Internal Marketing: Transform Your Practice from the Inside Out

What’s more important: providing outstanding treatment or outstanding customer service?

According to an American Express survey, 78% of consumers have bailed on a sales transaction because they received poor customer service. Even if they wanted or needed a service or product, they were so put off by their experience with a company that they delayed their commitment. Of course, choosing a medical care provider is a little different than, say, buying a TV, but it’s clear that customer service is extremely important to consumers.

In today’s digital landscape, customer service is more important than ever, because customer perception is more important than ever. Online reviews can have a major impact on a business’s success. Moz Blog recently reported that 67% of consumers are influenced by online reviews, and businesses risk losing as many as 22% of customers when just one negative article is found by users considering buying their product.

When you think about the experience in your office from a patient’s perspective, the importance of something the physician does, like performing treatment effectively and safely, seems highly significant.You would probably assume that the majority of the weight in a review would be placed on that.However, even if the doctor’s manner was pleasant and services were performed flawlessly, negative experiences from staff (e.g., nurse is rude, front desk fails to return phone calls, bathroom needs cleaning, etc.) can result in the patient leaving an overall negative review. When it comes to patient perception and online reviews, customer service plays an extremely important role.

You rely on your staff to demonstrate the values, attitude, skill, and professionalism that you want your practice to be known for. But have you inspired and educated them—at every level—to be true advocates? It all starts with your staff. If your employees aren’t enthusiastic about your practice, you can’t expect your patients to be.

The Value of Internal Marketing

A study backed by Northwestern University defined internal marketing as “the ongoing process where by an organization aligns, motivates, and empowers employees at all functions and levels to consistently deliver a positive customer experience that helps achieve business objectives.” Internal marketing developed from the idea that a customer’s perception of a company isn’t based solely on the company’s products or services, but on the individual’s entire experience with that company.

Every interaction between a staff member—any staff member—and the consumer influences the consumer’s satisfaction, for better or worse. Internal marketing seeks to treat employees as “internal customers,” who leaders should plan to actively educate and motivate to better communicate the company’s vision to the “external customers.”

For example, The Walt Disney Company has a distinctive company culture that emphasizes things like hospitality, tradition, and quality. To ensure these qualities are communicated to their customers, they are very selective in their recruitment process. They even have candidates watch videos that describe what working for the company is like, which serves to inspire some candidates and allow others to self-remove from the process if they don’t feel they will be a good fit. The company also invests a significant amount of time training new employees, including a full eight-hour day dedicated to company culture orientation called “Traditions.”

Disney knows that the best way to promote the image of their brand is for every employee, especially the ones who work directly with customers, to accurately reflect that image. If you’ve ever been to a Disney theme park you know how effective this is—“cast members” are consistently courteous, helpful,and positively reflect the company as a whole. While each company is different, similar practices and initiatives have been put in place at Apple, Starbucks, IBM, and more.

Though these large-scale examples may seem daunting, the concept of internal marketing can, and absolutely should, be applied to small- and medium-sized businesses.

Internal Marketing Strategy for Vein Practices

The objectives of your practice’s internal marketing plan should be to cultivate a strong company culture, to educate staff about the company's goals and strategies, and to provide training, motivation and support to help employees achieve those goals.

Cultivating Company Culture

It takes more than just a steady paycheck to keep staff happy and excited to come to work. There are many ways to cultivate a strong company culture, but a good place to start is to think about how to give employees the sense they’re working toward a greater purpose, no matter what their job title is. This can be achieved differently for different businesses, but according to Paul Spiegelman, founder and CEO of Beryl Health, a few key elements of effective company culture are core values, camaraderie,celebrations, community, communications, and consistency. Here are a few ideas for building a strong company culture:

  • Celebrate together! Everyone loves a celebration, whether for a birthday, holiday, professional accomplishment, or other special occasion. Acknowledging special times doesn’t have to be costly—a few treats and heartfelt speech from you go a long way to bringing people together.
  • Volunteer as a group. Find a local charity or cause that’s meaningful to you or the staff and plan to donate some time—anywhere from an evening in the soup kitchen to a running or cheering on a 5K. Generosity and good will go hand in hand.
  • Create team-building activities after-hours. Consider joining a softball or bowling league,where even those employees who choose not to participate can come cheer on their co-workers. You could also organize staff outings to ballparks, movies, or community events. Just think: “work hard, play hard.”
  • Introduce some healthy competition. Create a productively competitive environment that inspires teamwork among members of a particular department. Contests or competitions between departments break up the regular routine of the work day, create camaraderie and, depending on the size of your practice, provide interactions between co-workers who may not otherwise interface frequently.

    The most effective department competitions build relationships within a department and
    create a fun internal marketing vehicle, as well as create an opportunity to market the company externally. Charitable fundraisers or new-client drives present opportunities for both internal and external marketing.

Employee Education

A crucial aspect of internal marketing is to communicate with employees, keeping them informed and engaged with the business. Below are some ways to accomplish this:

  • Internal employee newsletters. Produce a regular employee newsletter that provides staff with information about current projects, goals, growth, and initiatives of the company. Include information that educates team members on new products, services, or customers, and consider including business outcomes, goals, or plans for the future. Use your judgment on what to share, but remember that transparency can help staff feel respected and included as part of the team. You can also use a newsletter to reinforce company culture, by including fun sections like a featured employee or trivia.
  • Regular “town halls.” If you’re not having regular staff meetings, now is the time to start! Meetings are crucial for staff to feel united, and they’re the perfect opportunity for you to educate the staff as a whole. Make sure your meetings aren’t just lectures, though—communication is a two-way street, and inviting staff to participate is vital.

    If you’re having trouble getting staff to chime in, try introducing a new element to shake things up and help staff relax about sharing, like holding meetings over coffee, or outdoors. The reason it’s so important to get staff to actively contribute is that there are two benefits to this. On a broad scale, staff participation gives you the opportunity to include them indecision-making; for example, voting on a practice motto or color scheme for lobby renovations, as well as voicing concerns about office transitions.

    Opening up the floor may also reveal things about your staff
    you weren’t aware of. Does your receptionist have graphic design skills? Would one of the nurses be excited about filming a fun educational video? You don’t know until you ask, and if you can utilize your staff’s hidden talent or social connections to accomplish something to benefit the practice, it’s a win-win.

Encouraging Employees and Evaluating Results

To bring your internal marketing strategy full circle, the final step is to help your newly inspired,informed staff members connect with your customers, and to evaluate how effectively they do so.

A good way to do this is to create marketing initiatives that focus on customer service and transparent feedback on all levels, possibly even rewarding outstanding staff performance. For instance,implementing a patient survey program allows patients to rate their satisfaction with the customer service level of a broad list of experiences. Share the results of these surveys with your staff, and use them to open the lines of communication about ways to improve.

To give you more direct feedback, you may also consider utilizing a call recording service for your front desk. Interactions over the phone can be some of the most crucial when it comes to overall patient perception of customer service, as the subtleties of non-verbal communication are lost. Call recording services allow incoming calls to be recorded and stored for you to review at your convenience, and can be shared with the staff for training purposes. These services allow you to coach your staff in a one-on-one environment without the distractions of the busy office.

Secondary Benefit of Internal Marketing: Effective Word-of-Mouth Promotion

In addition to the direct customer satisfaction scores on patient surveys or positive new Yelp reviews,there is another benefit to internal marketing: your staff become marketing powerhouses. They may not have experience with Google AdWords or a degree in advertising, but don’t underestimate their influence—according to research by Nielsen, 92% of people trust recommendations from friends and family more than all other forms of marketing.

After spending time developing your company culture, your staff will be excited to share about your practice with friends and family because they are proud to work for you. If your staff are happy, they can become your practice’s biggest fans; your champions of word-of-mouth. Conversely, if staff is unhappy,it can reflect terribly on your practice, which is why internal marketing is so vital.

Once your staff are properly educated on your practice’s core values, message, services, and target market, ALL staff members will be able to make more appropriate and effective recommendations to family and friends regarding your practice.

Because you will be able to trust your staff to represent your practice well, you may consider loosening the reins on the most popular marketing platform around: social media. Think about actually encouraging word-of-mouth marketing through social powerhouses like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—both the company accounts and staff’s personal ones. Your employees are already connected, so consider utilizing them as marketing channels. Give them your ads and content that they can distribute to their circles. Everyone spreads the message today, so prepare and encourage them—and reap the rewards.

Ultimately, internal marketing isn’t about forced smiles and instant results. While jumpstarting the initiative with the above ideas is great, you should really try to incorporate the concepts of team-building, education, and strong communication in an organic way that fits the scope and personalities of your staff. If you take the time to invest in your employees from an internal marketing perspective, the benefits will only compound into positive results for your business.