Eye Rewards and Optical Patient Loyalty

We received this email from a Doctor, (who shall not be named). He brought up a very interesting idea on patient loyalty. We are impressed because 1.) He is trying 2.) He is creative 3.) He is thinking out of the box 4.) He recognizes opportunity and wants to capitalize on it. 5.) He’s reaching out for ideas and suggestions.

Knowing it costs 5x more to get a new patient than keep an old patient, it makes fiscal sense to do everything you can to retain and “loyalize” a patient. It’s not easy, when you look at the stats on how often patients buy eyewear (1.8 years) and the contact lens patient is getting refills at Costco- How can you not only retain them and keep them loyal. Do not confuse retention with loyalty. Loyalty is a choice- you may retain them due to insurance or location- but they will remain loyal because they like you.

Here is the dialogue Dr. Anon and I had via email- His comments are in blue.

Dr.: I LOVE your site and ideas!  I have a question for you.  We have tried numerous times to implement a customer loyalty or rewards program for our patients.  We tried a punch card that patients rewarded a patient with a free pair of glasses after 5 were purchased.  The card could be shared among family members.  Patients liked the idea, but it took too long to get the reward.  Do you know or or have any ideas on how to do this in a better way?

OVS Response: I really like the idea of the punch card, it’s a great creative way to reward your patients. Many years ago, I knew another OD, who had a Referral Club in which after x amount of referrals, he sent them to am Italian Restaurant. He said he got great response.
Couple of Questions- What was the value of the punch card?  When you say- it took too long to get the award- how long? Is the patient waiting to build up the card? Are they not bringing in family and friends?
We consumers are very impatient and have a “We Want it NOW! mentality. You are probably right it’s taking too long. Here are some other ideas- that might bring them in sooner- or get them to refer to your office.
  • Give them a small Gift Certificate with a expiration date- You could do a gift certificate based upon the amount of money spent. For every $100 spent, they receive a $5.00 Gift Certificate (with and expiration date) . That’s why I asked you what the value of the punch card was.
  • Use the Punch Card- assign a value to each punch- (acting as a discount), They can use the punch card with family or friends within the time frame allotted.
  • Give them points- American Express or an Airline- Points can usually be bought for about $.25 a piece. Hopefully the patient will continue to come in to build the points- enabling them to purchase the bigger ticket items. (75% of Americans are in ‘Loyalty Program)
  • Consider your own Loyalty Plan (Family Plan) – Often what prevents a family from coming is the cost. “Loyalty Plan Membership”, would involve a paid upfront cost ($50.00/ year ?) and also receive a 5% discount on all family members. People want to get their money’s worth- and would bring in their family members to get the payback from the $50.00 investment. This would be a yearly type of program.
  • Try your own Coupon Book- You could make up your own coupons with: 1 Eye Exam at a special price, 1 pair of contacts (special price) 1 pair of glasses at 5% discount. 1 Free Lens Cloth, etc.  Each coupon would have an expiration date. On something like this, it should be part of the presentation. When the patient picks up their glasses/contacts, the staff should present the book and walk through it with the patient, so they know what’s in there. (Staff could even ask if they wanted to set up the next appointment for a family member)

No matter what you do, there should be a perceived cost and an expiration date. Value of the Punch Card is $100.00, Expiration date is 6/30/2009. The consumer wants to know how much they would save- and you want to create a sense of urgency.

Also, crunch the numbers- see what is affordable for you and yet provides enough of an incentive to get that patients coming in purchasing in a timely manner.

Dr: The patient or family member received one punch for every complete pair of glasses purchased.  After 5 punches they would receive a single vision polycarbonate lens and a frame that retailed for $139 or less.  The retail value to the patient was about $280 dollars or so, but it only cost us about $35-40. If they wanted a more expensive pair of glasses for the free ones, we just subtracted the $280 from the price.   It took patients about 2-3 years to attain the goal.   I like the idea of a “frequent buyer” or loyalty program, but ours needs tweaked to make it better.  2-3 years was too long to wait for a reward.

We have thought about giving a percentage of sale back in the form of a gift card.  Is 2-3% back too much or too little?  The patient would receive $10-15 back on a $500 sale.  The advantage of gift cards is the ease of administration and the versatility of usage.  In other words, the patient could spend their “cash back” on glasses, sunwear, contacts, or anything.  Our present program limits them to glasses purchases.  However, I am afraid that the patient would ask us to immediately redeem their gift card on the present sale, so in effect all you would be doing is offering a discount and not shaping future buying habits.  Any feedback?

OVS Response: Ease of administration is key. My only suggestion at this time is to provide the gift card after they have already paid. It’s a great parting gift to them.  The % you are giving back – depends on your bottom line. I would tend towards the 3% figure. 3% is better than nothing. 5% has a higher perceived value (10% has a higher perceived value than 11%- people can calculate it easier) Gift cards are good as well- I think you want the versatility and the exchange value. Can they give the card to their friends?  You will always run the risk of some people wanting it now. But I would guess those people would be a small percentage. Staff has to practice how to say- “This is good for your next trip.” The only way you will know if it works is to try it and tweak it as you go.  If it is bad – halt it. The important thing to me is you are trying something to encourage patient loyalty.Here is another suggestion:

  • When handing out the Gift card- get their email address. Put the email address into a ‘Gift Card Group’ Anytime you are introducing a new product, (eyeglasses, contacts) running a special, having a trunk show or any type of event) send the email out, USE YOUR GIFT CARD …….’ It could serve as a reminder to your patients, they have a gift card, they can get a discount, and encourage them to change their buying habits. A monthly reminder via email, would encourage me to come back in.

As an aside– it appears to me that Dentists are much more progressive on patient loyalty programs: Check out these sites:

  • Dr. Simon Rosenberg, DMD
  • Dental Products Report- new loyalty program

Optical Sites and Reward Programs

Eye Care Associates- www.ecanc.com (has a whole section of rewards

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