Bring Back the Humans! (Medical Marketing 101)

A couple of weeks ago, I scheduled my regular fall check-up with my dentist. I’m particularly fond of my dentist — he’s great at what he does and has razor-sharp wit coupled with a dry sense of humor — so much so that sometimes I find myself nearly choking/laughing on the giant wads of cotton balls shoved into my cheeks. Anyhow, it’s been a while since I saw him — probably over six months. His usual reminder process is simple, yet personable and effective. First, I get a postcard in the mail (usually containing some kind of tooth-related joke). Then, about a week out, I get a phone call from his kindly, granny-esque office assistant. And then the day before, I get a second reminder call from another member or his team — usually one of the dental hygienists, saying she’s looking forward to seeing me tomorrow. It’s a great follow-up system. But this time was different. There was no cool postcard that made me chuckle. I got a boring email that I actually had to rescue from the Spam folder. Second, the one-week-out reminder call wasn’t the nice, friendly person I’d come to look forward to. My phone rang and I found myself listening to a pre-recorded, robotic voice. And then I got a text message reminder — not a personal-sounding one, but one that looked like the kind of notification the IRS might send if they were tech-savvy enough — with lots of formatting and extra characters that you had to scroll through to reach the real message.

My reaction to all of this? Ugh! I couldn’t figure out why my dentist would change up his delightful, distinctive reminder system, so I did a little research and saw that he’d recently hired a flashy digital marketing agency to help him grow his practice. In addition to creating what can only be described as a “pretty” but extremely boring-to-read new website, they had also clearly convinced him to go “digital” with his follow-up process.

Big mistake! His previous highly personal-touch follow-up system blew this new miscellaneous one out of the water. Before, it got me actually looking forward to going to see my dentist (if such a thing is possible). Now, by replacing these human touches with cold, impersonal digital ones — he was committing the fatal sin of medical marketing — he was making his practice sound just the same as every other dentist in town. He was replacing a warm, personal experience with one that was cold, generic and removed.

Don’t get sucked into the technology trap with your practice. I love using new technology — I’m a huge fan of your using iPads to check your patients in instead of wads of forms that have been photocopied hundreds of times and are barely legible, for example. I love using voice mail messages delivered to cellphones in marketing campaigns (but not by way of a robotic message). And I love, love, love digital marketing campaigns and email campaigns, of course — but only when they’re done the right way — still being able to deliver a personal experience to your patients. Remember Step 7 of the Premier Physician Marketing Formula — Deliver an Extraordinary Experience!

The bottom line to all this is: don’t get lured into using shiny digital marketing objects in your practice by sacrificing the human touch and being able to deliver an extraordinary experience. Efficiency is great. Automation is better. But not at the expense of making your practice sound boring, generic and just the same as your competitors.