I speak with happy hair transplant patients all the time and it's great to hear their stories but I also speak with people every week that haven't had surgery and many of them are asking about the odds of having a bad outcome, or they've already had a bad outcome and are really angry with their doctor. The latter issue is what has been on my mind. Happy hair transplant patients are what all clinics strive for. I don't think that any clinic is out there trying to scam people while at the same time knowing they're doing awful work. I could be wrong but I don't think I am for two reasons.
1. I've spoken to a lot of doctors and even the ones that I know aren't really any good at what they do honestly feel that they are. In fact, some have an arrogance that defies belief!
2. I choose to believe that most people are inherently good and wouldn't intentionally harm others for a quick buck. This point may be a bit naive but this is what I believe.
The problem however is that this industry known as hair restoration is one of the most competitive fields you can find anywhere. Everyone is the best, no one has unhappy patients and everyone has invented their own tools and has been a pioneer of whatever procedure they're currently offering. The literature that clinics put out is designed to support this message and the presentation of the clinic in all formats, from print to internet to the personal consultation, are all designed to convey a message of perfection. The problem is that this is about the deepest pile of horse shit that anyone can step into, marketing wise, and it is partially why you ALL have unhappy hair transplant patients.
Happy Hair Transplant Patients, Their Origins
It would make sense to assume that every hair transplant clinic wishes to have every client turn into happy hair transplant patients and that would be a valid assumption. However, the REAL goal of hair transplant clinics is to reduce or eliminate any UNhappy hair transplant patients from making their feelings known on the internet, especially on the various review websites. You may think this is an unusual point to make but if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Happy hair transplant patients are indeed the goal but this does not bring in as many patients as an unhappy hair transplant patient on a review website will keep away. The old marketing rule of thumb is that for every happy client they will tell two or three others about their experience. An unhappy client will tell ten. Now, this is known to be variable depending on the product or service but the message is clear and it is true, that unhappy hair transplant patients will damage your business for more easily than happy hair transplant patients will help to build it up. So what can you do to reduce the chances of unhappy hair transplant patients?
We first have to identify why a patient might be unhappy. There are two possible reasons;
- The result did not manifest a high final growth percentage from the procedure. This can be because of sloppy technique or it can be from the patient just not having the characteristics and the physiology that you expected. The patient winds up not getting the result they want, the growth is obviously bad and the patient complains.
- The patient had expectations that were not realistic and they expected more from the procedure than it could realistically provide.
The first point is a discussion that could, and has, filled books but the second point is part of what I wish to discuss here. When patients start doing their research into hair restoration they already have ideas of what is possible and their research will either reinforce their ideas of what is possible or it will contradict their expectations. Sometimes patients will recognize their original assumptions were incorrect and as they continue their research they'll come to understand what the reality is with surgical hair restoration and they wind up being a happy hair transplant patient. The problem is that sometimes patients will choose to ignore the information they learn and choose to only believe the information that supports their existing ideal. This is obviously indicative of bigger issues that will be discussed in a future blog post
The Blueprint For Happy Hair Transplant Patients
So assuming your surgical technique is solid, how do you create happy hair transplant patients? The answers may surprise you. Since I first started as a hair transplant consultant in 2003 I was never one to pile on the "we are perfect" bullshit and this is from having been bitten by that approach myself with my first two bad hair transplant surgeries in the early 1990's and when I first started working for Dr. Wong and Dr. Hasson I insisted that I not be on any sort of commission and that I be on salary only. I have never once forgotten where I come from with regards to my own hair transplant history and I vowed from the beginning to not sell my soul. I've been tempted, and I've been pressured and I have even done some things that have pushed those boundaries but I never ever crossed the line that I vowed never to cross. This is the basis for the happy hair transplant patient blueprint.
Every time you or your consultant speaks to a potential patient about what you can do for them, the natural tendency is to not expose yourself to criticism or doubt in the mind of the patient. This is because the clinic down the street doesn't do this and neither do any of your other competitors in town or around the world, for that matter. This is where the trouble starts. "Do you have any unhappy patients?" or "How many unhappy patients do you have?". These are questions you all get but how many of you answer honestly? If any of you reading this tell your patients you don't have unhappy patients, you're a big fat liar. All hair transplant doctors and clinics have unhappy hair transplant patients, period; end of story. But many of you tell your patients otherwise or at the very least you downplay the issue by saying it is limited to one or two or "not many". This is your first mistake. How do you think that patient will feel if you "don't have unhappy patients" but he or she winds up being unhappy? A thinking person would realize they can't be the only one and you'll quickly be found out as a liar but more importantly this can make it's way into the complaint if the patient takes his grievances onto a review website. I've seen it before and it is never good.
[quote align="left"]"Dr. X told me he doesn't have any unhappy patients. Yeah, RIGHT! My result is horrible and my life is ruined! I can't be the only one!"[/quote]
This can open up a can of worms where other hair transplant patients may come out and confirm that they too were unhappy, for one reason or another. The above example may seem a bit extreme but as I mentioned, I've seen it happen before, and it will happen again. So how do you avoid this scenario for yourself? Be honest with your patients and tell them that you absolutely have unhappy patients and you can even keep a list of them that you've documented so you can discuss it. Trust me, you'll get your patient's FULL 100% attention and this will be your opportunity to explain that not only do you have unhappy patients but you can explain why they were unhappy and what you did, if anything, to make things right. This may sound like a ridiculous approach but I am a firm believer in being up front about this procedure because if you're upfront about all the downsides and that it doesn't work out 100% for every patient then you're doing two things:
- You're laying the ground work for a solid education that the patient will truly appreciate.
- You're removing any false expectations of perfection that the patient may have.
In other words, being honest about having unhappy patients puts into the mind of the patient you're speaking with that this is an imperfect surgery, as are all surgeries of all types. The truth you provide to your patients in this matter separates you from the competition and helps to build a level of trust that your competition cannot establish and with time you will build for yourself a reputation of not only consistently great results but also honesty and integrity. Education is only an education if it is honest. Anything else is just dishonest marketing and it will come back to bite you eventually, guaranteed. That is counter productive to creating happy hair transplant patients.
And speaking of guarantees, you should NEVER offer a guarantee for a hair transplant procedure because, realistically, they're useless and only serve to create a false sense of security. Hair transplant guarantees are usually set up in a way that insures that if the grafts don't grow they'll be replaced at no charge. The approach is that it instills confidence in the patient that the clinic is so good, and failures are so rare, that they will do the procedure again at no cost if the result is poor. What this really means is that if the procedure fails, and it is usually because of a screw up in the hair transplant hierarchy in the clinic, that you will take even MORE of the patient's non-renewable resource (donor hair) to try again. This means twice the recipient zone scarring to the get same result that should have been reached from one procedure, twice the donor hair now no longer in the donor area to get the same result that the first procedure should have achieved, and twice the donor scarring and density reduction to get the same result that should have been achieved from the first procedure. The ONLY guarantee that you should give your patients is that you will do the best job you can because realistically that is all you can legitimately offer to begin with. As a hair transplant doctor you have a lot of pieces that make your machine work properly every day. You have your tools, your technicians, your facilities and all of the variables that occur each day that can influence even small issues. The biggest variable of all however are the patients themselves because even if you could control every aspect of your clinic 100% every day you cannot control what characteristics, physiologically speaking as well as mentally (expectations) speaking so you really have no right to offer any guarantees other than your best effort. If you have a good track record and documented consistency then that should be good enough.
Manage Expectations? No, SET Expectations!
To have happy hair transplant patients, one of the first things you or your consultant should do when you meet a new potential patient is to ask questions. Never EVER start off by telling the patient how good you are or by jumping into your presentation. Always ask the question "What do you know about hair transplantation?". By doing this, you're setting the tone of the consultation but more importantly, you're LEARNING about the patient. You're getting direct insight into what they think they know about the surgery itself, and they also begin to reveal what they think it can provide for them. If they don't get too detailed about their expectations then asking about their expectations should be the next think you do. You should also ask, if you haven't learned already, what their sources of information are and how long they're been researching. If you don't ask these questions and learn the answers early in the consultation then the expectations are set based on what the patient hopes or thinks can be accomplished from information they've gathered leading up to the consultation and you've lost the ability to control the perception of the final outcome. Once you learn what the patient thinks or knows about hair transplant surgery and you have a stronger idea of what they hope to achieve it is then your responsibility to confirm their expectations as being valid or set their expectations straight if they aren't. This is critical because in the end, it will make or break the result even if the growth is perfect.
Writing about this subject reminds me of a conversation I had with a doctor about happy hair transplant patients at one of the annual hair conferences. He however was having a problem with a patient that was complaining online. He brought the subject up and asked me what I thought he should do and I gave him some advice but he decided he would do the exact opposite. To this day he is still dealing with the fallout from his decision. This was two years ago. The reason why he was having the problem was because he failed to set the proper expectations from the procedure for the patient. The patient was very hopeful due to some claims the doctor had been making in the past about a particular type of procedure he was performing and the patient said that he had been making some pretty bold claims about the potential outcome in their consultation. I mention this because it's a perfect of example of how not setting the proper expectations for the patient early in the consultation can and will cause big problems for you and your reputation.
Consistency, Not Just in Your Results.
When you take the time to educate each and every patient, not just when you speak to them in a consultation, but also in your literature, your website and your general promotional message, you begin to develop not just a reputation of quality but also of integrity. This is actually the first step to creating happy hair transplant patients. And here is the point of all this. If you are honest about your work and the fallibility of hair transplant surgery in general, your patients will have lower, rather than higher, expectations and you'll have happy hair transplant patients in the long run. This is especially important if you or anyone on your staff participates in online review sites or even hair restoration forums. It is easy to get caught up in the graft count race of performing bigger sessions than the next guy, I should know, but in the end it is only self defeating. You'll have more severe failures and higher expectations by patients that will only be shattered and both will lead to nasty confrontations. Taking the position of safety, education, dissuasion from surgery and reinforce that surgery is a last resort only will help to filter out patients that may not entirely understand what they are getting themselves into much less the potential downsides that they experience. This is why I made one of the most popular hair transplant videos on Youtube, currently nearly 300,000 views, "Don't Have a Hair Transplant". If they can make it through the real education that you give them and they still want to have surgery regardless, then you've just created perfect future happy hair transplant patients; ones that have safe and realistic expectations and the understanding that it just might not be what they hoped for instead of what you promised.