Handling enquiries: the importance of first impressions
Gilly Dickons explains the importance of making a good first impression to clients over the phone
You never get a second chance to make a first impression and creating the right first impression is the key to success. At Aesthetic Response we focus on frontline call handling, ensuring that a customer’s first real experience of a practice is speaking to a knowledgeable person.
There are of course other ways to create first impressions: A website is a first impression, marketing gives a first impression, your practice creates a first impression when someone walks in. The first treatment is also something that first impressions will be based on. However, whilst it’s not the only first impression, the experience people have when they make their initial contact with a person at your practice by telephone is an extremely important one.
That first 15 seconds of somebody picking up the phone to your business is make or break as to whether you can turn them into a new consultation.
There’s no second chance. The great news is that if you get it right with your new enquiries, you should be getting it right for your existing clients.
The Galderma Impact Study
The Galderma Impact Study was carried out in six countries and looked at over 12,200 women, about 2,500 of who were based in the UK. The study highlighted key areas where practices can really make a difference to their client’s journey. For example 32% of people interviewed said they couldn’t get through to the clinic the first time that they tried to call. 43% contacted several clinics before deciding where to make the all-important first appointment. Women took an average of two years to pick up the phone after considering treatment. The study also stressed that “first contact is to reassure and recruit” those clients.
The research showed that 37% of people change practice and go for treatment elsewhere because of poor customer service. A previous client being unable to get through to a clinic after receiving treatment can constitute poor customer service. This frustration comes from not being able to get through to the practice rather than because of poor treatment and highlights the importance of the clients’ entire patient journey.
Without doubt all of the above points indicate the importance of having well trained staff to handle those valuable incoming calls.
Achieving high conversion rates will increase your revenue
The first impression you give can have a substantial impact on your conversion rates of call to appointment. The recognised industry gold standard is 60% conversion of call to appointment and the average is about 45%. The current email ‘gold standard’ conversion across the industry is estimated to be about 10%.
With well-trained staff handling your enquiries it is perfectly possible to achieve 70% to 85% conversion rates with calls and 35% to 40% on emails – we do this in our business every single day of the week. It’s also very important to us that we make good quality appointments, meaning that people actually turn up for their initial consultation.
I would recommend that at least once a quarter you take the time to evaluate your call handling service, putting yourself in your client’s shoes and working your way through what your client’s experience might be. Ask yourself what impression they’re getting when they try to reach your practice or clinic? It is worth investing time every now and again to review your processes as even if you have the right things in place as you may be surprised by results. You could consider asking friends and family to undertake mystery shops to support your evaluation of this aspect of your service.
We have practices that come on board with us after using a generic call handling service, where the calls have been answered with a very basic and swift style of response. At Aesthetic Response we believe that call handling is not an administrative process, and treating it so can be costly in terms of lost leads – in fact I will go as far as to say that we believe that first phone contact should be exceptional. Since it can take up to two years for a client to even pick up the phone and make a call, if they get an answering machine, no answer or somebody can’t help them, the chances are that caller is then going to ring somewhere else in an attempt to speak with someone who can help them. It’s also frustrating for clients if they get through to somebody who can’t help them with their initial questions the first time they call, the chances are they won’t come back.
The Galderma study identified that staff must be “easy to talk to, attentive and helpful”. Callers needed to feel as though the call handler had time to listen and discuss the treatments that they were interested in. It may sound like common sense, but it pays to listen to your call handler to make sure that they are getting it right.
You might have a brilliant right-hand support person in your practice who is very adept at ordering, bookkeeping and handling appointments in the clinic, however that does not mean they are exceptional at controlling a call and getting a booking into your diary. It is important that staff are trained to control the call. When the client gets on the phone it’s vital that they can open up to a person at the other end who will listen, then bring the call back at the end and make the appointment.
Getting it right first time
It’s hard to be available all the time when you have a busy schedule, or are juggling work and family life. If you are running your practice from a mobile phone, are you able to keep on top of clients and have a really helpful attitude at all times? If you are struggling to maintain a healthy work life balance, it is time to assess how it would improve if you no longer had to pick up the phone.
The person on your phones has to be a great customer service advisor first and foremost. But even if you have a dedicated person greeting and speaking to new and existing clients, phone calls can lapse to answerphone, which means clients are likely to go elsewhere. We work with a lot of practices who have a receptionist who needs to deal with the client in front of them before answering the phone, and so it goes to answerphone. Remember the client who has taken two years to decide to make that call? Do you think they will leave a message or try elsewhere?
Customer service should be reflected in your practice’s vital statistics. It can be easy to assume that you have a brilliant conversion rate, but until you look at the figures in detail, you will not be able to see where there’s room for improvement. So how can we do this?
1. All enquiries should be recorded
This can be done on a CRM system or an Excel database. It doesn’t have to be complicated but it’s better for small, growing practices to invest in a CRM system imminently than wait until they’re big.
Not everybody is going to decide to make an appointment the first time they pick up the phone. If you capture their name, number, where they found out about you and an email address you can send them a newsletter.
Reminding them that you’re there means they’ll remember you when they’re ready to decide.
2. Monitor the appointment booking rate from enquiries
We say that we deliver over 70% and I’m accountable for that every month. My client reports go out and there are questions to be asked if we’re not hitting that 70% benchmark.
You need to know if your staff are converting at these rates, because those enquiries are incredibly valuable to your practice.
3. Make good quality appointments
If 70% of people are booked for an appointment and half of them don’t turn up then you need to know why you are getting poor leads. Monitoring consultations will help. Anything upwards of 75% is a good attendance rate and there are things you can do to reduce no-shows such as holding card details, taking deposits, or refundable deposits with a 24 hour cancellation policy.
You can also send out reminders because people do genuinely forget —a CRM system can usually be set up to do that for you.
4. Find out how many clients are being treated after consultation
I’ve worked with many Consultants/Practitioners who say they convert 90% but you won’t know until you do the maths.
There might be room to improve the consultation technique. 80% is very good, but if you think it could be higher then you should develop it further.
5. Have a recall system
Every practice needs returning clients, but the Galderma study suggests that only 43% of clients stay loyal. To increase the opportunity to keep clients loyal, we need to remind them that we are there.
Many clients we have try to forward book appointments—their next treatment is booked ahead just by carrying out treatment ‘review’ recalls.
Having some control over that recall system means that people are less likely to go somewhere else in several months’ time. Until a third visit for treatment there is not necessarily concrete trust between a client and your practice.
6. Understand cost per enquiry
This is a valuable piece of information because enquiries can cost a lot of money to generate. If you put money into SEO, or run adverts in a local paper, it pays to know exactly what the return is that you are getting on these investments and your average spends per visit for a client. Once you have worked these figures out you can share them with your front of house staff.
If they understand that a call might have cost you a £100 to generate, it gives them a better understanding of your business and what the value is when that person does turn up. One lost lead is a great deal of lost revenue, but retaining a client is high value over time. A happy client is likely to refer a friend so there can be a lot of long-term value.
Plastic surgeons might not have the same control over the client relationship if they work in a hospital but they can still influence it. If you work from a local private hospital the chances are that an enquiry from someone wanting to spend £7000 on facial surgery is handled through the same staff as someone who wants the ‘choose and book’ service. We work with several hospitals now where Consultants have influenced the system and the aesthetic and cosmetic calls come via our team.
Putting yourself in the shoes of your enquirers, understanding what they need and looking at your practice statistics will help you to get higher conversion rates. Recruiting or contracting skilled and experienced call handling resources and building a robust client database will increase your revenue and make sure your practice goes from strength to strength.
Gilly Dickons is the founder of Aesthetic Response, a specialised aesthetic and cosmetic call and enquiry handling service.