5 Steps to Effectively Adapt Your Relationship Management Activities to the “New Normal”
By Peter Decoteau
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, clinic owners and physical therapists have been faced with a volatile, uncertain market.
On the patient side, we have current and potential patients unable to leave the house, unwilling to enter a clinic, or facing health and economic concerns that make physical therapy a distant afterthought. On the physician side, many have seen referrals slow down to a trickle due to office closures, strict limits for patient care, delayed surgeries, and overall decreases in patient volume. These dips in both self-referred and doctor-referred patients would typically demand, among other things, a well-considered marketing strategy that would likely include targeted physician and community outreach.
While the “new normal” of health care operations presents challenges regarding staffing and budgeting, there is perhaps no more difficult position to address than that of your relationship development team, whose very positions are centered on regular face-to-face interactions and event coordination. Likewise, if you and/or your therapists are the ones typically building and maintaining relationships, you may be finding it difficult to figure out where to go from here. The severity of circumstances may vary state-to-state, but we are all likely facing some version of limited face-to-face opportunities and delayed or canceled events, making physician and community marketing activities particularly challenging. Here are five steps you can take today to get your relationship development goals back on track.
1. GET THE BEST INFORMATION POSSIBLE
As is the case in public relations, your communications are only as good as your contact lists. Depending on your data or relationship management software, your phone contact list, or your personal rolodex (remember those?), you may or may not have immediate access to good physician or community contact information. The first, most important step toward effective outreach is having the best information possible. In these circumstances, that means direct phone numbers, email addresses, and fax numbers. If you don’t already have this data and can’t run it from a report, you or your team will have to research contacts one by one and create a master list.
2. START WITH EMPATHY
This has been a stressful year for most, and while it might be tempting to get right down to business to save both you and your contact’s time, you’ll often find that resuming relationships with empathy offers an opportunity for more authentic, substantive conversations and stronger relationships. By having your “first touch” be a quick “how are you?” phone call or text, you show that you value the relationship beyond the transactional nature of referrals and sponsorships while still potentially learning about the office or organization’s status, as well as the best way to reach out in the future. If you don’t find the chance to get to your clinic’s updates or talking points, there’s always the next conversation to look forward to.
3. KEEP A DETAILED LOG OF INTERACTIONS
Not every organization has a customer relationship management (CRM) platform to track interactions, and not every CRM tracks and reports the exact type of information you may find most useful during this time of initial outreach and information gathering. If either or both of those are true for you, make sure to at least keep a detailed excel spreadsheet where you can track, at the least:
- Best contact person and information
- Dates of interactions
- Status updates (open, opening on a future date, event postponed, etc.)
- Preferred method of communication
- Conversation topical themes
- Follow-up dates and requests
- Other notes and needs
4. STRATEGIZE YOUR FOLLOW-UP
In renewing your lines of communications and learning the general status and needs of referring offices and community partners, you’ll also probably have gleaned common topics of interest that can be expanded upon in follow-up outreach. Put together a list of relevant materials and talking points you’d like to share, broken out by contact type (e.g., referring physicians, front desk staff, orthopedic surgeons, business to business contacts, community groups) and follow-up via the appropriate medium, whether it’s a phone call, email, fax, or other. Make sure these materials and talking points are not solely focused on what’s good for you, but on how you can bring value to the relationship. A few examples may include:
For referring physicians’ offices:
- Information/testimonials for your telehealth platform
- Updates on staff and patient safety protocols
- Clinician certification and/or clinic services news and updates
- New methods, materials, or protocols for referrals
For community partners:
- Email and/or social media content for members (informational blog posts, infographics, videos, etc.)
- Opportunities to engage with members through live or recorded Q&A sessions
- Information packets for niche groups (e.g., exercises and stretching program for runners’ groups)
5. SEARCH FOR ONLINE OPPORTUNITIES
While direct communications will always be the most important part of relationship development, now is the time to also start to look for new opportunities and ways to engage with your extended community through online groups and platforms. These opportunities may include:
- Joining local Facebook groups and becoming part of the conversation. It’s also generally worth asking the group moderator if it’s ok to share information about your clinic, especially relevant updates like safety protocols and telehealth information.
- Offering live or recorded presentations and/or Q&A sessions with community groups, athletic groups and others.
- Sponsorships for virtual events.
- Virtual meetings and/or lunch and learn information sessions with physicians and other healthcare groups. Live or recorded virtual informational videos for town chambers and other business groups covering topics like ergonomics in the workplace.
- Sharing content on local forums, blogs, and websites for either general community news or niche audiences. Following, engaging, and interacting with industry and community influencers on social media.
Using these five steps, you can rebuild the relationships interrupted by COVID-19 and reestablish the referral stream that feeds your company.
Peter Decoteau is the Director of Marketing at Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Centers (PTSMC), Connecticut’s largest private practice physical therapy company. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.