You Want Customer Loyalty? Be Brilliant at the Basics

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The following guest post is from John R. DiJulius, best-selling author, consultant, keynote speaker and President of The DiJulius Group, the leading Customer experience consulting firm in the nation. You can subscribe to his blog at www.thedijuliusgroup.com

Customer Bill of Rights – Burden of the Brand

World-class service companies have what I like to call a “Customer bill of rights” that every person in that organization clearly knows and follows 100 percent of the time. Would you ever expect to see a Disney cast member, in full uniform on break, chewing tobacco and spitting on the ground near the front entrance where guests are walking by? Doubtful. Or would you ever think a Ritz-Carlton employee, when asked for directions to the ballroom, would give a response like “I don’t know, I work in housekeeping”? Highly unlikely! One of the most effective ways to elevate your company’s Customer service level is by instituting your own Customer bill of rights.

If anyone is going to wear your uniform or name tag or represent your brand, you only need a small set (six to ten actions/standards) for your employees to live by. These nonnegotiable standards are also referred to as the “never and always” list. The critical importance is, if they do occur, you have to be confident enough that your employees recognize and understand your “never” and “always,” and you can be confident that your employees would “never” do this and “always” do that instead. If your company does nothing other than institute the “never and always” list and makes everyone aware of them, if your Customers rarely experience a “never” and consistently experience an “always,” then you are in the top 5 percent of Customer service organizations! As you read through the list, you will see that they are all simple and common sense, but the majority of businesses and frontline employees too often execute the “never” list and don’t consistently execute the “always” list.

In the examples shown, you will see that each one matches the following three criteria:
1. The items are typically one to three words in length.
2. They are black and white; there is no room for personal interpretation.
3. They are crystal clear and do not need any additional explanation.

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Some things you wouldn’t see on a “never and always” list are things such as “Always be professional” or “Always return calls promptly.” Why? Because they are vague. What is professional to one is completely different to someone else. What is “promptly”? To one person it may be two hours; to another it may be two days. Let’s show some examples of a few good Never & Always:

Point versus Show

This is typically thought of in the hospitality business (e.g., showing someone to the restroom instead of pointing them there). However, in the business-to-business and call-center world, pointing happens all the time. For instance, it happens when we say things like “You can get that off our website” or “You need to call this person in this department.” Why are we making the Customer do the work? We can send them the link, and we can transfer them to the correct department.

Saying no versus focusing on what you can do

Eliminate the word no from your company’s vocabulary; no one should ever be allowed to use that word. You may not always be able to say yes, but offer alternatives and options and never allow anyone from your company to utter the word no. You will be amazed at how creative your team will get at satisfying Customers. I never want a Customer of mine to tell me that someone from my organization said no to him or her. To me that is the worst swear word you can use in front of a Customer.

While we cannot do everything our Customers request, we can always respond with what we can do. If someone asks if we can sell them something we don’t even sell, we can answer with “While we do not carry product X, what we do carry is product Z, and the reason we do carry product Z is because it is proven to be the best, longest lasting, healthiest, whatever.” By the time you are done explaining the benefits of product Z, that Customer should never want product X. If for some reason they still want product X, then you explain how and where
they can get product X.

“No problem” is a big problem

The biggest street-slang terms used in every business today are the responses “no problem” or “not a problem.” In fact, as a result of reading this right now, you will be shocked at how many times you will hear “no problem” over the next two days. Joe Schumacker wrote an excellent blog titled “No Problem, Big Problem” that articulates this point really well. “No problem” is a problem for two reasons. The first issue with saying “no problem” is that it consists of two negative words. We shouldn’t be using any negative words, let alone two back-to-back.

The second problem is that the “no problem” auto-response sends the message that what the Customer is asking of you is not a problem for you. However, when we are serving others, it is not about our convenience; it is about what the Customer wants. The phrase “no problem” places the staff member’s comfort ahead of service to the Customer. Customers want to feel that their interests are first and foremost in the mind of the staff member, not that they may have inconvenienced a staff member by being a Customer.

Excellent responses instead of “no problem” are “certainly,” “my pleasure,” “I would be happy to,” “consider it done,” and “absolutely.” Using “certainly” or “my pleasure” is so much more professional than the often heard “not a problem.” It elevates the professionalism of your employees’ terminology. It starts establishing a culture of hospitality where the Customer is first.

The following are great examples of “never” and “always” items that are a Never & Always from great companies that The DiJulius Group helped to create. Ideally, you only want a maximum of ten “nevers” and ten “always.”

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Action Plan – Create a small set (6-12 actions/standards) that match the following criteria:
*    The standards are 1 – 3 words
*    Do not need any additional explanation
*    Not stage specific (i.e. do not apply towards phone, check in, check out, etc.)

 

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3 Questions to ask when approval rates fall

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"It's weird. Our approval rates seemed to be fine and all of a sudden we've had several patients who weren't approved. What is going on?"

Ever find yourself in this spot? If so, you're not alone. Often, practices will see approval rates drop and make a call to their patient financing provider who will say nothing has changed on their end - underwriting has remained the same. So what's going on?

In our 50+ years of patient financing experience, we've found there are three common explanations when a change in underwriting at the bank is not to blame for a decline in approval rates.

 

1) Is it just bad luck?

It very well could be. Sometimes it is a fluke and a few patients with less than stellar credit scores applied at the same time. Luckily, this issue will resolve itself on its own and rather quickly. The more patients you apply for, the quicker this run of bad luck dilutes and the faster your numbers return to normal.

You may also find there is some seasonality in your approval rates. For example, consumers tend to overspend every December in preparation for the holidays. This credit card usage frequently leads to a post-holiday hangover, as far as credit scores are concerned. Credit scores may drop slightly due to credit utilization ratios being abnormally high in December. When evaluating your approval rates, looking at year-over-year data is often more helpful than month-to-month.

 

2) Has something changed with our staff?

If you have a new employee or someone that is new to presenting financing, they may feel uncomfortable with the payment discussion. In these cases, they often won't bring up financing unless the patient asks for it. The problem with this approach is that the patients who have to ask for financing tend to be the ones who need it the most as they have no other way to pay. They are also less likely to be approved as their credit scores often reflect their precarious financial situation. When these patients aren't approved, your staff may be even more reluctant to offer financing as communicating a decline can be awkward.

In an ideal world, staff members would offer patient financing to every patient for a couple of reasons. One, you can't judge a book by its cover and that woman in the fur coat and diamonds may not be able to afford the procedure you're offering unless there is a way to pay over time, but she may hesitate to ask for financing. Two, that patient who may be able to pay in full might prefer to pay over time using no interest plans, as it can be a smart financial move. They can keep their money in savings, earning a small return and pay off the procedure over time. If you hesitate to offer no interest plans due to the additional fees, consider the fact that patients given the opportunity to pay over time at no interest are less likely to ask for discounts and more likely to spend more than those paying in cash.

If there isn't a new employee or someone in a new role, confirm that everyone is leading with your preferred patient financing provider. If everyone isn't on the same page, and someone is offering another patient financing company first, that will automatically cause your overall approval rate to drop with your preferred patient financing provider. This scenario can be especially present in larger practices or practices with multiple locations.

 

3) Have we changed our marketing?

The slightest shift in marketing, from one radio station to another or from advertising in one new publication, can change the demographics of patients walking in the door. While driving more patients to your door may be a good thing, it won't help your practice if those patients can't afford your services and can't get approved for financing.

The good news is that knowing who gets approved for patient financing and who gets declined can give you additional insight into your marketing efforts and what type of patient you are attracting. If you find you are receiving a lot of declines, take a look at your recent marketing efforts and the source of these declined patients.

In the end, while changes to underwriting might cause a drop in approval rates, often that is not the case as underwriting is complicated. Most banks look beyond the credit score alone and look at hundreds of variables to determine if a patient would be approved or not. As a result, they don't change the process often, maybe once or twice a year.

After checking with your patient financing provider to make sure things haven't changed on their end, often you'll need to look internally to see if an shift is to blame or if it is just a run of bad luck that will reverse itself in due time.

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Getting Dialed In

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Have you ever launched a pay-per-click campaign and received emails and calls, but for some reason the conversion rate was lower than expected? If you answered yes, then there may be room for improvement in your team’s phone skills. I’ve noticed that even the most skilled front office associate sometimes tends to miss an email or forgets to ask for the patient’s name and phone number on a call. I know these actions seem rather simple, but you’d be surprised at how many times they’re overlooked. 

At least quarterly, practices should "mystery shop" their own practice, by calling and pretending to be a patient, to learn first-hand what their patients experience and to identify areas for improvement. You can use the following "Perfect Phone Call" checklist when evaluating your practice. 

The Perfect Phone Call

  • Superior Communication Skills - Enunciation, tone of voice and demeanor reflects positively on the practice. 
  • Takes the Lead - Who’s the expert here? The trained office associate, or the patient? Letting the patient lead the conversation may not be the best tactic. 
  • Key Questions Asked - Asks the right questions: Name, phone number, how they heard about you, main concern, special event coming up, etc. 
  • Credentialing - Every team member should have each provider’s CV down, backwards and forward. Why would the patient want to choose a certain practice if they don’t understand the value behind it? 
  • Procedure and Product Knowledge Shared - When a patient is calling in with specific questions, sometimes they can only be answered in a consultation with the provider. However, each team member should have a good amount of knowledge about the products and services sold in the practice and know how to explain them in a way as to not provide medical advice and pricing.
  • Books the Appointment - After the above steps are completed, booking the appointment should be a breeze, right? But how do we know they’ll show?
  • Completes Follow Up - Personally emailing the patient to confirm before the end of the day is very important, as well as a confirmation phone call the day before the scheduled appointment. I’m sure this is happening most of the time, but what exactly is being emailed to these leads? Text message confirmations and automated emails are super convenient, but then the personalization is left adrift.

The checklist above is definitely something to consider when spending your marketing dollars into paid advertisements. Is your team ready? Do they know what campaign you just launched? How will you keep track of who may need training or a refresher course for phone etiquette?

About the Author: Lacy J. Banks is the owner and CEO of Aesthetic Practice Concepts providing phone and consultation trainings for board-certified plastic surgeons and their staff. If you’d like a complimentary assessment of your team’s phone skills please feel free to contact her at (760) 747-1111 or at lacy@apc.management. She’d love to hear from you.

 

TO REACH A MEMBER OF THE ALPHAEON TEAM - ANYTIME  

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The Secret is Out

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Hi, I’m Tony Seymour and am the President of ALPHAEON Credit. I’ll be writing short posts periodically for our blog on interesting topics regarding ALPHAEON CREDIT and your practice. 

The first thing, I'd like to point out is what makes ALPHAEON CREDIT spectacular. I know you may be thinking it's our "Great approval rates," or our "Generous credit limits,." I agree, we have those, but the true secret is pretty simple. "We answer the phone." 

After 15 years at CareCredit, I knew I wanted to be a part of something different for our industry and so did a few other employees. Katy Thomas and Lisa Taylor were my top two managers renowned for their customer service.  Together we discussed our likes and dislikes with larger banks, and the first thing we all agreed needed to change was their call centers, including our current bank, Comenity.  The routine with all large financial institutions is to push numerous buttons, hope you get to the right place, usually wait, and then depending on the call center representative, you may receive a resolution.

We vowed to be different. Like you, we know navigating phone trees and waiting while a patient is sitting in front of you is frustrating and embarrassing – after all, you recommended patient financing to the patient. To prevent this from happening at ALPHAEON CREDIT, we installed a Hotline that rings directly to all ALPHAEON CREDIT employees’ cell phones, including my own.

At ALPHAEON, "we answer the phone.". Every day of the year, 24 hours a day. Call us anytime at 920-306-1794  to speak to someone immediately with no hoops to jump through.

We will be there for you, so you can get your questions answered and move on with your day. 

We look forward to speaking with you.

 

TO REACH A MEMBER OF THE ALPHAEON TEAM - ANYTIME

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How to Avoid a "Surprise" Decline

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Usually the person sitting in front of you knows their credit score better than anyone else, and when they are approved or declined for a credit card or loan, they receive the answer they expected. However, every so often, you likely run into a patient who is legitimately “surprised” when declined.

While a low credit score may be to blame, often there is another culprit - their annual income, and underestimating this figure.

Since the CARD Act of 2009, banks are required to evaluate every credit card and loan application based upon the patient’s ability to repay the debt. To do so, they calculate a “debt-to-income” (DTI) ratio for each patient. The bank adds up all debt reported on the patient’s credit report and compares it to the annual income entered by the patient on the application. If the DTI ratio is too high, the bank is required to decline the patient or give them a credit limit that won’t overextend the patient.

The problem with this method is that often patients forget to include income sources resulting in an inaccurate DTI ratio.

To avoid the “surprise” decline due to inaccurate DTI ratios, patients should be reminded to include all sources of income, in order to repay the debt including:

·      Full or part-time employment

·      Freelance work or small business

·      Household income from spouse, partner, adult child, parent, or grandparent

·      Government payments such as social security benefits or disability

·      Income from investments such as 401Ks, IRAs, and/or pensions

·      Alimony, child support, and/or separate maintenance income*

*If they don't wish to have alimony, child support and/or separate maintenance income considered as a basis for repaying the obligation, they should not include it in their annual income amount. 

In addition to forgotten income, many patients report their net income (take-home pay) rather than their gross income.

Hopefully with a little guidance at the time of application, your patients will only be surprised with how much they are approved for!

 

TO REACH A MEMBER OF THE ALPHAEON TEAM - ANYTIME

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Three Times, Three Ways

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In surveys, patients were asked if they were aware of financing options.

Amazingly, many patients said "no" even when there was irrefutable proof via recorded calls, pre-prepared patient packet inserts, emails, and witnesses to consult conversations.

Why? The answer is simple.

They were distracted. Even though the practices shared information, they didn't absorb it. Often patients have many questions during a call or consult and focus on what they are going to say or ask next, versus the shared details.

That is why we always promote the "Three Times, Three Ways" method. If you want the patient to understand the procedure is affordable, you must present financing options, "Three Times, Three Ways."

The easiest way to accomplish this, is to focus on the senses. Let them hear, see, and feel the options. 

Hearing is easy. Repeatedly verbalize your financing options to the patient, especially anytime price is mentioned. 

For sight and touch, rely on ALPHAEON marketing materials to do the work for you. Place the brochures and brochure holders throughout the office in your waiting room, checkin/out locations, consult rooms/stations, and exam lanes so patients can touch and feel the brochures. Use the ALPHAEON tabletop signs to visually remind patients of the options as well. These can be placed in areas that are seen by patients, but not necessarily within arms reach like a bookshelf or credenza in a consult room. 

As always, all materials are free, so order as many as you'd like and help more patients walk away knowing they have financing options with your practice!

Order My Free Marketing Materials

PS: If you have ever thought, "I wish ALPHAEON had a (insert name of amazing marketing tool)," we want to hear your suggestion and create it! Please email teamcredit@alphaeon.com with any idea no matter how "out-there" you think it is! The more we can promote affordability, the more patients we can help together.

 

TO REACH A MEMBER OF THE ALPHAEON TEAM - ANYTIME

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When Credit Limits Hurt Patients

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When evaluating financing options for patients, most practices look for a company that will approve as many patients as possible, for as much as possible, and at the lowest rate to their practice. 

Often if patients receive credit limits high enough to cover the costs of the procedures, the practice and the patient are satisfied. Everyone wins - right? However, did you know that credit limits only covering the procedure costs may be hurting your patients?

A little background...

A patient's credit score is heavily influenced by their utilization ratios. This is calculated by comparing credit card balances to the actual credit limits. While the models vary by each credit reporting agency, most look at both the patient's usage of individual credit cards, as well as overall usage for all credit cards. Having one or multiple card balances  close to their limits or worse, maxed out, lowers the patient's credit score. In fact, credit card utilization ratios account for 30% of an individual's credit score. The only factor that is weighed more heavily is payment history. 

So, when a patient is only approved for the credit limits needed for a procedure, it may unknowingly, negatively impact one's credit score. 

In addition, patients who don't receive the credit limits needed to say "yes" often end up going to another provider who offers procedures for less. Or, they start compromising by selecting another procedure or service that is within their credit limit. 

While practices want to help patients with the procedures they desire or need, cost can get in the way. So what can be done?

The best course of action is to evaluate patient financing companies based upon average credit limits provided...most companies will tell you their average credit limit or even the average credit limit for your particular practice. By promoting the companies that provide the highest credit limits to begin with, patients will be in the best possible position from a credit utilization ratio. 

Want to learn more?

30% Credit Utilization Rule: Truth or Myth

 

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#SmallThanks with Google

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It is rare to find a practice that doesn't site "word-of-mouth" as their #1 source of patient referrals. Now, Google wants to help you spread the word with "Small Thanks with Google" and it is free! 

Using actual patient reviews about your practice from Google, you can download social media images to share online, reminding current patients about your practice and incentivizing prospective patients to schedule a consult.  Your testimonial binder may be a thing of the past as you can now download print-ready posters for display in your practice as well. 

Only have a few reviews to choose from today? No problem! Google also provides digital and print-ready promotional materials including flyers, posters, stickers and table tents to encourage patients to leave reviews. 

Getting started is easy. Just follow the link below, enter your practice's name to  get your toolkit today. You can view all your reviews and change the color/style by selecting "Personalize Your Toolkit".

https://smallthanks.withgoogle.com/

PS: Be sure to read over the tip sheet too!

 

TO REACH A MEMBER OF THE ALPHAEON TEAM ANYTIME

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You've Got Mail!

You’ve got mail!

Or at least you'll receive mail very soon! A new set of ALPHAEON CREDIT brochures and credit card agreements are heading your way. 

Every time the Federal Reserve changes the federal funds rate (the interest rate commercial banks charge each other for overnight lending) the U.S. Prime Rate is adjusted. Since the U.S. Prime Rate is used to calculate the patient's APR for the ALPHAEON CREDIT card, every time the U.S. Prime Rate is adjusted, the APR listed on our brochures and credit card agreements must also be adjusted.  

As the reprinting and shipping of new materials every six months can be wasteful, we have asked our bank to move to a fixed rate instead of a variable rate based upon the U.S. Prime Rate. So, the next time we ship you a new set of brochures and ask you to destroy your old supply, it should be the last time! 

When you receive your new materials, please discard any old brochures or credit card agreements and begin using  your updated materials. If we didn't ship enough, please order more (at no charge) by visiting http://www.myalphaeoncredit.com/marketing/.

 

TO REACH A MEMBER OF THE ALPHAEON TEAM - ANYTIME

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Cash Discount Calculator - Now Available!

In June, we discussed how offering a cash discount could actually boost your bottom line. (If you missed that post, you can read all about it here.)  

Practices across the country reached out to learn more. Some wanted to offer longer no interest plans without paying more,  some wanted to offer fair discounts to all patients, and others wanted to simply cover the cost of their financing fees. 

To help these practices, we have created a Cash Discount Calculator. With this new tool, you can enter your procedure price, the plans you currently offer, and the plans you want to offer, in order to determine your needed cost and what type of discount you can afford to provide your patients. 

To access the Cash Discount Calculator, select your specialty below:

Dermatology & Plastic Surgery

Ophthalmology

By offering a cash discount, both you and your patients can save money, making everyone happy. 

 

TO REACH A MEMBER OF THE ALPHAEON TEAM - ANYTIME

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New "Find A Physician" Locator

It seems a little backwards, but every week thousands of patients get approved for ALPHAEON CREDIT before they have spoken to a physician about the procedure or treatment they are considering.

To help these patients, they are directed to the ALPHAEON CREDIT "Find a Physician" locator once approved.

To make sure they are pointed in the right direction, take a moment to check your listing. 

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Check My Listing

 

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How Offering A Cash Discount Could Actually Boost Your Bottom Line

If you're like most practices, there is a good chance that you have encountered at least one patient who asked for a discount. You also likely have met the patient that wants a longer term no interest plan that you don't offer.  What if there was a way to make both of these patients happy and improve conversion ratios overall without costing you a penny more? 

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Welcome to OUR BLOG!

Here at ALPHAEON CREDIT, we're in a unique position. We get to talk to practices everyday across multiple specialities and hear the latest best practices, learn about innovative marketing ideas, and discover great new resources to help practices and patients. 

Most of the ALPHAEON CREDIT team started their careers working with or in these medical specialties. That being said, we have also come to know many of the trusted industry consultants and vendors who often have great pearls to share with practices.

Our primary goal at ALPHAEON CREDIT is to help you help more patients. In the hopes of doing just that, we're starting this ALPHAEON CREDIT COMMUNITY blog where we will share what we learn with you.

We will also be reaching out to those practices that we admire and vendors that we trust to post as well, however if you have an idea, pearl, or best practice to share, please don't hesitate to reach out to us at teamcredit@alphaeon.com! 

As we go along, please let us know how we are doing and feel free to weigh in on any conversation that peaks your interest! 

If you'd prefer not to miss a post, please email send an email to teamcredit@alphaeon.com and we will send them directly to your inbox. 

TO REACH A MEMBER OF THE ALPHAEON TEAM - ANYTIME - CALL 920-306-1794 OR EMAIL TEAMCREDIT@ALPHAEON.COM

 

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