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Guess the Weakest Link in Physician Marketing

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Person wearing suit sitting in frustration on a giant red telephoneWhat happens when your carefully crafted healthcare marketing plan causes your phone to ring? Prospective patients are calling your office. I can hear the phone ringing now.

Well all-right! Good job! Whoot. Fist pump!

But wait. There’s a big problem. People are calling, but nobody is answering the phone. Oops. The designated “care coordinator” is busy, in a long conversation with the first person to call.

Call tracking data would later reveal that, in the meantime, calls from several other people were routed to a voice mail system. Oops, again. Callers—prospective patients—did not leave a message or call back number.

This soap-opera should be titled: “Murder After the First Ring,” or The Really Nice People Who Answer Your Phone are Secretly Killing Your Business.” Sadly, it’s not a fantasy. It happens frequently. Just recently, we uncovered this real-world problem in the course of staff training work with a client.

We were able to track inbound calls to this women’s health specialty practice from an ongoing Internet advertising campaign. Many inquiries. But we discovered that, in the course of about a week, 75 phone calls had been shuttled to a voice mail system.

Of these, only one caller to left a message. And 74 were “hang-up/disconnect.”

Maybe a few will call back later…maybe not. There’s a strong suspicion that, with no “real person” to answer their immediate interest, their next call would be to a competitive medical practice. In the worst case, let’s say 70 prospective new patients who went elsewhere. Promotional costs have been squandered, and opportunity for new business is lost in a few days.

out of date doctor phoneThis illustrates the importance of answering inbound calls immediately. This is especially important for calls that are inspired by an active marketing campaign, and callers have a strong desire for more information and a willingness to set an appointment.

Your office phone might be the weakest link in your physician marketing effort. Consider these useful tips and techniques:

  • Reality check. Nobody thinks they have this problem. It usually takes a mystery-caller diagnostic effort, perhaps bundled with phone training, to reveal the stumbling blocks to good business. For online or traditional media, a complete system includes more than simply counting calls.
  • Have a dedicated number. Having a specific phone line devoted to inbound calls alone (not a roll-over system) is a vital tracking tool. Direct calls can be easily distinguished from routine office business.
  • Answer the phone with the advertised name. If people are responding to an ad for the practice name, don’t answer the phone with the doctor’s name (or vice versa).
  • Employ layered phone coverage. Beyond the primary person to pickup inbound calls, have a second or third person responsible for “live-answer” phone duty.
  • Cover the times that you are advertising. Your campaign is running between 8AM and 6PM, the designated patient coordinator (and backup team) should be prepared to answer calls live.
  • Closed for lunch? That’s a convenient time for prospective patients to call, so arrange for non-stop coverage. It’s counterproductive to shut down the office phones for an hour or more at mid-day.

Proper phone skills are a crucial link in business development. Are you losing opportunity when the phone rings? Staff training helps assure that the phone isn’t the weakest link in your physician marketing program.

For more on this topic, you’ll find additional reading here: Inbound Phone Calls: Why You Are Losing New Business and How to Convert Internet and Advertising Generated Inquiries Into Patients.

Jamie Roney, Account Supervisor

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