If you’re concerned that there are too many ODs graduating each year and that competition is going to get tougher than ever, I have some bad news for you: competition is already worse than you think. Defining your universe of competitors as approximately 40,000 doctors is not even close to correct. Your competition, really, numbers in the millions—especially online.

Before the Internet became ubiquitous and every dry cleaner and plumber had a website, I was telling clients that the way to compete with other doctors is to blow patients away with over-the-top service. The only time this won’t work, I told them, is if your Monday morning patient just returned from a Disney vacation on Sunday. In that unfortunate event, every task and procedure in your practice will be gauged against top-flight corporate standards for customer service. “If the maid at the Disney hotel can fold towels into mouse ears, why can’t your contact lens solutions be arranged in the shape of an eye? That seems so obvious!”

Destinations and Detours
In the digital age, this face-to-face customer experience challenge still exists. But because of the Internet, we are forced to step up our game to compete against all the other non-contact lens related websites.

Expecting a patient to turn on a computer and go straight to your site is unrealistic. Even if they click nowhere else, they have at least started their online journey to your office at their home page. That may be Google, Yahoo News, ESPN or literally a million other sites. The point here is that by the time a patient—or, more importantly, a prospective patient—finally lands on your site, they almost certainly have already had experiences with others. And it’s fair to assume at least one site is more captivating to them than a doctor’s. The visit to that other site, just like the actual Disney vacation, becomes the new yardstick against which your site, and ultimately your practice, will be measured.

Here’s an actual example.

Joe Sales has to book a flight from New Jersey to Dallas for a business trip two weeks from now. He goes to the airline website and sees all his available options. He chooses the 8:14 a.m. flight, but finds out first class is unavailable. He chooses an aisle coach seat towards the front of the plane and pays for his flight. With one more click, the details are added to his calendar.

Here’s what does not happen. He doesn’t fill in a form that says, “I’d like to go to Dallas in two weeks and I want to sit in first class. Please contact me to set that up.” Rather, he’s able to fulfill his request immediately, and with a great deal of control over the process.

After leaving the airline site, and noticing his screen looks a little blurry with his left eye, he Googles “Eye doctor in Hackensack, NJ.” He sees your name in the first four listings (great job!) and clicks on your site. He clicks the “request an appointment tab” and even though he wonders why the available appointments aren’t displayed like the plane’s seat map, he fills in his desired day and time anyway. So far, so good. The next screen says, “Thank you for your appointment request. We will be contacting you shortly.” At that point, his customer service experience bubble bursts.

Your site has just been compared to his buying experience on the airline’s web site. Do you think they were comparable in his mind? Which site served him better?

Other online competitors will be news sites that deliver content-rich graphics and videos, compared to your plain narratives and simple pictures depicting myopia. Ordering from Amazon raises the bar for the experience of buying contact lenses from you. Completing a hotel room request is the new benchmark for online history sheets. The examples are many, and they all point to the urgency and recognition that the competitive landscape has changed. You’re no longer only in competition with the website for the OD down the street. You’ve got millions of other online competitors and it’s time to step up your online game!