Marketing to Empowered Customers: Your Patients

Excerpt from the Navigation Guide to MEGATRENDS in Eyecare Practice

By ROB Editors

Sept. 7, 2016

Excerpted from the 2016 version of Vision Source’s Navigation Guide to MEGATRENDS in Eyecare Practice: This20-page report outlines market forces and consumer behavior affecting the profession now and in the future. Included are implications for ODs and action steps to capture opportunities.

Every retail business, including eyecare, faces new challenges to the status quo as a result of changing customer expectations for their experiences with service providers.

Rising consumer expectations define the “empowered customers” megatrend. Consumer expectations are growing with improved access to information, increasing consumer education and sophistication, and from experiences with leading service providers. The most important drivers of the “empowered customers” megatrend are:

MORE EDUCATED PATIENTS. Educational attainment of the adult population is steadily increasing.Currently 59 percent of the adult population 25 years of age and older has some college education or more, compared to 47 percent 20 years ago. Growth occupations providing above-average compensation require higher education. This will continue to propel the rising education trend in the years ahead. Educated consumers make greater use of the internet, as more consumer purchases are made through a multi-platform process of information touch points. They demand more information before they buy and are better equipped to evaluate recommendations and to weigh options.

GREATER SOPHISTICATION. The sophistication of consumers is being enhanced by an increase in international travel and by a proliferation of high-end retailers and

USED TO IMPRESSIVE EXPERIENCES. Expectations rise as more consumers personally experience the superior service provided by leading companies such as Disney,
Nordstrom, Zappos, Amazon or Chick-fil-A. Service leaders raise the bar of consumer expectations for all other service providers.
GREATER ACCESS TO INFORMATION. The internet makes a boundless archive of information about products and services more accessible to everyone.
INCREASED IMPORTANCE OF EASE & CONVENIENCE. Online retailing is steadily changing how consumers view shopping experiences. Online purchasing increases expectations for personal convenience, wide selection, rapid and effortless transactions and transparent pricing. Currently online retailing accounts for 9 percent of total retail sales and is likely to account for 15 percent within five years. Every major brick-and-mortar retailer is being forced to respond to this trend.
ONLINE RESEARCH BEFORE SHOPPING. Even if a customer makes a purchase in a brick-and-mortar store, their shopping experience likely involves online research that includes peer reviews and price comparisons. Retailers who understand this build multi-platform marketing campaigns that offer information about and easy access to their products and services.
PREVALENCE OF ONLINE REVIEWS. Ready access to peer reviews of virtually any product or service provider makes consumers more informed buyers.

In the medical field, it is generally recognized that changing consumer expectations are gradually redefining the relationship between doctors and patients. The traditional authoritarian, paternalistic model is in decline as the Baby Boom, Generation X and Millennial generations account for an increasingly dominant share of the population.

Better educated patients, with a greater sense of entitlement, are demanding a larger and more collaborative role in decision-making about treatment plans. Digital devices
are beginning to make it possible for patients to receive medical care at their convenience, for far less cost.
Major healthcare providers like The Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic are embracing patient experience management, recognizing that this strategy is a vital underpinning of their value proposition. Such organizations are refocusing their priorities to go beyond consistently achieving objectively excellent medical outcomes to include subjective patient satisfaction with the human interactions that occur during patient encounters.
James Merlino, MD, chief experience officer of the Cleveland Clinic, in his recently published book Service Fanatics, observes that patients do not objectively assess healthcare experiences, using the same criteria as providers use. Most medical consumers are unsophisticated, lacking the knowledge to objectively judge quality of care. Instead, patients use simplistic proxies to judge quality, such as how they are treated with respect or caring by doctors and staff, the sanitary conditions of facilities,
or what patients are told or not told about their condition. Every patient uses different criteria to evaluate a medical experience. Medical providers must understand the bases of patient judgments about satisfaction and build the service experience with these criteria in mind.
Medicare standards for quality of care will affect all providers and require more focus on the patient experience. Patients will soon be able to access ratings of individual caregivers, including optometrists, based on extensive consumer surveys measuring a number of quality dimensions.
Implications for Optometry

DEMANDS FOR GREATER CONVENIENCE. Patients will demand greater convenience in product purchase transactions. There will be less tolerance for repeat visits to the
office to complete transactions or for long waits for product delivery. Patients will expect effortless insurance handling.
PRICE-SAVVY PATIENTS. Patient awareness of pricing and promotions of commercial providers will increase. This will reinforce the need for independents to deliver a superior service experience to justify premium prices.
GREATER CHOICE IN PROVIDERS. New commercial optical formats will further empower eyecare consumers by expanding choice in providers.
BETTER INFORMED PATIENTS. Patients will have greater access to information on treatment options, and many will enter the office visits with greater understanding of their condition and correction possibilities. Staff will need to be trained to clarify benefits and drawbacks of options in a patient-centric, thorough manner.
DEMAND FOR GREATER EDUCATION. Patients will demand more education from providers as treatment and product decisions are made.
RELIANCE IN ONLINE REVIEWS. More patients will consult online reviews on Google and Yelp sites as they select an optometrist. To ensure favorable online reviews,
ODs will need to pay more attention to the quality of the customer experience.
NEED FOR DIFFERENTIATION. The proliferation of eyecare commercial competition will increase the need for independents to differentiate their service offering. There
will be higher expectations that an independent OD office personalize treatment plans and demonstrate empathy for patient concerns.

Action Steps

PROVIDE EASE OF COMMUNICATION. Enable patients to use mobile digital devices to communicate with the practice, book and confirm appointments, update medical history data, order contact lenses and eyewear.
BE MORE PATIENT-CENTRIC. Re-design the service process to be more patient-centric, incorporating best practices of service leaders. Upgrade the patient experience and train staff to increase emotional engagement of patients.
ENHANCE ONLINE SHOPPING. Use virtual try-on technology to assist patients in eyewear product selection.
OFFER CUSTOMIZED PRESCRIPTIONS. Adopt customized measuring technology to provide a superior level of fitting accuracy over the competition.
OPTIMIZE EHR. Use the full functionality of EHR to automate product ordering, insurance claims handling, treatment plan reporting and recall communications.
RESPOND TO ONLINE REVIEWS. Continuously monitor patient satisfaction and online reviews to identify service improvement opportunities.

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