By Kriss Barlow, RN, MBA
With so much pressure to grow new referrals and gain additional volumes it is easy to focus exclusively on new business, sometimes at the expense of those physicians whose referrals you need to keep. To start your year strong, take a few minutes to finalize the retention plan. Use this as the underpinning for your new business development efforts.
Organizations have many different approaches for targeting retention and sales; many staff have accountability for both segments. Success is enhanced when the representative starts with a solid approach for retention. With a plan in place, this effort receives the attention it needs without usurping the energy needed for growth.
The retention framework is a solid and consistent way to acknowledge the most loyal referring physicians and to further develop a relationship. As you create your approach, it is important that you understand what they believe their relationship is with your organization. Set that alongside your knowledge about other relationships and referral patterns. Be certain that you use both pieces of information to define where they are and then determine the type of approach that is needed.
Your Guiding Light
Keeping business is hard work. There is less glamour and glory but more to lose if these referral sources go away. Retention often takes a different type of approach than you use for growth. Three foundational elements guide the tactical details within your plan for retention. They are:
1. Pay attention to them. Regular connections with the people they wish to interact with in the place and with the topic which is of interest to them. You get this; it is about their WIIFM (What’s In It For Me).
2. Do your homework then take the time to listen to their needs and take their ideas seriously. Take the same time and effort to prepare for your meeting with them as you would with a high profile new prospective physician. While the nature of your questions and the depth of background might be vastly different, the pre-call planning still needs to be done.
This is the group with whom it is critically important that we ask for feedback, ideas, suggestions and their vision for the future. This needs to be called out because we often assume we know what they want simply because they shared something last year. Needs change so ask again. Also, if they had a concept that was good, but not quite clearly defined last year, they might have developed it more. Ask and listen.
3. Give your organization the chance to exceed their expectations and then make sure you tell them the reason, what it took and what they can expect. As we move toward more/better/different relationships with our medical staff, validation of their involvement increases the likelihood that the process of engagement will be enhanced.
Organize Now to Seem Spontaneous Later
If you need to grow business, these retention doctors are often the ones you will need to support your connections with prospective new doctors. They provide the outcomes that you want to talk about in the sell sheets. They are the ones who will speak up and advocate for what is working well at your facility. Here are some tactical ways to make sure you are doing your part to support retention strategies with your medical staff.
- Pre-plan for a list of potential involvement strategies – ways to get these physicians involved and engaged – and it needs to be more than a committee offering. Maybe there is an input session, a task force for a specific initiative, maybe a Board. The important piece is getting them involved, using their knowledge and letting them know you value their wisdom.
- Spontaneous acts of kindness. Assuming you have a profile card with the likes and background on your retention doctors, do a nice thing. For example, ordering pizza for lunch on an oh-so-busy Friday. No obligation, just a call in the morning to say it will be arriving. If the physician has gone the extra mile for a patient, staff member then create a way to recognize them. You get the picture. The hardest part of this is to respond quickly and easily. By building them into the plan you will have a list of options ready.
- Encourage special attention for these doctors with other departments and services. I know this one must feel challenging, but sometimes a little acknowledgement, even praise can do wonders.
- Provide a dedicated meeting time if they are on your target list and do the same prep as you would for a prospect. BUT make sure you have solid questions to do more learning and input and assure them of their value so this is not just a meeting to talk about you and your services or lay on guilt for more referrals that are needed.
With the retention plan in place, there will be good flexibility for growth ideas and innovation. I am often reminded of the performers who have all those plates spinning at one time. While I like a good challenge, I would like to set aside the good china before I try my hand at spinning the others. A good retention plan can do the same.