Make the most of the time your patients spend on hold

Your telephone is one of the most effective and least expensive practice-marketing tools available—if you are using “on-hold” messaging. It’s pretty safe to say that targeting your practice information to prequalified callers will produce the best results for your marketing dollar. It’s crucial to remember that every caller, existing patient or not, may want your plastic surgery services, or may refer a friend or relative to you.

In the perfect plastic-surgery practice, you would never place callers on hold. No practice is perfect, however, so it pays to not overlook the importance of what callers hear when they contact your practice. Research has proven that, for prospective patients, what happens in those first 60seconds may well mean the difference between requesting your services or hanging up the phone.

The Sound of Your Practice

You may know what your practice looks like, but ask yourself, “What does my practice sound like?” When you place your callers on hold, what do they hear? Are you advertising for other practices by playing a radio station for callers on hold, or are you frustrating them with dead silence? Keep in mind that, with on-hold messaging, you can use on-hold time productively by creating a “talking newsletter” that provides useful information about your practice—its services, staff, and unique image.

Some physicians use on-hold messaging in their practices because they understand that anything is better than silence. In fact, on-hold messaging (let’s call it educating and marketing to callers) is an underused tool that enables you to speak to your potential patients one on one.

When to Hold ’Em

Maybe you think that you don’t place callers on hold often enough to consider on-hold messaging. Think again. On average, 70% of your callers will be placed on hold. Your current and prospective patients can and will be placed on hold for these reasons:

• They are waiting to speak with someone when they first call in, and the receptionist is busy.

• They are being transferred to the appropriate team member who can answer a financial question, for example.

• They are waiting to talk to a surgeon or staff member who may be with a patient.

• They are waiting while a member of your staff is getting information or pulling their chart.

Never just let patients wait. Use your on-hold time to speak to them.

Vital Messages

Here are 10 vital messages that you can pass along via on-hold messaging:

• Spark the callers’ interest in a new, innovative treatment modality.

• Reinforce your branding strategy. (“We perform the right procedure at the right time.”)

• Tell them more about your practice mission and your vision.

• Inform them about your office hours and days.

• Present your scheduling and appointment policy.

• Answer your most frequently asked questions.

• Introduce them to the key members of your staff.

• Inform them about upcoming internal and external marketing events.

• Tell them when and where you will appear on television or on radio programs.

• Remind them about your Web-site address.

Making the Message

Once you know what you want your on-hold message to say, you need to focus on how you want to say it.

• Consider both male and female voices in your on-hold messages. Did you know that your choice of voice could radically affect the overall message you intend to send?

Male voices are typically used to sell products, whereas female voices are used to convey emotions. Keep that in mind when choosing both your message and voice, because plastic surgery is often an emotional choice.

• Music plays an important supporting role in your on-hold message. It should reflect the general tastes of your patients and represent your practice’s identity in a positive manner.

Keep in mind that long periods of music may make callers’ minds wander. The purpose of music in any message is to help carry the words to the listener, to help callers more easily understand and accept your message, and to convey the feeling of the type of practice with which they are dealing.

• Use voice clips from patients, referring physicians, and team members. These satisfied people are excellent sources for on-hold testimonials. Their stories and endorsements are effective and easy on-hold marketing messages that should be conveyed to your callers. People relate better to actual voices and believe the endorsements far more than if they were given a brochure to read.

• Educate, don’t entertain! You want to educate and inform callers about your practice, your services, and, especially, how you fill their needs. Avoid the bells and whistles; stick to the relevant information and facts, and they will hold longer.

• Be courteous when asking callers to hold. Use phrases such as, “Thanks for holding. We believe you deserve the best service possible,” or “We know that your time is valuable, and we’re doing everything we can to return to you as soon as possible,” or “Thanks for staying on the line. We appreciate the opportunity to work with you.”

• Some patients would prefer to leave a message rather than to wait on hold, so make sure to change your voice-mail message daily. You should include the date, your current status, and a turnaround time for your return calls. This greatly reduces phone tag with patients, referring physicians, and vendors, and lets them know that you are in the office and available to help them.

What You Hear Is What You Get

One of the major benefits I have seen of having on-hold music and messages is how much it enhances the practice’s image. When I phone a practice, I often ask to be placed on hold to learn more about it. When I hear a high-quality on-hold production with music and great voice talent, I automatically assume that the practice is established, professional, and likely to put patients first. In the plastic-surgery profession, perception and image are everything.

The bottom line is that placing a caller on hold is an opportunity to start an exchange of ideas. On-hold messaging is one of the most cost-efficient and targeted methods of driving your message home to your current and potential patients. An on-hold message program is like having a marketing department working in your office 24/7 for pennies. What a bargain! PSP

Cathy Sundvall is a consultant and trainer based in Kissimmee, Fla. She combines her practice-management and clinical expertise to coach physicians’ staff members in the areas of clinical efficiency, new-patient processing, marketing, customer service, and team performance. She lectures nationally, develops training manuals, and has published numerous articles. She can be reached at (863) 427-4346 or [email protected].