Develop rapport-building skills to close more consultations

Most aesthetic plastic surgeons would like to increase their patient-closing ratios. They have spent the time, money, and effort to get prospective patients through their doors, yet, for some reason, too many of these people did not schedule a procedure. Physicians blame it on their competitors, on their staffs, or even on their marketing campaigns. But in reality, it’s the physician who is most responsible for attracting and keeping patients.

The solution can be fairly simple: You can increase your closing ratio by improving your rapport-building skills with your prospective patients.

What Does the Patient Want?
First, consider what an aesthetic surgery patient is really buying. Some are buying time, recognition, prestige, happiness, or love. Some will tell you they want to stay competitive in the job market, want to look better now that they are newly single, or are going to a class reunion and want to make an old boyfriend jealous.

The bottom line is that your patients want to feel better—period! They believe that looking better will make them feel better about themselves. Now, they just need to find the right surgeon to help them.

Knowing this, you must address their wants, needs, fears, and disappointments. Aesthetic-surgery patients are buying hope—that you will give them a good result with minimal pain and discomfort, and that their lives will improve.

You are in the business of feelings. Aesthetic-surgery patients want to feel special, understood, important, comfortable, significant, and respected. They want to know that you care about them as people and that you will give them what they want. They expect to be treated nicely and respectfully; and, frankly, if they don’t get those warm feelings from you, they will go to your competitor, who will treat them nicely.

And they’ll tell their friends.

It Starts With a Phone Call
Rapport is the bond you build with the prospective patient, and it starts with the initial telephone call she makes to your office. Your receptionist should be skilled in patient relations and should have the personality and training to build a relationship with the caller.

The receptionist should introduce herself first, and then should learn the caller’s name so she can use it often throughout the call. She should be knowledgeable about the procedures you offer and should be able to answer generic questions to keep the conversation going.

The receptionist should be friendly, professional, caring, and skilled in knowing when to ask for the appointment. She can build such great rapport with the caller that the caller bonds instinctively and is excited to meet her as well as you.

Develop additional rapport with the patient before ever meeting her to build trust in you. Send her a formal patient-information packet that contains a letter from you and a handwritten note from the receptionist that says she’s looking forward to meeting her. Send specific information about the procedures she has expressed interest in, your credentials and photo, your office staff’s bios, practice policies, directions to your office, public-relations (PR) pieces about you, and your newsletter.

In addition, invite her to visit your Web site to view pictures of you, your staff, your office, your patients before and after their procedures, and anything else that profiles you as the caring expert—anything that helps the new patient feel as if she has met you already. You are only as expert as you appear, so put some thought and resources into your print and Web marketing pieces.

Evaluate every aspect of your practice from the patient’s perspective. Many physicians overlook this or give it only passing attention. Every detail builds rapport or hurts it. Be sure that your office is clean, organized, and aesthetically pleasing. Be sure that your staff is presentable and personable. Be sure that you are, too.

Your patients want to identify with you, your staff, and your facility. If you can make the prospective patient feel good, important, and comfortable, and can understand her needs, she is yours.

What Is Rapport?
Rapport—the bond you build with your prospective patient—is the single most important interpersonal skill a plastic surgeon needs to be successful. It can also be the difference between a prospective patient booking surgery and continuing to shop around.

It’s a way to build trust quickly, gain commitment, and manage objections up front, and it is done through your words, tone, and gestures. Recognize that

• 7% of communication is through words;
• 38% is through tone of voice; and
• 55% is through body language—facial expressions, gestures, and quality and type of movements.

How do you get a prospective patient to identify with you? You act like a reasonable, confident, and professional person to gain her cooperation, loyalty, and respect. Arrogance does not sell, so don’t pull rank or overplay your authority. Speak to her with empathy and understanding—about her needs, hopes, dreams, and aspirations. Talk with her on a human level, and let her know you can help her with her problem or concerns.

In this scenario, logic does not prevail and reasoning can fail—because aesthetic surgery is all about emotions. Logic, by itself, will rarely influence people. To persuade the patient, you must understand what she is saying; use analogies and metaphors that she can relate to; and show her evidence such as diagrams, patient photos, and testimonials.

How to Create Rapport
Building rapport is simple and takes little time. You just have to care enough to go the extra step. Be sure you have incorporated the following steps into your patient-relations regimen:

1) Show interest in her as a person first, and as a patient second. Smile when you see her, extend your hand, make eye contact, show enthusiasm, and use phrases such as “glad to meet you.” Use the patient’s name often. Ask her how she is doing

2) Discover things you have in common. Perhaps one of your patients referred her, or you live in the same neighborhood, or a friend of yours works at the same company where she works.

3) Mirror the patient’s breathing patterns, posture, tonality, and gestures. If the patient talks fast, you talk fast. If the patient talks loud, you talk loud. If the patient is meek and quiet, you slow things down. Use the same terms and phrases the patient uses.

The patient will feel as though she has found her soul mate, someone who totally understands her, can read her thoughts, and can relate to her. That’s when she will start to look at you as the perfect surgeon for her.

Communicate Clearly
Communicating clearly is the essence of creating the impression of competence, skill, and mastery. Communication is even more important when the patient cannot see what you are offering and must go by what you are saying. Be able to explain what you do clearly so your patient can easily grasp it and relay it back. Use nonmedical language to clearly explain the procedure, the result, the recuperation, and the risks.

State what you are good at strongly, confidently, and immediately. Don’t hide it under a ton of words. And don’t be abrasive, because how you say something will often determine the response you receive.

Listening is a skill—one of the most important skills you can perfect to close more consultations. The prospective patient needs to know that you have heard her concerns to address her fears.

Effective listening requires more than hearing the words transmitted. It demands that you find meaning and understanding in what’s being said.

Always address the prospective patient with tact, concern, and interest. Try to see things from her point of view or frame of reference. Listen with empathy.

Note your listen-to-talk ratio. Keep quiet in the early part of the consultation, and let the patient do most of the talking.

Expectations and Education
Expectations come from word of mouth, personal needs, and past experiences. Expectations must be understood and then addressed, and that begins with how we learn and take in information. People learn in different ways. There are three learning styles—visual, auditory, and kinesthetic:

• Visual people want to see the results;
• auditory people want to hear about the results; and
• kinesthetic people want to touch and feel the results.

We all have elements of all three modes, but usually one dominates. So, you want to present your message in a way that gets through to the patient in the way she understands it best.

To keep it simple, your consultation should have something for everyone: something visual, something auditory, and something kinesthetic. You should show things, let the patient hear things, and attach feelings and emotions to things. These marketing tools can help:

• a mirror and cotton swabs;
• computerized images;
• before-and-after photo books;
• videos of procedures;
• taped patient testimonials on a computer in your consultation room;
• references to former patients; and
• patient information packets with PR pieces, articles you’ve written, your credentials, and your practice brochure—something they can touch and feel.

The Consultation Plan
The consultation is your opportunity to learn more about the prospective patient’s concerns. The prospective patient has a problem that she wants you to solve. Find out how big the problem is and how it is affecting her life, because you need to attach strong emotional reasons for wanting the change. You want to assure her that there is a solution, and then offer her real evidence that you are the best choice.

Start with an open-ended question, and then let her answer you without any feedback or interjection from you. Questions such as, “What would you most like to change?” or “What can I do for you today?” get the discussion going.

Repeat her answer back to her so she knows you heard her and that you understand exactly how she feels and how you can help her.

Look for signs of trouble:

• Has she been dissatisfied with previous treatments and physicians?
• Does she have a history of lawsuits for aesthetic medical dissatisfaction?
• Does she ask repeated questions on material just covered?
• Does she exhibit awkward social skills, hostility, or excessive demands on your office staff?

And gather helpful information so that you know where you stand with her:

• What does she know about the procedure she is interested in?
• What is her time frame? Does she have an event coming up or another time constraint?
• Whom else has she spoken to?
• Can she afford surgery now? Will she be able to later?

Be sure to compliment the patient and ensure her that she is perfect just the way she is—however, if she insists, you can help her. The patient must feel that you have her best interests at heart. Most of them will be turned off by a hard sell or an oversell.

For example, if the patient wants her eyes done, and you advise her to get a blepharoplasty, a brow lift, a neck lift, and a facelift, she will likely be shell-shocked and insulted. Tread lightly here.

Make sure her reasons for having aesthetic surgery are based on reality. Have her look at all the aspects of her life—both dark and light. Aesthetic surgery won’t bring her mate back or get her the big job promotion. Plastic surgery has its boundaries and limitations.

Now, it is time for her to listen to you—especially if what she wants is not in her best interest. But don’t tell her no; tell her why what she wants won’t work and why you would be remiss in giving her what she wants. Be sure she knows that although a procedure was good for one person (perhaps a celebrity), it may not be good for her. Also, be sure she knows that false hope can get her into trouble, and that you are here to be the voice of reason.

Explain again how you can help her. Focus on the good results you’ve achieved, and talk about the risks and downtime—but don’t dwell on that during the consultation. Give her just enough information to address her risks, fears, and concerns so she can make an informed decision.

Now, establish your value. Do a little tooting of your own horn, but do it professionally. For example, mention that you have performed this procedure hundreds of times, you just gave a talk on this very subject last week, you wrote an article on this procedure, you receive referrals for this procedure from other physicians, and you have special equipment for this procedure that only 23 other surgeons across the United States have. Mention whatever distinguishes you from your competitors.

The Goal
If you spend significant time up front with the patient, you have a much better chance of closing her. Then, you must follow through with a result that the patient is satisfied with.

Patient satisfaction is your ultimate goal. Satisfied patients refer their friends and families to you.

Remember to be yourself. This is still a numbers game, and not every single prospective patient will bond with you. You will not be the right surgeon for everybody. However, by using the techniques described, you should be able to build rapport with enough patients in your target market to grow a successful aesthetic practice.

Catherine Maley, MBA, is president and senior marketing strategist of Cosmetic Image Marketing in San Francisco. She specializes in helping aesthetic practices grow. You can contact her via her Web site,