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    Portal promptness

    Don't lose would-be patients to cyberspace by neglecting Web site inquiries

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    For a person to wander onto to your Web site and actually email a question shows genuine interest. However, many physician practices drop the ball, waiting too long to respond or worse—not responding at all, according to one expert.

    The result? Lost precious business opportunities, claims Lou Haggerty, senior vice president, Patients Unlimited Marketing Consultants, a Los Angeles-based marketing firm that specializes in marketing the cosmetic practice.

    "More cosmetic-oriented services are appreciating that the Internet is becoming the media of choice for consumers to select their providers. However, the responsiveness falls on the staff and, in many cases, the staff do not appreciate the importance of dealing with Internet requests," Ms. Haggerty tells Cosmetic Surgery Times .

    OLD SCHOOL This laissez-faire attitude about unsolicited Internet requests by potential patients is reminiscent of how staff might have responded in the past to calls which patients made after finding the practice in the Yellow Pages, according to Ms. Haggerty.

    "When a person would call in and say, 'I saw you in the Yellow Pages,' the staff would go into what I call 'dumb-dumb' mode. They just...kind of paid attention and answered questions. But there was no enthusiasm and appreciation for the fact that, if a person took the time to pick up the Yellow Pages and look for a provider, it was because there was a genuine interest," she says. "Some interest is 100 percent; some is 5 percent. But there is still interest. Therefore, the staff should have the responsibility to respond."

    RESPONSE AND RESPONSIBILITY The majority of people expect a response to their email in less than 24 hours, according to Ms. Haggerty. She recommends that practices make sure that a would-be patient's email wait no longer and, in fact, deserves immediate response. How? The first step is to assign someone the responsibility of responding to all email.

    The second step, she says, is to assign to another staff member the responsibility of checking to make sure that the person who is monitoring and responding to incoming email inquiries is doing his or her job in a timely, professional manner.

    The best person to assign the task of responding to email is often the office "closer," she says, because that person understands people's questions and has a better idea of how to answer them. Putting an office administrator in charge is not always a good idea because administrators often have multiple responsibilities and answering email inquiries might end up on the back burner.

    The key for the person assigned to the job is their willingness and capability of keeping an eye on the computer throughout the day. "In today's environment where emails can be transferred to cells phones and PDAs, we even recommend that that someone should have the responsibility for picking up emails...in the evening and on the weekends," Ms. Haggerty advises. "It may not be the same person all the time. In most offices that are surgical, there is a nurse or someone who is somewhat on call. That same format should be [used] for email."

    The last person who should get involved in responding to email inquiries is the physician, according to Ms. Haggerty, because surgeons and practice physicians tend not to be good sales people and they often get too technical.

    THE RESPONSE BEFORE THE RESPONSE Ms. Haggerty also recommends that practices set up an automatic email response system that immediately tells people who have sent an email that the practice has received it and will respond within a specific period of time. She says the response should be personalized, using the individual's first or last name (with salutation). If possible, practices should also send any special offers or links to the Web site that might keep that person interested and prevent further clicking that could take them away from the practice Web site.

    SYSTEM SENSE The staff person responsible for email should have a set method of responding. When that person receives a request, he or she should have a plan in place for how to address it. Ms. Haggerty recommends that the responder have FAQs: ready-to-go, cut-and-paste answers to frequently asked questions. At the same time, responders should make sure that they pay attention to emailers' specific requests, so that they can customize the prepared copy by repeating specific requests and answering accordingly.

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    Lisette Hilton
    Lisette Hilton is a writer in Boca Raton, Fla., who heads up her company, Words Come Alive.

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