Today’s topic: reciprocity.  Or more specifically, how to harness the powers behind this principle to help you improve patient relations, your business and your bottom line. And how to avoid the price of indifference on the part of your patients.

Let’s begin:

First coined in 1766, Webster defines Reciprocity as:

  1. the quality or state of being reciprocal : mutual dependence, action, or influence
  2. a mutual exchange of privileges; specifically : a recognition by one of two countries or institutions of the validity of licenses or privileges granted by the other

In chiropractic terms, both are entirely accurate.  As doctors, we sometimes fail to realize that there is mutual dependence going on within our business: our patients depend on us for our expertise in restoring their health; we depend on patients to pay us for our skills.  Additionally, this mutual dependence is a privilege – again, for both parties involved.  The patient is privileged to have access to our health care and the ability to pay for it.  As chiropractors, we are privileged to have paying patients who need our services.

Since we have now established that there indeed exists Reciprocity within the very nature of our patient-doctor relationship, the question is: what are we doing to enhance, improve or encourage the development of this relationship with our patients?  Here’s the key: our ability to engage the power of reciprocity enables us to irresistibly build our business and magnetically attract patients.

In fact, it is what much of the astounding success of entities like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other various social media sites have captured that has enabled them to exponential grow their businesses.  Not to mention the countless other examples of reciprocity that cause you to somehow be irresistibly attracted to whatever site, service or sale that is being offered.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN all use it – why can’t you?

And you can use these same principles in your practice! Sound enticing? Read on!

Here’s a common example:  You receive an “invitation” from a long lost acquaintance, not quite a friend but at least neutral enough not to be an enemy.  It’s begs you to “friend” them on Facebook. Bizarre as it may seem, and even though you know the game, you go ahead and accept the invitation even though you may not really have much interest in re-kindling what was never much of an acquaintance or friendship in the first place.

Let’s go one step further:  another person, less than an acquaintance, sends you a request to  “follow them” on Twitter.  Again, you accept, not really knowing why but not wanting to refuse either.

And one last example:  someone you don’t even know sends you an invite to become LinkedIn.  You see from their circle of colleagues that they have friends or business associates in common.  And even though you may not know them personally, you accept.

All of these web 2.0 invitations work on the power of reciprocity and you gave in to it each time.  But this principle is certainly not limited to the web and, in fact, has been tapped quite effectively by scores of other businesses, charities and individuals who succeeded for the very same reason.  And here it is.

It is part of our natural instinct to want to give back to someone who first gave something to us.

It doesn’t even matter whether it is something so small as a web invite. Or a flower from a Hare Krishna (for those of you old enough to remember them).  Or an envelope in the mail that contains a free gift (the most microscopic pin with an American Flag and return address labels) and asks you to donate to the Veterans of the ABC War Fund.

And now you are swept in by the Principle of Reciprocity and you suddenly find yourself doing exactly what they are asking you to do.

Reciprocity in the Chiropractic Office

So how does this relate to our patients?

Quite simply, how are you giving back to them?  In challenging economic times, many chiropractors are foolishly cutting back on their budgets to make room for more “necessary” items.  Gone are the dollars spent on advertising. Gone are the dollars spent on new patient welcome kits, thank you cards and little gifts for being a patient or referring a new one.

And with it, gone is the understanding of what these items do for your practice and your patients. Gone is the power of reciprocity.  Gone are its tangible benefits because your patients no longer feel like “they owe you” but instead they feel like you don’t even care.

Here are a few ideas for harnessing the power of reciprocity in small, concrete ways which will stimulate your patient to give back to you in return:

  • Say “thank you” to every patient on every visit and train your staff to do the same
  • Distribute a “welcome kit” to all new patients that gives free samples of products you may use or recommend in the office
  • Give an educational book about chiropractic instead of just a pamphlet or brochure, as it has more value and is more likely to be read rather than thrown away. (Certainly, I recommend Beyond Back Pain for this purpose!)
  • Offer to spend time at local schools or performing corporate ergonomic evaluations
  • Have your massage therapist do short, promo chair massages
  • Have patients bring in their current medications, vitamins so that you can review them and see if what they are taking is appropriate and in their best interest
  • Ask if there is anything else you can do to help them.

Certainly, if you don’t express other ways of showing care or concern, a little gift or a new patient welcome package won’t make up for your lack in other areas.  But consumer research shows that one of the greatest reasons your patients (or any customer leaves) is rarely for what we think it is.

In fact, here is the breakdown from a recent survey polling healthcare offices of different disciplines.  Patients leave because:

  • 1%          Die
  • 5%          Move away
  • 6%          Financial concerns
  • 14%        Unhappy with service
  • 16%        Left due to lack of convenience (too far to drive, etc)
  • 58%        Displeased with attitude of indifference on the part of staff/doctor

Obviously, the power of reciprocity was not at work.  The patients didn’t feel they owed you anything because they didn’t even feel that you cared.

The take home message is quite simple:  do everything in your power to show your patients you care and use the power of reciprocity to engage them to reward you for that care by giving back to you in the form of loyalty, referrals and the ongoing support of your business.