As you read this, aesthetic consumers the world over are using the Internet to research procedures and providers, submitting online inquiries to doctors and waiting eagerly for a response. Unfortunately, many will still be waiting long after this post is old news.
These patient contacts (“leads” in marketing jargon) can be the lifeblood for a medical practice but, unfortunately, many appear to be missing out by failing to respond in a timely manner. As Tom Seery, CEO of RealSelf, recently noted in Modern Aesthetics, today’s consumers have been conditioned by the likes of Google and Amazon to expect quick responses to their online inquiries and they’re quick to move on when their needs go unmet.
And recent research suggests that aesthetic practices are no exception: Surveying over 2,000 consumers three days after they submitted an online inquiry to a doctor via RealSelf.com, and again at 28 days, the results showed that:
- Just 12 percent received a response the same day
- Almost 40 percent hadn’t received a response after three days
- After 28 days, 22 percent had still gotten no response at all
Why are so many practices so slow to respond? Seery cites several causes ranging from busy staffs and inadequate lead-management systems to the tendency to cherry-pick “promising” leads while discarding others, among others. “Optimism bias,” i.e., the human tendency to believe that you’re less likely to experience a negative event or outcome compared to others, may also play a role as some doctors believe their staff responds quickly to online inquiries when the consumer data noted above suggests many do not.
All of the above take on increased significance when you realize how slow responses translate into missed opportunities and lost revenue: Not only do 30–50% of sales typically go to the vendor who responds first but the odds of connecting with a lead decrease by more than 10 times in the first hour after the inquiry. Considering that more than two-thirds (68%) of aesthetic consumers have a “consideration set” of two to five doctors, taking a day or two to respond is tantamount to giving the competition a head start.
Here’s how to avoid that unwanted outcome:
Respond at Internet speed: Research shows that if you take longer than 20 minutes to respond, you’ve missed a person’s highest point of intent. Replying within an hour still positions a doctor well but response time should never exceed 24 hours.
Respond with a personal message: Between surgeries, consultations, and practice management, you may not be able to respond so quickly but a staff member can and should with a message that makes the lead feel valued. Automated responses send the opposite message and should only be used after hours.
Invest in lead management software: A good lead management system — one that incorporates a lead’s contact information, the nature of the inquiry, who responded and when — can help you categorize leads to determine their stage in the decision process and ensure subsequent interactions are timely and relevant. As Seery notes, many practices have found success by using their EHR to manage online inquiries.
Qualify leads, then categorize them: Some practices pre-qualify leads without engaging the person, “cherry picking” the ones they deem promising and discarding others as not really serious. This is counter-productive as it’s difficult to determine who will or won’t convert without a clearer picture of their particular situation. Once you have that information — which you’ve encouraged them to share via your initial response — you can determine where they are in their aesthetic journey and, by extension, how you should proceed.
For some inquiries, that might mean simply answering a question; for others, suggesting a consultation to explore possible options. Many, however, won’t be “ready to buy” yet and will need to be nurtured until they are, a more nuanced, longer-term approach that warrants an in-depth post of its own.