A ten-year old business can be proud of itself. A twenty-year old business should be proud of itself. Fulham Osteopaths is 29 years old. It’s a health practice in West London, dedicated to helping its patients. It has no plans to expand, no interest in franchising, no concern to automate nor outsource. Instead, it is the life of its staff. A place where they practice their craft – bringing people back to good health.
I had the good fortune of working there for a year, and learnt about their communication strategies – why hundreds of people come back week after week, some since it began in 1989.
Always open, at the ready
Anyone can walk in and ask for free advice. There is always one doctor ready to talk, and sometimes to give a free consultation too. Even if the problem is not something Fulham Osteopaths can help with, they always recommend someone that can. People very quickly recognise the business as a trustworthy place for professional health advice, and return.
Patients stick with the same doctor for each treatment. This builds a strong relationship, and can lead to friendships outside. Once treatment is complete, patients still come back, albeit less often, because of the strong relationship that was built. This principle should be the same in all businesses: Support should be given by one person consistently and the same person that opened a deal should close it.
No waiting. That’s the rule. During business hours someone is always manning the telephone. Voicemails are replied to within 30 minutes. Appointments are made instantly, and schedules were fitted around the needs of the patient. After 22 years of such calls, the business has created training scripts to help new receptionists deal with priorities:
- Staff: Good morning, Fulham Osteopaths, how may I help you?
- Caller: Hi I would like to book an appointment please.
- Staff: Have you been here before?
- Caller: No.
- Staff: OK, explain to me the problem and I can match you with the Doctor best suited to your needs.
- It sounds simple, but asking “have you been here before” lead to a totally different channel of conversation if the caller had said “yes”:
- Staff: Have you been here before?
- Caller: Yes.
- Staff: What’s your name please?
- Caller: David Fletcher (made up).
- Staff: Hi David, last time you came you saw Dr. Jones. She is next available tomorrow at 9am, does that suit you?
Having an up-to-date, instantly searchable database is the key to telephone success. It enables the service to become personalised at a large scale. Patients feel welcome, known and part of the gang.
• Note if you are going to have a client database, it needs to be backed up, encrypted and follow laws and regulations.
Email after 6 months
Dentists don’t have to be the only ones sending you 6 month reminders. Fulham Osteopaths do that too, but write it personally and include a discount coupon. Each email includes a photograph of the patient’s doctor, is addressed to them directly and has the date of their last appointment. Could this be applied to other businesses? With smart data management, yes.
A coffee shop, for example, could have a customer reward card. This would record when they come in, what they buy, and who served them. If they haven’t come in for 6 months, send an email:
It’s been a while since you last came into Coffee House. We’re just writing to say that your usual caramel creme macchiato is waiting for you here and with the voucher below you can get it for free.
Paola, your Coffee House Barrista.
- Once you have your database system setup, normally it’s pretty easy to schedule the task of exporting lists to excel, and from there you can upload it to MailChimp and send such an email with ease.
- Seasonal Cards Every Christmas, each doctor writes cards to their favourite patients with a discount voucher inside. Normally about 100 – 200 per doctor. These are handwritten messages, some of them in great length, and were more of a thank you note than any kind of promotional activity.
Not every business could do it, but where you can, you should. It’s like a final confirmation that your company is human.
• Read this blog post about the rights and wrongs of Christmas cards.
SMS Advertising for Bad Times
22 years hasn’t gone by without ups and downs. Whilst the strong focus on building relationships and loyalty has helped during recessions (and they’ve seen more than one), they do on the very rare occasion bring out the marketing weapon of SMS Advertising. Permitted to be used only once every 6 months per doctor, a text-message is sent out to every patient with a discount code. This has a modest conversion rate and helps boost up the business during tough times.
As I mentioned in the beginning, Fulham Osteopaths is a local business. Therefore its market is within a twenty mile radius and it maintains its brand reputation through local editorial. The business frequently holds interviews with local journalists, and networks amongst local companies and at school meetings (Mums spread the word!). It also participates in many local projects, community events and seasonal activities to just make sure people know that it’s there when they need it.
For businesses that aren’t localised such as technology services, there are still similar activities you could do. Find a MeetUp group, present at Universities, join associations or help related charities.
I love Fulham Osteopaths because it’s a gentle reminder as to what a business can be. Small, nimble, local, fun, friendly, helpful and great. The most important part of its success is its people and their passion. Even with the largest marketing budget in the world, no one would return if what they did didn’t work. But it does work, and that’s the key.