Introduction: The State of Play in 2019
In 2019, we consider that the practice website is an asset of very considerable importance for teams wanting to grow their business. This is due to a number of factors, but five key reasons dominate. These reasons relate to five trends or factors in how customers in 2019 consider and buy healthcare services. These are:
– That the first impressions of a healthcare provider brand, are predominantly online-only now
– The web page ‘attention span’ of potential customers is getting shorter and shorter as our society spends more time on screens than ever before, and ‘digital natives’ expect everything delivered almost instantly and with great graphics.
– That there is an inevitable percentage of ‘customer leakage’ that all practices suffer annually
– The increase in corporatized healthcare providers, means more sophisticated competition for customer eyeballs and dollars
– Increasing need for a well-developed marketing strategy and associated investment required for growth now
As a result of these realities, the practice website is a critical asset and business competence area in the quest for growth. We encourage practice owners to be significantly more intentional about building and maintaining a digital presence that represents their personal brand and represents the service experience at their practice. Most teams invest considerable sums in hardware technology, laboratory supplies, their own continuing professional education and their staff at clinical conferences, training etc., and this is rightfully so. However, they only get to optimise the return (ROI) on these investments by treating customers who actually come through the door, not from those who look at your website but never make it to the practice.
We explore these 5 realities further below.
First impressions of a brand, are mostly online only now
Your practice website is the digital front door to your business. Like it or not, the vast majority1 (80%) of your new customers will visit your website before you have a chance to see or interact with them in any way. And you can’t control the reality that they’ll immediately start to form an impression of you and your brand.
For better or worse they get an impression of you and your team – which raises questions; How much you care about design, communication, customer convenience etc. Sometimes as clinicians we forget that our customers have limited ability to assess our clinical skills – instead they use proxy measures to infer or gauge how customer focused providers might be, what the service might be like, and to answer questions they have, such as the following:
Is the practice website easy to use? Is it intuitive, and well designed? Can I book an appointment online? Can I tell who the clinicians are and what they might be like? What are the costs of treatment? Am I or my family likely to get top quality and safe treatment here? You and the experience of care at your practice, form your brand equity of the service experience at your clinic. Note, your brand is what other people say about you, not what you say about you. And the first place your brand is assessed is your website. This initial assessment is well before you get any input or say in those assessments, to correct any adverse impressions.
Shrinking attention span of potential customer shoppers
In 2019, you also have a very only a very brief opportunity to make an impact – typically the first 3-8 seconds. Demographics are changing and the Millennial’s and Gen Z folks who make up increasing proportions of the new patient flow, have very clear expectations around digital & mobile optimised services. They are much less tolerant that Baby Boomers and Gen Y of a website that suggests something along the lines of a ‘but this is how we’ve always done it’ stance to digital engagement
You only have 3 to 10 seconds typically2 to trigger interest when someone lands on a new site, before they lose interest to the next competitor offering, especially when the search is on a smartphone or mobile device which is where more than 60% of search originates in 2019. We can rage against this flighty scant attention span, and how technology got us here, but doing so will unfortunately do nothing to reverse its reality.
The Back Door Is Always 10% Open
Most practices have around an annual 10% churn rate, although many don’t formally record or estimate this key metric. They therefore need 10% new patients per year, just to stay revenue stable, all things being equal. For a typical dental practice that means around 10-20 new patients / month / dentist. To power this, obviously your digital front door needs to be somewhat engaging.
It’s an increasingly competitive dental world in Australia and New Zealand. And as millennials and Generation Z become significant healthcare purchasers, as a generation they’ve grown up digital and mobile native, and have come to expect well designed interfaces, intuitive services and everything on mobile. They’re also significantly less loyal than previous generations. The harsh reality is that market share will move to those who can provide this.
Even in practices with a very happy and satisfied customer base, other factors drive movement in and out of particular suburbs or regions. Employment related job role changes, relocations, family & lifestyle changes and school demands, as well as ill health all mean a flow of customers out of the practice as active participating customers.
If you are sure that churn and patient loss isn’t an issue at your practice, ask yourself what the customer churn number was in the last quarter or year. If you’re not already measuring and aware of the last quarters number, chances are it is at least 10%, if not higher. And every customer costs you something to acquire, either directly in the form of identifiable marketing costs in the current period, or less directly over many years (and hours worked late and into lunchtime) building a ‘good name’ or reputation for word-of-mouth referrals in your specialism.
Whilst it is relative easy to decide on a dollar amount to commit to marketing spend this year, the many hours worked late over weeks, months and years to build a good name, is most certainly not ‘costless’ on a personal basis. Word-of-Mouth referrals might seem like ‘free marketing’ many years later, but it almost inevitably came at great cost, to provider and sometimes their partner/family in prior years. All of these activities constitute the base customer acquisition cost (CAC) for the business. This is a dollar ($) amount, that on average, the business needs to spend to acquire a new customer.
The higher the churn number (%), the more absolute dollars are being spent on customer acquisition for a given CAC. Trend in CAC is obviously key; if you don’t have a dollar amount in your mind whilst reading this, you most certainly won’t know whether it’s trending up or down. The trend is critical for the economic viability of the business.
There isn’t a right or wrong CAC number ($) per se, but to make economic sense, the CAC must exceed the revenue and earnings subsequently bought in by an ‘average’ customer. This relates to the concept of CLV (Customer Lifetime Value) or LTV (Lifetime Value). These are dollar amounts of revenue bought in by customers purchasing services at the practice. We will explore this more in another piece.
The evolution of competition for customer eyeballs and dollars
The continued financing and growth of healthcare corporate providers has also moved the digital brand presence bar up quite a few notches, as they have scale & resources to burn on digital marketing. Yes, the corporates also have other challenges – clinician retention, personalized service sometimes, partner earn outs etc. But most of that is not visible to patients, at least when they first land on a modern, well designed and functional website. We have to acknowledge the way technology is modifying expectations, and either adapt and move with the times or put our heads in the sand and accept the consequences.
The immediate impact of this is probably more challenging in major metropolitan areas than in remote or regional areas. If you’re in Adelaide or Auckland, you’re going to suffer more than in Tairua or Taree. Why – it’s just a matter of the alternatives the prospective customer is weighing in their ‘decision set’ of options. In Tairua or Taree you may not have many alternatives to choose from. In Adelaide or Auckland you have hundreds of options within 20-30 minutes driving distance. This is important in a purchasing decision which many customers find to be a significant expense.
You therefore have a once-in-a-new-relationship opportunity on the website, to show a potential new customer just how customer-centric and unique your practice is, and how you approach dental care. Unless that is, your window to the world lets you down and tells the online passer-by, a different kind of story – tired technology, and a practice philosophy that’s out of date. The website also the place where you can start to set expectations with prospective customers of who you are uniquely, your philosophy of care, and what they can expect.
The investment required for growth
Some practice owners worry about whether they’ll make back the money they invest in web presence and design in less than a certain time – say in 6 months or a year. ROI is of course always a good thing to consider, but we also suggest giving equal time to considering (i) the opportunity cost of doing nothing, and (ii) how quickly the digital tide is moving around you. Essentially how your current digital presence positions you – highly personal, customer centric, high tech and advanced, or classic, old fashioned, or just tired.
Some folks are surprisingly willing to splurge on surgery technology & lab work that the customers will never even see or appreciate, but simultaneously skimp on the most visible and most public aspect of the potential customers front door – the website. That is a great opportunity foregone and a poorly characterized ROI assessment. You’ll lose 100% of the prospects who decide in those 3 -10 seconds, to never visit you in person.
In case it is interesting to some, we recently did a piece of research with BlueEgg Design (Sydney) to search out and find the most advanced dental practice websites from all over the world. We did so to celebrate practices embracing customer centricity, design and digitalisation. After much searching, reviewing and rating, we put together the winners in our Dental Practice Website Awards for 2019. These dental organisations, we believe, are setting the pace for optimising their web presence for brand strength and growth.
All practices need a healthy flow of new patients, especially so if they have growth aspirations. Even without growth, every practice has a degree of churn, whether they are aware of this not. The better managed practices know and can track these numbers, and so can put a target to the new patient requirement. Also, be yourself, not generic; You and your team are individuals, and your culture and practice experience should be unique. Your digital presence should reflect this individuality and professionalism in a relevant, modern way.
We also suggest thinking hard about the 2 parts of the ROI equation. Obviously, there is consideration to what is invested and returned in digital presence, but also consider /estimate what is not spent and squandered/lost as a result. You need to be able to answer the opportunity cost question – if I do nothing different, what will that cost me in lost new patient consults, treatment and subsequent referrals.
Practices have fixed costs in wages, leases, plant and equipment regardless of the new patient attraction rate. How will that drive the average customer (patient) acquisition cost (CAC)? Your customer acquisition cost, (along with lifetime customer value) is one of the key marketing variables for growing a practice profitably, and something we explore in another research piece.
Consider also the ‘jobs’ the customers are trying to get done. Typically prospective new patients want to find out who the people at the practice are, what the costs are, and to easily book an appointment. Does your website allow these questions to be answered digitally. If not, you’re introducing friction, and many folks, if they have no other compelling reason to persevere with your practice site, will just move to the next one. Digital services, especially real time online booking (not a request appointment contact form!), being able to modify an appointment online, a new patient registration forms, downloadable treatment information articles and resources etc are all appreciated by digitally savvy customers.
Lastly, be purposeful in your design. Think hard about the website ‘use cases’ and functions the website needs to perform, and strip away everything thing that isn’t absolutely necessary. What do the users want to do on your site? In visual design, and user interface design, less is more. Only have content that is absolutely necessary and adds to the narrative or story, that is your work and practice.
“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.” – Henry Ford
So regardless of whether you consider a website an unfortunate & necessary evil, or an inspiring digital canvas upon which to express yourself, the 5 reasons your website is critical to growth are as follows:
- Your website is the potential customers first experience of your brand
- Timing matters; You’ve Got Just 3 To 10 seconds To Make An Impression
- There is Inevitable leakage That All Practices Suffer
- The Competition For Customers Disposable Income Is Constantly Evolving
- Growth Always Requires Investment
If you’re inspired to renovate your digital presence, find a local digital design firm with good UX skills and rethink your digital dental practice presence, both online and off. If in doubt what UX principles are, have a look at the following general outline from General Assembly4 https://generalassemb.ly/design/visual-design/user-experience-fundamentals
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1: Pew Research Centre for Internet and Technology
2. Kiss Metrics Load Time Report
3. BlueEgg Pty Ltd
4. General Assembly; UX Fundamentals