Service,” says that loyalty comes before retention, too. You can love a business without ever returning, simply because you don’t need to.
“My loyalty leads to my retention,” Hanks said in a September phone interview. “It is possible to retain someone without their loyalty. Everyone has certain things that retains them, not out of loyalty, but out of habit or switching costs or convenience.”
Hanks went on to explain why most auto insurance companies bombard American television with advertisements. “It would take very little to have someone’s loyalty change from their car insurance company. The switching cost—what makes a person decide to switch insurance providers—is very low. But it would take a lot for me to switch dentists.”
Which is Better?
So which do you want more: a loyal patient or a retained patient? After all, they’re both coming in for visits, so you make money regardless.
“It is way better to have a loyal patient because it is proven that if you get into their hearts and minds, you will have much higher retention for life,” Hanks said.
A loyal patient will respond to your appointment and re-care messaging for years to come. A retained patient will likely only visit your practice when they need you, once a year at best, until they catch wind of a more convenient option.
Consider the potential results for a medical practice: a loyal patient visits thrice a year for 10 years at $100 per appointment on average. That basic loyal patient is worth $300/year over 10 years. A retained patient visits twice a year for a few years and never returns. That retained patient is only worth $200 over three years and nothing after that.
Plus, loyal patients multiply exponentially. On average, a loyal patient will tell 9 friends about their satisfaction with your practice. Those friends may become referrals of your loyal patient. Referred patients, when referred by a loyal patient, are far more likely to become loyal themselves. If all 9 referrals become loyal patients worth $300/year, that first loyal patient turned out to be worth $3,000 a year.
A retained patient tells no one about you because they don’t care about a relationship with you. But a loyal patient can’t stop talking about you. They share your practice on Facebook, post positive reviews on Google, and quickly shout your name whenever someone says, “I need a doctor.”
The difference between loyalty and retention is an emotional connection that produces multiplied dividends. Everything your practice does—every interaction with every patient—should be done with patient loyalty in mind. Take baby steps with each patient. Remember, retention can lead to loyalty with time. Heck, that’s how I got my girlfriend.
About the Author: Zach Zavoral, Solutionreach
Zach Zavoral is the Communications Specialist at Solutionreach, a patient portal and patient communication software company that reaches 100 percent of clients’ patients for appointment reminders, surveys, re-care and more.