LEHI, Utah—If you are an eyecare provider looking to connect with your patients and customers, having the right tools in your toolbox can make all the difference in business, whether you are trying to grow your bottom line or just survive these turbulent times. COVID-19 has certainly been a game changer and it has forced many ECPs to pivot and dramatically change their way of doing business and connecting with customers in 2020 and beyond. If you’re looking to up your communication game with patients meet Podium, a messaging platform that enables companies with a local presence to conveniently connect with their customers at critical touchpoints to help them strengthen their business.

By conveniently facilitating millions of customer interactions, such as driving customer-generated online reviews and providing improved customer messaging tools and processing payments, Podium serves more than 90,000 local businesses in the U.S., Canada and Australia. Click recently sat down with Podium’s Josh Jones, regional sales director for health care to discuss the company's approach to the vision care market. Jones talked about Podium’s vision care customer base, the company’s most popular products, and of course, surviving and even thriving through the pandemic.

Click: How much of your clientele is in the health care field, and specifically in the vision care market?

Josh Jones
Jones: We work with 65,000 businesses across the U.S., Australia and North America. Almost a quarter of those businesses are health care practices, including everything from an optometrist to a large health care system. In optometry specifically, Podium is used in approximately 1,000 offices across the U.S. When we broke into health care back in 2015, the year after we started Podium, health care became the main focus because we saw immediately that dentists, orthodontists, optometrists—some of your more transactional type of health care providers—needed a solution like Podium. So it’s been a main focus for us. We have a team that’s specifically built for vision, which includes a primary care optometrist and a retina specialist.

Click: Can you tell us a little bit about your most popular products?

Jones: The number one most used product Podium offers is reputation management. Every consumer in today’s world, when they go to find an optometrist, they’re searching in their area for “best optometrist near me.” And it pulls up a list of ECPs near them. Then the second thing they are doing is looking at the reviews. Are they a 3.0 star practice with 10 reviews or are they a 5 star practice with 100 reviews? Which one are you going to go to? That’s the way that the patient journey begins. The reputation management product is our most popular. That was the first product we offered when we were starting out in 2014.

That then morphed into interaction management tools like Webchat, our second most popular product, which adds a textbox to a website that says “text us.” That forces the conversation offline. So when a patient finds the practice that has good reviews and clicks on the website, the text box comes up and says "text us here." That  immediately takes the conversation directly to the patient’s cell phone. So they no longer have to stay online because the longer they stay online the more likely they are to find a different provider.

You want to turn them into “leads” as soon as you can so they can become a patient. Most of our clients are converting, on average, about 47 percent of their website traffic into paying patients, which is huge. If you look at the contact us web page where it says email us a question, that usage rate is below 10 percent. The usage rate on the text box is 70 to 80 percent, so you’re getting a lot more attention and then when you can turn it into a text message the response rate is much higher. It goes directly into an inbox which your front desk is monitoring and potential patients can engage with the practice quickly and even make an appointment.

Click: Why is Podium a good fit for eyecare providers?

Jones: We focus on what the needs are and fill in the gaps. Specifically for optometry, we provide solutions that offer convenience for the patient, so for example, they don’t have to swipe a card anymore and we’re able to adapt and be nimble with our functionality by helping ODs communicate with their patients and bringing in a text to pay functionality. This is huge for an optometrist which is why one of our clients, Silicon Valley Physicians, is doing so well and they were able to make a lot of money last year, despite a pandemic in California. They collected more money last year than they ever took in during a calendar year. (see Sidebar).

Click: Finally, how did Podium weather the pandemic in 2020?

Jones: I think for everybody, regardless of what you do, last year was rough. For many businesses, trying to stay afloat and remain profitable was not easy. The good thing about Podium is that our solution fit exactly into what was needed to keep practices and other businesses afloat. By offering texting to pay, they could still collect money so it fit perfectly with everyone’s needs to remain contactless. We offer an interactive management platform that offers some unique tools to keep businesses up with what the customer or patient journey looks like today. We did not hit the lofty goals we set for ourselves but, in 2020 we still achieved 110 percent year over year growth from 2019. We had a very, very good year.

Podium Platform Helps Silicon Valley Eye Physicians Weather the Pandemic

SUNNYVALE, Calif.—When Silicon Valley Eye Physicians first started using the services of Podium in February of 2020, they had no idea how important the technology would become for their practice. The San Francisco Bay area practice has one ophthalmologist and four ODs, and they run a busy optical dispensary and contact lens department. According to practice administrator Lisa Beem, who oversees operations and HR, “We were fortunate we had Podium in place when everything shut down and we had to work from home. We felt very blessed to have that tool while we were working remotely. Today, we use almost all of their services.”

Silicon Valley Eye chose Podium because it had a HIPAA compliant chat solution. “We wanted a chat bubble on our website and that’s how we got started and then when the pandemic began we realized patients were texting us. Our doors were closed and we weren’t able to transfer our phones over so we did a lot of communicating by text and email and the patients found our chat bubble on the website and we were able to connect with people through the chat,” Beem said.

It evolved from there. The practice was able to let patients know the status of the office, their appointments, and their glasses or contacts that they might have had on order. “We kept finding it to be a very useful tool and we kept using more and more of their services. It was helpful because we had several people working from home. By using the Dashboard feature from Podium we could see which employee had handled a text message,” she said.

“After we reopened, we wanted to expand our Google Reviews, so we began pushing the Review request out to patients and that exponentially grew our Google Reviews. People found it was a very easy tool to use. Podium became indispensable to us because of the pandemic,” Beem said.

Podium’s text to pay functionality also helped streamline the billing department. Ram Mendelson, head of the billing department said, “Podium allows us to text patients a payment request, rather than using email which people don’t always check. You can pay with Google Pay or Apple Pay. That allows us to collect the money much faster. Electronic payments are easier to deal with and the interface is computer friendly and phone friendly.

“Collection is much faster with Podium and the team there is very responsive. It’s secure and our patients trust it and that’s what’s important. In the old days, patients were very hesitant to use texts and paying by text. Today, almost 80 percent of our billing requests by text are being paid electronically. With Apple Pay, the credit card info is already in their phones. It takes one click to pay, which is great.”

Since reopening the office, the practice uses Podium as part of its new safety protocol. Beem said, “We have a very structured safety protocol because of COVID. We have the patients wait in their cars [instead of in our waiting rooms] and that’s where Podium has been very helpful. They text us to let us know they’ve arrived and then we do a lot of their history by phone, we collect co-pays by Podium and then we go out into the parking lot and screen the patients before they come in. So Podium has helped us create a virtual waiting room.

“Podium has allowed us to streamline a lot of our procedures. The staff loves it. I think patients like the communication of text messaging because it’s less intrusive on their day. So they could be sitting at their desk and they can shoot us a text to check on the status of their eyeglass order. We can exchange text messages when it’s convenient and it’s not quite as onerous as an email or having to pick up the phone,” Beem said.