At some point in your career as an optometrist/business-owner you’ve probably wondered why some patients don’t buy their contacts from you. You’ve taken a studied look at your contact lens pricing and policies, sales data, and competitor’s pricing, and made some changes. You’ve thought to yourself, “Well, maybe now, fewer people will leave without buying their annual supply.” Then, as you probably expected, the changes seemed to help somewhat as you and your staff felt a renewed awareness about your contact lens sales. But, overall, there didn’t seem to be a drastic change that lasted.
When I faced this situation earlier in my career, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why aren’t the VAST majority of patients buying contacts from us when ostensibly we have the best pricing? Plus we are the most convenient option, they could just have the whole transaction over and done with! It’s almost like they DO NOT want to buy from us?!” I was perplexed why patients seemed to be throwing money away by not getting their annual supply. It was difficult to not feel insulted, in a sense, that they would rather pay more for the same product than deal with our practice.
Before you say, “Patients are just looking for the best prices. It’s impossible to compete with those low-low retailers, where they can buy contacts for less than our wholesale prices!” I’ll remind you that the #1 online retailer by a very wide margin is 1-800 Contacts, who was recently acquired by an investment firm for reportedly $3 billion USD. It becomes hard to argue that price is the #1 driver of consumer decisions, when most private practices are priced under 1-800 Contacts, and 1-800 Contacts continues to grow in a sea of other lower cost retailers, with their only presence being online. Instead, it has to be something else. I’m going to share what I think the top 3 “something else’s” are, based on my experience having talked with hundreds of offices through my company, LensQuote. (Full disclosure: this is NOT a sponsored education piece.)
Reason #1: You’re trying too hard… or not trying at all
As in all things in life, striking a balance is key, and there is definitely a happy medium when it comes to “selling” to your patients. However, oftentimes practices will find themselves on either end of the spectrum, either hardly talking sales to the patient, or going overkill, inundating them with information or sales tactics. I hope to give you an idea of the zone you need to be in: what too little looks like, and what too much looks like, and why they’re both a problem.
First, I’ll address the practices that do not “sell” enough. An example of this may be that a patient receives no pricing information following their appointment and arrives to check out only to be asked “would you like to buy an annual supply?” Generally speaking, these practices lack almost any form of presentation or conversation around the purchase of contacts.
Why is this a problem? Well it seems easy enough, if you’re not doing much to get the sale, then you should not expect to sell as much! Think of your industry reps that do a fantastic job of getting you to go along with their programs. Now think about the ones that barely show up, and seem to have minimal interest in you or your practice. Your practice is appearing to your patients like that second rep appears to you. Also, you may not realize it, but by NOT attempting to sell to your patients in a professional manner, you’re actually quasi-insulting your them! People want to feel wanted. If you’re not attempting to sell, then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, as your patients believe you don’t want or need their money.
If you talk too much, or have too grandiose a sales presentation, you will also lose sales, albeit for a different reason. This may look like an office where the doctor mentions buying the annual supply, and then a staff member also goes over all their benefits and recommends an annual supply, and then the prescription is stamped that they are “approved for an annual supply,” and then the checkout person reiterates the need to buy.
Why is this a problem? Adam Grant describes this situation in his book Think Again, whereas a “logic bully” may give someone 10+ reasons to see their perspective, expert negotiators only give 2-3 reasons. When you give too many reasons or too much effort toward sales, then you raise your patient’s awareness that you are trying to convince them of something. In return, they put up their guard, because no one wants to feel manipulated. Secondly, you dilute your argument by giving too many different reasons to buy. Your patient will simply choose the weakest reason you gave and use that as their reason why not to buy. In the end you’ve made your customers suspicious, which is not a very sales-inspiring emotional state.
My answer for addressing both issues ends up being nearly the same. Instead of what you’re doing, create a succinct sales presentation that at-most highlights 2 to 3 positive attributes, and includes the sale presentation formula of “price, options, and value proposition.”
Here’s an example script:
“We ship all of our contacts for free, and if your prescription ever changes or you lose lenses, we will exchange or give you more lenses at no cost to you, if you buy your year supply. The retail price of your contacts is $720, which is the total for 8 boxes for your whole year supply. After I apply your insurance, our discount, and the year supply rebate, that number comes down to $340. You save $380 by buying your full year supply upfront as opposed to six months at a time. Would you like to buy six months or your full prescription today?
I recommend leading with two benefits of purchasing from your office, as opposed to bringing them up after the pricing. Why? Because when it’s placed after your pricing, it sounds like you are trying to rationalize your pricing, meaning “they must be high.” Beyond that, the patient needs a few key prices to make a decision: their “before” price ($720), their “after” price ($340), and the value proposition of what they save when buying more ($380). And lastly, you’ve created trust by giving them 2 choices, as opposed to attempting to hide the 6 month supply choice, a choice that you’ve just set up as a less desirable choice anyways. Of course all of this is better, easier, and more effective with visuals (shouldn’t be surprising to us Optometrists)!
Reason #2: You’re telling your patients to shop elsewhere
I’ve encountered a lot of practices that have taken up the tactic of doing comparison shopping with their patients. And by that I mean allowing price matching, or showing their customers a competitor’s pricing in an attempt to woo patients into purchasing from them. Yet earlier, I mentioned that most practices have a net lower price than online retailers, so then why would this not be a good tactic?
Dr. Robert Cialdini in his book Influence describes the various tools of influence, and at the core of most, if not all of them, is social anxiety. Most people are rule followers, we want to please others, we reciprocate favors… if not, society wouldn’t have come to exist! So why am I talking about social anxiety relative to comparing prices online? Think of it this way–your patient chose YOU to see, they had an enjoyable visit at your office, you gave them a great exam, and you established trust in your care, and a relationship. You provided a ton of value to your patient, and because of that, your patient is highly motivated to return the favor (i.e. eliminate social anxiety) and buy from you. But then you, being the price-comparer, suggest “we are the best price for your contacts, in fact, let me pull up competitor prices and show you.” You’ve now said to your patient “forget all of this value that I’ve just given you, all of this relationship that we just built, you should only pay attention to the price. I’m completely okay with you shopping around for the best price too, here I’ll even do the shopping with you!” You’ve given them permission to shop elsewhere, you’ve freed them of any anxiety they would’ve had buying from somewhere else, and therefore in the future you can’t be upset if they find a better price elsewhere. You are teaching your patients to not value your service, and to shop for the lowest price.
To start fixing this problem, step one is to stop doing any price comparison or matching immediately. It may seem difficult at first, especially since you have a segment of your population trained to request it, but it’s the way to a healthier practice. I do have a suggested script for handling these requests once you’ve stopped price-matching, but make sure you customize it to fit your voice:
Script for handling price-matching requests
“We ended that policy and instead set our pricing to be competitive with other reputable sellers…” and then recite the same script as above.
What if they insist on price-matching, or threaten to leave your practice? Then great! You can’t have unprofitable patients that feel like they have control over your business. These patients were never going to be profitable, and they are self-selecting themselves for removal from your books. When eliminating price comparisons against competitors, simply restructure your sales presentation to reflect my script above and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find how price is less of a factor for the majority of your patients than you previously believed.
Reason #3: You have too much friction
In this case I’m not talking about the friction you might have walking around Disney on a hot day (shout out to Disney fans)! Instead, I’m talking about how much energy does a patient need to expend to give you money and then receive their lenses. Does the patient wait for your staff member to enter all of the charges, print things, have them sign documents, etc, only to have to return to your practice to pick up the contacts after they’re ordered? Does it take a small act of congress to purchase from you? Ultimately, your competition is the online retailer and they make it appear easy and frictionless. You can surpass this with your in-person experience, UNLESS you’re not actually easy to work with. Eliminating friction, as much as possible, makes it easier for your patients to make the correct purchasing decision.
Think about purchasing contacts in your office in two stages. Stage one is purchasing the lenses in your office, and stage two is receiving the contacts. Now take stage one, and start from the most basic interaction that needs to take place in order to purchase contacts from you– “patient pays for contacts.” Now beyond that simple step, how many more steps and interactions does your patient experience? Evaluate each step through the lens of “does this add value to the patient experience?” If it does not add value, then it can be eliminated. Same goes for stage two, evaluate each step. Stage two is where I encounter many offices that have an opportunity to reduce a significant amount of friction, and that is: direct shipment of all contact lens orders.
A common misconception is that by requiring patients to return to pick up their lenses, that this additional touch point somehow builds more of a relationship with the patient, or gives the practice an opportunity to sell sunglasses. I would challenge any practice to show me the data that supports this, or to demonstrate that selling a pair of sunglasses would not be more effectively handled at their exam. Since inconveniencing the patient does not add to the patient value, I recommend taking a page right out of the online retailers playbook, and ship everything directly for free.
A concern that many have is that they reserve free shipping as a tool to help sell more annual supplies, and charge for any purchase less an an annual supply. I would counter that this policy is less motivational than you think. What it does say is that you are more complicated to work with and hold to generally outdated business practices. The floor has been set by most online vendors that shipping is free and it is offered up front. So if you can eliminate your competitors’ marketing message (by offering the same free shipping policy), it now lets you highlight the convenience of buying right now and getting everything shipped to their door. As a side benefit–think of how much time your staff will save by not managing contact lens orders coming to the office!
If a patient requests to not have their contact lenses directly shipped, you turn it around as an added service that they can safely pick them up at your office, an offer that online competition cannot match.
What about paying for the shipping costs that have now increased with your new free shipping policy? You just charge a shipping fee to the patient without saying it, here’s how: simply increase your prices and offer 10% off an annual supply (or a similar discount). Now you’ve created a motivational price structure for buying the annual supply, and have your shipping paid for with the non-annual supplies.
After reading all of these reasons why patients do not want to buy from you, I have uplifting news–by default, your patients actually DO want to buy from you. It eliminates social anxiety and completes their personal journey through your practice, leaving them fulfilled. And in the end, they receive better service and save money, it’s a true win-win! By addressing some of these common communication and business-process issues that happen in many offices, you’ll find your patients are truly eager to buy their contacts from you!