I often wonder how the aesthetic patient today makes a decision, having to wade through a sea of information and options available for cosmetic enhancement. It is a daunting prospect to sort out fact from fiction, hype from reality and marketing from credibility.
When you grasp how difficult and bewildering this process can be for the typical aesthetic patient, the importance of establishing rapport and a relationship with them is critically important. The plastic surgeon’s main task is to educate and help guide them to make the safest and most economical decision possible…for that is the heart of the physician-patient relationship.
What Are Patients Really Buying?
What are patients paying their hard earned money for? Prospective aesthetic patients want to change something about their appearance and they hope fixing, repairing or enhancing a certain aspect of themselves will make them feel better. They feel vulnerable and are looking for help.
Everyone that makes the effort to visit a plastic surgeon wants something. (unless they are lost and just want directions to somewhere else) They are looking for someone to help them with their concerns. And they hope that where they have stopped is the doctor that can do it. If someone had already met their needs, they wouldn’t be in this office now.
Psychologically, patients are buying hope, happiness and self esteem. They are also buying and seeking peace of mind, the fundamentals of what makes up comfort. Everyone wants to go somewhere, be with someone, or do something that makes them feel comfortable. One should never underestimate a patient’s desire for comfort….it is one of the powerful motivators for making decisions.
Patients also want to avoid making bad choices. They would rather make no decision than make a bad one. Because they do not want to regret their decision, they are looking for reassurance….from the plastic surgeon….that what they are doing is right.
The Aesthetic Patient as a Consumer
Since patients are using their own disposable income to look and feel their best, they have the ability to choose their plastic surgeon and aesthetic procedures on a whim. On the one hand, this makes them fickle but it also makes them emotionally susceptible. One of the best ways to help patients is to help them with a cost-benefit analysis to demonstrate which procedures offer the best benefit in the most economical way.
Patient behavior is often touted as being quite complex…and it is. But looking out for their money and how they should spend it wisely is something that all patients understand on a deep-seated and personal level. I frequently tell my plastic surgery patients not to do something that I feel is something that will make not ultimately them happy or provide a poor return on their investment. Patients understandably view protection of their financial resources as a sign of compassion…which it is.
Decisions about aesthetic enhancement are almost completely and exclusively made on emotions. Aesthetic patients act on prejudices and habits much more than knowledge. Most decisions are ultimately justified with logic…not the reverse. And, while it takes a patient a split second to make a decision; getting ready to make that decision can take months or even years.
One key element about this emotional decision process is their impression of the plastic surgeon. Do they like or trust him or her…and do they make them feel comfortable? It is hard for doctors to imagine sometimes that their education, skill, and expertise can take a backseat but sometimes it does. The aesthetic patient is not an expert in what they are consulting for…but they are their own expert when it comes to judging people.
Over the years, I have read a lot of sales manual and training tools that focus on specific techniques on how to ‘close more sales’. Personally, many of them smack of being manipulative to me as it relates to plastic surgery. The heart of every aesthetic consult and treatment is the intent and character of the doctor. People with needs are reaching out for someone to help them…someone they can trust to help them do the right thing. And when they find it that can be a very comforting feeling.
Dr. Barry Eppley