Most people associate the word “Disney” with amusement parks and PG movies.
But for Spokane Valley physical therapist Luke Gordon, Disney means marketing.
“My wife and I are huge Disney fanatics,” he explained, “and what I love best about Disney is the level of customer service. We strive for that same level of service at our clinic.
“While the rest of the medical industry is speeding people along, trying to automate, we’re slowing things down, developing personal relationships and doing everything we can to provide clients with an amazing experience.”
He said the approach has paid “huge” dividends at the clinic his father, Robert, started three decades ago and could do likewise at most customer-service businesses.
During a recent interview, Gordon discussed self-diagnosis, skeptics and something called a “grudge purchase.”
S-R: Where did you grow up?
Gordon: Here in the Spokane Valley. I attended West Valley High School.
S-R: What were your interests?
Gordon: Mainly sports – basketball, primarily.
S-R: Did you have a favorite class?
Gordon: I was a math guy.
S-R: Where did you go to college?
Gordon: I got a bachelor’s degree in prephysical therapy from Washington State, and my doctorate in physical therapy from Eastern. Then I came to work for my dad.
S-R: What do you recall about your early days on the job?
Gordon: I remember being scared I wouldn’t be able to help people.
S-R: What did that teach you?
Gordon: To ask better questions and get to know patients before treating them.
S-R: Was there a moment or event that changed the direction of your career?
Gordon: I think it occurred when I really started getting involved with marketing.
S-R: What changed?
Gordon: Before, we focused on friendliness. My dad is super
S-R: What distinguishes your clinic?
Gordon: A lot of things, starting with how we communicate with people. We listen longer. We pay more attention. We connect personally. Let’s say someone with back pain calls us with a referral from their doctor. The standard way we used to process those clients was to ask for their name, date of birth, insurance and when they could come in. Now, we start by asking them what pain they’re dealing with, how long they’ve had it and what it’s stopping them from doing. So we’re qualifying clients first – we’re listening, showing we care and not taking for granted that, just because they have a referral, they should come in. If it seems like a good fit and we think we can help them, then we move forward. If they’re skeptical, we slow it down even more and explore various options.
S-R: When did you launch this more deliberate approach?
Gordon: About three years ago. And it’s marketing – don’t get me wrong. But it’s a culture we’ve built into every conversation we have, starting with that first phone call, which changes the way clients perceive health care.
S-R: What has been the response?
Gordon: It’s been huge. It has allowed us to cultivate relationships with patients and provide them with a more comfortable experience so they’re happier to come back and more eager to refer others.
S-R: Is this new culture something you borrowed from somewhere else?
Gordon: To some extent, everything is borrowed. I’ve borrowed things from Disney, but you can borrow from any business out there. And what we’ve done would translate to any other business.
S-R: What’s the clinic’s average caseload?
Gordon: About 225 client visits per week.
S-R: Are patients typically referred to you, or do they find you on their own?
Gordon: Ten years ago, almost all our patients were referred by doctors. Now we reach out to the public and former patients, so the ratio of doctor referrals to self-referrals is closer to 50-50.
S-R: Do self-referrals sometimes think they have one problem when they actually have a totally different one?
Gordon: Definitely. They find something on Google and YouTube, and decide they’ve finally discovered the source of their pain. And maybe they have. But after examining them, we may say, “Well, you might have a bulging disc, but that’s not your problem. It’s this muscle or a related joint.”
S-R: Did you take any business courses in college?
S-R: Do you wish you had?
Gordon: No. I don’t think it would have helped at all. But I do have a marketing coach – a physical therapist named Paul Gough who lives in England but spends half his time in the U.S.
S-R: How did you connect with him?
Gordon: When you’re on Facebook, they know what you’re into. Once I started looking into customer service and ways to improve the clinic’s marketing, I started seeing ads for people like Paul. I actually started with a different marketing guy who I still follow, and he led me to Paul.
S-R: What’s the best lesson he’s taught you?
Gordon: That the average person is skeptical. There are too many offers out there – too many pills or miracle cures. The key to marketing is to slow down the process, build bridges and help people make informed decisions. And I’m in no hurry. We don’t have a shortage of patients. I don’t necessarily need any one person to come in, which is a nice place to be in business.
S-R: How much has business picked up since three years ago, when you changed your marketing approach?
Gordon: It’s more or less doubled.
S-R: Do you anticipate a ceiling to your potential growth?
Gordon: We’ll get to the point where we can’t handle any more clients here, and then we’ll probably expand to different locations.
S-R: Is the physical therapy business cyclical?
Gordon: Typically, yes. Referrals usually slow down in the summer when doctors are on vacation and again during the holidays. But we don’t have those cycles anymore because we plan our marketing around it. I’ll do workshops here at the clinic or outside events that bring us new people.
S-R: What do you like most about your job?
Gordon: I still enjoy patient care. But at this point, I love being able to create the culture and the systems that impact more people.
S-R: What do you like least?
Gordon: The extra work and cost associated with health insurance, which we can’t control. But if we can create enough value in our clients’ minds and then deliver, they’ll pay the higher copay or out-of-pocket costs.
S-R: What’s been your best idea?
Gordon: My best recent idea has been weekly, content-style ads in the newspaper – helpful exercises and tips that create trust and authority, which are the two big things I go for in marketing.
S-R: What’s your favorite client reaction?
Gordon: When clients come in and are happy to see us – which sounds weird, because no one wants to be in physical therapy. In the marketing world it’s called a “grudge purchase” – you’ll purchase it because the pain has reached a point that you have to do something about it.
S-R: Are there any common misperceptions about physical therapy?
Gordon: The biggest misperception among therapists is that your skills are the most important thing. The average therapist is focused on learning more skills when, in reality, they only need a handful of good therapy skills. What they need to develop are personal skills – things like communication and empathy.
Writer Michael Guilfoil can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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