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Ep.41: COVID-19 and Virtual Consultations


COVID-19 and Virtual Consultations

Your sales will slow down during the pandemic, but have you considered virtual consultations so you don’t bottom out? Catherine lays it out step-by-step with what you need to know to set up and conduct them effectively.

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Episode transcript:

Beauty and the Biz

Ep.41: COVID-19 and Virtual Consultations

Catherine Maley, MBA: Hello and welcome to Beauty and the Biz where we talk about the marketing and business side of plastic surgery practices. I’m your host, Catherine Bailey, author of Your Aesthetic Practice: What Your Patients are Saying, as well as consultant plastic surgeons to get them more patients and more profits. And today’s episode is we have to talk about the only thing there is to talk about there’s only one conversation going on right now and that is the COVID-19 situation. And I know I’m here in Sausalito, and we got this emergency alert, everyone got it in their emails, and it’s all over the neighbourhood. And instead, there’s a legal order directing us to stay inside.

And it started March 17. And it goes until April 7. So, we’re not supposed to go outside and do anything. We’re not supposed to travel or go to business meetings or any of that. And this is the craziest time you’ve ever seen in the history of our planet. This is why this is so weird. Number one, there’s so much uncertainty about it that nobody knows what’s going on, and knows what’s going to happen. And it’s affecting the whole world. So insane. So, like everyone else I just want to talk about what can we do? We have to do something. And working with plastic surgeons for 20 years, I thought I can’t just do my usual podcast Oh, here’s how to get two new patients. You don’t want to talk about that right now.

So, I’m thinking, wait a second, why don’t we talk about virtual consultations, because that is the one thing you could do right now that you have control over. And what I’m thinking is, during this crazy time, where we’re all stuck at home, I’m not sure if everyone is but I know we are in California. And if we’re all at home, and you have prospective cosmetic patients sitting around doing nothing, but they’re online, and why not grab their attention and start a waiting list now. So, you have something to do when the dust settles. Because here’s the opportunity, there’s always an opportunity and every challenge, right now, during this time, when nobody is doing what they normally do.

They’re not spending money, they’re not marketing, and they’re not doing anything, because most people are still in shock. They don’t exactly know what happened or what’s going to happen. So, this is the perfect time to grab a very big asset that’s valuable to you. And that is the attention of prospective cosmetic patients. So that’s why you want to offer virtual consultations. Now some doctors have been doing these forever, because they’re like they used to be playing the big game where they were the world-renowned expert in the whole world, although the SEO changed a lot of that too.

And they were making you go local, but then social media has opened it all back up again. So quite frankly, I mean, you want to do virtual consults anyway, in today’s world, but especially right now to grab attention, because everyone’s sitting still, because I’ll tell you what, I vanity knows no bounds. And I don’t care what people say, women especially want to look good. It’s in our DNA. And they may not be able to write this second, but they’ll figure out a way to get back to you sooner rather than later.

So, let’s talk about virtual consults, and why you want to do it. And by the way, a long time ago, many years ago, I did an article on virtual consulting, and I interviewed three very well-known world-renowned surgeons. And I asked him lots of questions about how to do it. And why do you do it? And quiet, quite frankly, they said, I do it. Because half of my patient base comes in from outside the state and around the world. So, I had to do it. So, they had to figure it out. Most surgeons have not done it because they haven’t had to. And you know what? In today’s world, with all the technology and the social media going on, and you can reach anybody and everybody, so you might as well embrace this and get used to it. And one of the surgeons I interviewed was he Galen McCullough.

And he is a very world renowned. Oh my gosh, he’s been at this for over 40 years. And he’s a facial plastic surgeon in I think it’s called call streaming Alabama. He’s in his huge five-star resort practice. It’s amazing. It’s a fortress. And he said to me, and this is what he said to me, I asked the doctors who trained with me, what is the objective of the consultation, and most of them get it wrong. The main purpose of the consultation is to establish a relationship. Once you’ve done that, you won’t have to worry about the procedures because the patient’s comfortable and confident. They trust you. And that is the whole point. If you can get somebody’s attention right now with a virtual consultation, and you can build that relationship and that trust now, that’s invaluable because that’s your new list of patients who want to get to know you even more. However, there are still technology limitations to virtual consultations, you cannot assume that the whole world is 20. And once you know a bbl and they are tech savvy. I mean, I sure hope that maybe you’re going after that crowd. But quite frankly, during tough times, guess who survives the best and not the little 20-year-old and they don’t have any money. They never did have any money and they’re not Have any more in the foreseeable future. They’re the service industry. And look what happened to the service industry for heaven’s sakes, you want to probably go up the food chain. And I would diversify, if I were you. But if you do go, the more mature patient, keep in mind, they didn’t grow up with all this technology.

So, you’re trying to keep it as simple as you can. Because you’ve got to make it simple for not only you because maybe you didn’t even grow up with all of this. I mean, I’ve had to learn this the hard way. And I use this technology a lot. But it also has to coincide with your staff skills, and then with your patient skills. So, the easiest way to do it that I’ve seen is, the doctor has the patient, email them photos, and then they do a FaceTime call. But there’s some limitations to that. Because a lot of the patients don’t even know how to do that. A lot of them know how to do selfies now, but they only know how to text it somewhere. And they don’t realize that you can actually email it as well. So, you’d have to figure that out. But then if you do FaceTime, you both have to have an iPhone, believe it or not, some people don’t have an iPhone, they have a Samsung or something else. So, you have to figure that out.

And I think the screen size is so small, I don’t see how you can, especially if you’re talking about face, I don’t I don’t know I don’t, it just seems limiting to me. But you can also use things like Google Hangouts and Skype. And a lot of doctors do that. However, now the patient’s going to have to download the app, and then they have to set up an account. And that’s an extra step. So that can be confusing. But you can figure it out, it’s just what you’re trying to do is to make this as easy and comfortable for the prospective patient as possible. And you don’t want them to feel stupid, because that’s going to hurt your relationship before you even start one. So, do what you can to keep it simple. Now, here are a couple drawbacks to virtual consulting. The biggest one is you’ve lost that human contact. And every surgeon I interviewed for that article was saying, it’s much more difficult when you’re not looking at that patient in the eye.

You can’t build the trust and the confidence like you can when you see somebody live, and you can’t get a sense of who they are, as well, like Who are they as a person. And that’s why when you do these virtual consults, you want to like step back a little bit and try to get to know them better. And listen to them carefully see what they want, what they don’t want. Somehow, you’ve got to bond with them to determine who are they not just as a prospective patient, but who are they as a person? Do they have the right expectations? Do they seem sane, that kind of thing? So, the question I’m asked all the time, especially lately is, so how do you do virtual consult, if I were going to set one up for you, here’s what I would do. And this is just me knowing a lot of people, a lot of patients, a lot of surgeons, and this is what I would do, I would use video conferencing. And I would use a platform, the one I like the best that I have less technical glitches with is zoom.us.

One thing with Skype, I think if anyone does Skype, if you get a bad connection, it’s awful. And then you have to turn off the screen and just go by the audio anyway. So, zoom I’ve had the best luck with and so that’s where I would go into why I like zoom is you can record the call for future reference. And then you might say, I don’t know, are you legally allowed to record the call and I don’t know anymore. I know right now, during this whole COVID-19 thing, they have waived HIPAA rules. So, the whole world has just turned upside down. So, I don’t know. But personally, if I were a surgeon, I would want to record that call for future reference in case things go sideways. And I would just make sure you tell the patient at a time by the way, I’m going to be recording this call you okay with that. And that’s how I would handle it. What I like about zoom is its video conferencing so you can show your screen. And so, you can show them to other patients results like other patients before and afters, you can go on your website and show them some things there. You can go there together. And like let’s say they sent their photos ahead of time. And you can, let’s say draw on them and then show them on screen, there’s just a lot, I think there’s a lot of flexibility with it. And resume, nobody has to download anything, all you’re doing is sending them a link. And all they have to do is push the button. That’s all they have to do. So, I like that a lot.

Anyway. So, let’s say you’re going to do that. So, you would send a patient an email, asking them a few pertinent questions about what they want, and a little of their health history and then save the rest for later. I am watching too many of you put something up and you’re sending like you know how you have your new patient intake forms, and they’re usually like four of them. And you’re sending all of that right at the get go. And it scares the bejesus out of somebody that becomes this huge homework assignment that nobody wants to do. You want to do this in pieces in the first step is just to get their attention that you offer virtual consultation. The second step is only to get the contact information that’s most pertinent, in case everything else falls apart, you now have their name and their email and their cell. Now you can stay in touch with them forever, even if they never go through the Virtual Console. And you can add them to your email list. You can text them see what’s happening. And there’s so much you can do because now you have a viable prospective patient. And quite frankly, if they don’t want it today, they want it tomorrow or next year. So, I would hang on to that and then ask for things in steps. Like let’s say you have them take selfies and you text the photos and you want them to text your photos to your office cell phone and so Lot of times in today’s world, a lot of you have a practice telephone. And I will give you a tip, if you don’t, and you would rather just use your own cell phone, but you don’t want anyone to see your cell phone number, there’s technology that you would just place over it, there are a whole bunch of them, there’s one we use called line two. And they’ll just give you a special phone number.

So now that phone number shows up and yours doesn’t. And the thing that staff love about this app is you can use it from your desktop. So, if you have a coordinator who’s sitting at her desk, she can see emails coming in from her desktop, and then she can answer them from her keyboard. So, it’s a lot faster and more efficient. So just consider that I would personally have your coordinator do a pre console call with the prospective patient to obviously learn more of the health history. And just the big the pertinent stuff like the things that would normally be an objection to surgery, things like BMI, height, weight, meds, they’re on health history, they do a little of that now, and then pass it off to you when they have a better picture of this patient.

Because you as the surgeon, you don’t want to waste your time on silly stuff. Oh, that that also reminds me, should it be free? Or should you charge for a consult? Normally, I would stay charged for a virtual just like you do charge for a live consultation. And what I would do is discounted though, and so that way it becomes more of a choice. So instead, it’s more like sure, Susan, we offer a consultation here in the office for $150. Or because you are far away, we offer a virtual consultation for only $75. Which one would you prefer? Do you see how now she’s going to answer yes, or Yes, it’s called a choice close rather than yes or no. So, think about that. But in the meantime, if you’re going to do the consultation, and you just do your part, and your objective is to build rapport and trust with that patient. And then here’s a tip, you want to allow enough time with that virtual patient. So, they don’t feel rushed. I mean, you know how it feels when they’re live, but you have a tendency when it’s virtual to rush it. And just because they’re not in front of you, it doesn’t feel as real and you want to tell them upfront that you have set aside, whatever you set aside for 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, you’ve set aside that time for the call. And so, you’re willing to spend that time to talk with them.

And that will help that patient know that you care about them. And then you always want to preface any recommendations you’re going to make. And you’re just always going to preface it by saying something like based on the photographs in front of me, and based on this call that we’re doing, and here are my recommendations. However, I cannot or I cannot or will not finalize my plan until I see you personally, you just always want to add that caveat. Because you really don’t know until you meet somebody face to face. So right now, it’s just a virtual consultation. And then how do you market it? This is the part I like in today’s world, right this second, as I mentioned, there’s only one conversation going on. And that is about the virus and how that is affecting all of us. But you want to enter that conversation strategically. So, I would personally do emails to your entire list, keeping it light and saying I hope you’re safe. And by the way, if you are sitting still and you have some time that you don’t normally have, let’s go ahead and do a virtual consultation, click here to schedule now, I would also do social posts. If the posts are getting good interaction, I would then turn that into a Facebook or an Instagram ad campaign. And again, what are you trying to do right now and grow a list because you have their attention now, and it’s a lot cheaper to advertise right now, because everyone stopped advertising because everyone’s in shock. So, this really is a good opportunity right now, to spread the word that you offer the virtual consultations. And then a lot of the surgeon stated me, I don’t know, do these convert? Is this worth the trouble? Well, obviously, you have to test it. And you also have to know your demographics. If you’re working with the 20-year-old, a lot of them, they might live right next door to you, but they just don’t feel like coming in. They don’t act that way. But I have a 13-year-old niece who will not call me on the phone, she will only text me That is where that group is going. And I don’t think you can do business like that when you’re trying to sell a multi $1,000 procedure. But if you’re going to cater to the demographics, then you’ve got to do it their way, I guess. So, you have to decide how you’re going to do that. However, it’s so hard to see what the conversion rate is going to be? Because it’s just like anything. Do you charge for a virtual console? Do you look and sound good online? Are you comfortable online? Are you able to bring your personality enough where they feel like they trust you and they want to meet you? What’s your pricing? Like? What’s your availability like? So the three top dogs that I interviewed years ago at that time? Now keep in mind, that’s not even fair, because they were like world renowned. And there weren’t, they didn’t have the competition we had now, but their close rate for virtual was roughly averaging 70%. But in today’s world, who knows? All I would say is it’s a beautiful tool to add to your toolbox. It’s just one more thing. Virtual consultations are one more thing to cater to the new kind of patient who prefers that kind of thing and who opens up the door to new patients who are farther away from you than normal. Who you can work with on social media, like rather than ask somebody to come right in and that is a nice step on social Media, oh, let’s get to know each other, schedule your virtual consultation, schedule your FREE virtual consultation now. But then make sure your staff gets involved at the pre consult and then the post console, you don’t want to get stuck in all of this process, you just want to do your piece just like you do now live. And then for logistics, and some of the doctors say, Well, how does the money work. And here’s what typically happens to the virtual people, they usually come into town, if they’re from out of town, they come in a day or two before the surgery so they can meet you face to face, right. And you have to have a meeting of the minds to make sure that you’re all on the same page, because you’re trying to save them a second trip. So that makes sense. Now regarding the people, and after the Virtual Console, if they decide to move forward, and quite a few of the surgeons have them put half down now as a non-refundable payment to reserve the or time and the staff. Or you could do it the other way around. You could have them pay in full before they arrived, and then just refund them half of their money. If it’s a no go. Just be sure the patient understands. You always have the final stage though deciding if this virtual patient is a good candidate. And if they’ve got realistic expectations, and you get to determine everything, when you’re up close and personal with the patient. You’re the one who determines if this is going to be a go or no go. Here’s the bottom line. I really believe in virtual consultations I always did before, but now I really do thanks to what’s happening in the world. And I think it’s going mainstream quickly.

And I would just get together with your team and decide what’s the easiest way you could pull this together. And by the way, if you want help, I can set it up for you. But here’s what I would do, I would set up your zoom account and I would set up your cell phone account. So, you could have them just text you the photos. And I would also set up an email account or just use your Constant Contact account to set this up this landing page like okay, here’s what happens next, that kind of thing. I would also set up some social posts and an ad campaign so you can find and attract new patients to you. And then I would set up the back end because the follow up is everything. So, I would also set that up too. So, if you want my help with that, please reach out to me at catherinemaley.com or you could always DM me on Instagram at catherinemaleymba. I hope you’re okay during this crazy, crazy time. They saved and we’ll talk soon.

Catherine Maley

Catherine Maley

Catherine is a business/marketing consultant to plastic surgeons. She speaks at medical conferences all over the world on practice building, marketing and the business side of plastic surgery. Get a Free Copy of her popular book, Your Aesthetic Practice: What Your Patients Are Saying View Author Profile.

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