An article by Vivek Shukla, Healthcare Strategy & Business Development Consultant, on the importance of building customer and brand loyalty in medical tourism.
Most healthcare marketing teams are obsessed with attracting and creating new business. But retaining customers is far cheaper than finding new ones. It has also been proved that existing customers are less likely to complain and spread negative word of mouth about you. What’s more? The existing customers are also easier and cheaper to serve!
Vivek Shukla is a healthcare marketing professional, based in India. Vivek completed his MBA from Lal Bahadur Shastri Institute of Management, New Delhi in 1998. With over 6,000 hours of research and study, he provides valuable insight into the challenges faced by the medical tourism sector.
Sitting with the directors of a 300 bed hospital on a rainy afternoon, I was asking them about their marketing initiatives.
‘We have a 12 people marketing team,’ quipped the Managing Director. ‘Yet they don’t seem to be enough. If we have to raise our operating profits by another 15% this year, we will have to do something radical,’ he added.
‘How many of these 12 people are dedicated to retain the existing customers?’ I asked.
‘I didn’t understand, what do you mean?’, came the reply with both his eyebrows raised.
Soon there was a consensus about finding out the amount of business that is not retained and then putting a few people from the marketing team to retain the business. They all knew 15% additional profit was a done deal without any extra costs. That is the power of ensuring brand loyalty.
All marketing teams, like the one described above are obsessed with creating business and numbers. But there is no responsibility on anyone to ensure loyalty of the business that is brought in. I firmly believe that if hospitals pay attention towards ensuring brand loyalty, they would gain at many fronts.
Another Managing Director, who heads a tertiary care trauma centre once told me that people are very loyal to his hospital and they prefer his set up because they are the only ones who have a CT scan back up for trauma cases in that town. To this I could say only one sentence- ‘Lack of options, if construed as loyalty, may be turn out to be a mistake when your competitor installs a CT.’ Loyalty is not equal to lack of options.
Just consider these two examples:
A 50 year old man, who is has chronic arthritis stops going to the usual hospital for his regular check up. Instead he finds another doctor in another hospital and goes to him for treatment. A few years later, he requires knee replacement surgery. He gets it done at the latter hospital. The total money he has spent in the latter hospital for his treatment as an OPD patient and them his surgery and then his rehabilitation runs into lakhs of rupees. He also brings his neighbour who also has arthritis to the same hospital as he is happy with the service of this hospital. What did the former hospital lose?
A young woman, a few months after her marriage, goes to a nearby hospital to get pregnancy test done. The test is positive. However, she does not come back for the follow up visits to the same hospital. Instead she starts going to another hospital which is closer to her workplace for some reason. Needless to say, she delivers her baby in the latter hospital after nine monthly visits and required investigations. This is followed by the 18 month vaccination programme for the baby in the same hospital. A few months after the programme finishes, she is pregnant again and starts seeing the same doctor in the same hospital. This time again, her relationship lasts for about 27 months. During her total 54 month relationship with the hospital she also brings her cousin sister and her colleague [both pregnant] to the same hospital. The hospital earns a huge sum by ensuring the loyalty of one of its patients. The original hospital [where she got her first pregnancy test done] is oblivious about what happened to her. No one had ever made an attempt to win her back. No one ever knew that an attempt has to be made.
Customers retained for their full life cycle bring more revenue and other patients too.
These examples are simple, yet so true. Every day, hospitals all across the country are missing out on patients who can be very profitable in the long run. Worse, these hospitals are not even aware about the magnitude of the missed opportunities. Worse still, no one in these hospitals is making an effort to retrieve the lost customers. What a pity.
Marketing experts wax lyrical about retaining customers being cheaper than finding new ones. It has also been proved that existing customers are less likely to complain and spread negative word of mouth about you. What’s more? The existing customers are also easier and cheaper to serve.
Retained customers give more profit per visit
The world is moving towards a chronic disease pattern. Therefore, it becomes more vital to ensure loyalty as the chronic care is longer and requires multiple visits by the patient.
It may make sense to devote a couple of people [or may be more], full time, towards ensuring that the repeat appointments are kept. You can use software, a register or a wall to create data of the patients you would want to retain. Then the system needs to be followed diligently, without exceptions.
When a doctor writes ‘follow up after 2 weeks’ on the prescription slip, someone actually needs to ensure that this follow up happens. The efforts can be categorised differently for different sets of patients. Someone who fell from his bicycle and came in for dressing and a tetanus shot may not require as rigorous a follow up as someone who was tested positive for her first pregnancy.
Platinum card members in an airline data base receive greeting cards, bouquets and gifts. The silver card members only receive an e-mail. Ever wonder why? This makes business sense. Though each customer is important, the degree of importance varies.
So, let us resolve to take care of our customers. Let us set up systems where we know how many missed appointments happened today. Let us also put in systems to recover the lost customers. Once we know when to start the recovery process, and what are the various kinds of recovery processes for various kinds of customers, we have won half the battle.