As the web continues to evolve and its capabilities advance, and as e-commerce gains momentum, consumers are going to continue making more and more of their buying decisions based on what they see online. However, for many small businesses — even in the age of interaction between websites and social media — there are still a staggering number without a basic web presence. Literally, they lack even the most basic website; they have nothing that points customers to their services, locations or hours of service, simply relying on business listings or other rudimentary ways to get their business seen online.
Without a professional web presence, the likelihood of a business’ success is greatly diminished, to say the least. This is especially true for medical and dental providers, for example, given the level of competition and customer’s current insatiable desire for access to information for these types of services. Problematically, potential new patients are unlikely to patronize providers who have no presence on the web. They’re going to look at their health plan’s provider list online then search for a provider near them by name and if that provider doesn’t have a web presence, that potential new patient is simply going to go to the next provider on the list. Just consider the number of lost opportunities for a practice in a week and how that lack of presence could be devastating for a small business.
For most practices, the problem is not that they are unwilling to invest in online strategies, but that they often lack the knowledge, expertise and time to properly design, manage and maintain even the most basic web property even though they know that doing so promotes and grow their business. They want to be online, they just don’t have the time and ability to do it themselves; they’re doctors after all, not website professionals. Their main focus – as it should be – is on providing patient care, but who in the practice is thinking about new patient acquisition?
This very challenge created an interesting opportunity for one firm where its leaders saw an opportunity to better serve these small businesses, its customers. In so doing, they realized that this would not only help them retain and engage these practices, but also would help its clients grow their businesses. So, in an effort to solve this problem for thousands of practices, MEA|NEA, a software vendor supporting more than 40,000 dental and healthcare providers in the U.S. added a new product line – web site design and maintenance – to its portfolio in an effort to add value for the practices it serves.
“This was something we heard from clients and prospects – that they didn’t have the time or sometimes the skills to worry with their website,” said Lindy Benton, CEO of MEA|NEA. “Often times, in the event a practice did have a presence online, their sites would just linger with stale information because of lack of updates or the site not being a priority within a practice.”
MEA|NEA is primarily known as a provider of secure exchange of health information between healthcare practices, insurance payers and organizations like Medicare, as well as providing cloud storage for these practices. Now, though, the company is also handling every aspect of website development including regular maintenance for any of its clients interested in capitalizing on the service.
Through the service, initially offered to MEA|NEA’s dental practice clients across the U.S., the FastSites website design and maintenance service eliminates the hassle of practices having to make regular site updates themselves. The practice tells MEA|NEA’s web design team what they’d like or what needs to be addressed, fixed or changed on their current site and the programmers handle the work for them. Each site is uniquely branded for the individual practice using custom, professionally designed templates that provide options for layout and flow. Mobile-friendly sites also are available, as well as appointment requests, contact forms and downloadable patient forms.
The benefits of the service are many for both sides of the equation. MEA|NEA now has the ability to retain more of its clients long term because the web design and hosting is a value add for its clients; while practices reap the benefits of having a professional website that doesn’t break the bank or require them to dedicate staff time to manage updates.
“We surveyed our customers and discovered the need for these maintenance-free web services that practices could access at an affordable price and we decided it was something we owed to our customers to provide,” said Benton. “Beyond that, we started this program because we saw a lack of strong websites out there for dentists and medical providers.
“Many smaller practices either don’t see the value in a website or maybe they just don’t have the time and resources to get one started and keep it maintained. Our FastSites makes that easy. We collect the content they want on the site, they pick a template design and we create the site for them and maintain if afterwards,” she added.
From a partnership perspective, even though there are thousands of website vendors on the market, very few specialize in developing sites for the dental community. Since MEA|NEA specializes in the space, Benton said she felt moving forward this is new business line was a natural extension of resources offered as a way to better serve practices.
“We want to build that partnership whereby we can offer clients additional services they need and they get the security in dealing with a vendor they’ve already worked with, someone they know and trust,” Benton said.
A web presence, even a simple one, is essential for any business. Healthcare, especially, is no exception. For company’s serving clients, perhaps there’s something that can be learned from MEA|NEA’s approach. In an ever changing landscape, being a good and valued business partner often means providing more than your essential services. Sometimes that means launching a new service to serve customer need or to capture an open opportunity, as MEA|NEA has done with FastSites.
Organizations, more than ever, are charged with creating customer stickiness. For MEA|NEA, designing and hosting websites for practices, as well as offering HIPAA compliant storage and sharing solutions like the recently launched FastVaults service to store practices information securely on the web, helps them engage more deeply with their clients while still performing its primary role of managing the secure exchange of electronic claim attachments between providers and payers.
For customers, the more touch points created by a vendor likely will mean they are less likely to move their business elsewhere even if a special offer or deal comes from a competitor. Creating this type of loyalty within a relationship can reduce the effectiveness of competitive price pressures because your customers are now invested as clients and make them less likely to leave because they are invested in your business in several aspects.
The bottom line is, sometimes you have to stretch your business model to be successful at attracting and retaining clients for the long haul. Listen to your customers. Ask them what they need and respond to those needs and — whether it’s something that falls into your current lines of business or not – dig deep into investigating what it might take to add value to your relationship. In the end, you’ll both win.
Christine Alfano is senior director of corporate and product marketing at MEA|NEA, a provider of secure information exchange, HIPAA compliant cloud storage and sharing, and other services for medical and dental practices throughout the US.