It’s true, a membership plan of any kind is simply collecting recurring payments in exchange for goods or services. One would think that managing those recurring payments in a reliable, trackable fashion would be all you need to manage and grow a successful membership plan.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Based on personal experience, collecting membership payments is only part of the equation, and quite honestly, the simplest and most straightforward part to implement. It’s pretty simple to contact your merchant processor and enable the feature that allows for recurring payments. It’s all the other administrative tasks that go along with collecting payments that can make managing a membership plan very cumbersome as it grows without the appropriate tools.
In our dental practice we already had this in place. Our existing merchant processor had a tool where we could store credit cards or ACH information and schedule recurring payments. This worked out great! We collected our member’s payment information, scheduled the first payment, setup the frequency of future payments, and voilà, we had our well-oiled machine off and running! What we didn’t realize was that there was much more to it as we started to creep into the hundreds of members.
Here are the top five additional features that make a membership platform more than just a payment system, and so critical for growing a membership plan.
1. Renewal Reminders
First and foremost, every single membership plan should be auto-renew and your patients need to agree to this. You are creating this plan for their benefit and it has to be simple for you to manage. Without this, it is a huge headache for your team and will not create the kind of business impact you envision. Most membership plans are for a single 12 month term with an auto-renewal function. It is the patient’s responsibility to make sure they use all of their covered services within that 12 month period. We all know who’s fault it is when a patient does not take responsibility and use covered services. Having the peace of mind that your software platform is automatically sending multiple renewal reminders encouraging patients to come in for services helps to ensure satisfied patients!
2. Payment Card Notifications
Not only does a software platform send transaction receipts, it also keeps your patients and your team abreast of when cards on file are expiring or payments have failed. The point of the platform is to make the administration of the plan seamless for the admin team AND the patients. By having notifications sent to the member notifying them a card on file is expiring or has failed, the member can take care of these issues themselves, so the plan stays current and you mitigate any lapse in coverage.
3. Member Status/Eligibility
When a member calls in and has a dental emergency, it can be challenging to comb through transaction history reports or rely on documentation in the practice management system to confidently know whether the patient is eligible for covered services or discounts, especially when you have hundreds of members. When you have the membership platform, you can simply search for the member in the system and immediately see if they are eligible in real-time. You can easily view their specific payment history, change information, or confirm additional family members who may or may not be eligible for the plan.
4. Streamline Plan Changes
Things change. The cost of doing business changes. Prices increase. Protocols change for recommended services. There may be a need in the future to make changes to your plan pricing or services. Without a membership plan software, even getting a list of your member contact information can be a big challenge. Whether you want to mail a personalized letter or send a mass email, it can be difficult to export and assemble contact information for just your membership patients. Furthermore, when you do need to change the price of the plan, without a software it is a very manual process of going into each member’s record and changing the price one-by-one in your merchant account. Even worse, if you are manually processing payments on a regular basis, you have to make sure the person doing it doesn’t make a data entry error or charge the old price. Having a membership plan software allows you to do these things in a matter of a few clicks.
5. Revenue Forecast
Forecasting membership revenue was never more important than when dental office doors were closed for months due to the coronavirus pandemic. We used to use this for financial planning, goal setting, and tracking business impact. However, in March, April and May 2020 it was a critical feature when dentists needed to know exactly how much revenue they would be bringing in from their membership plan payments, their only source of income. (Unintentionally, this hits on the benefits of monthly recurring revenue!) You cannot look into the future or plan ahead without a tool that gives you that information real-time in a simple, organized fashion.
If you are truly trying to build a loyal, independent patient base that will give you the freedom to practice how you see fit for the best interest of the patient, and make your business more profitable, a membership plan software is an important investment, not an expense. I could go on and on about software features that will help organize and administer a membership plan, but if your plan is not structured appropriately for your business or priced in a way that you are profitable, no software is going to make it successful. The real magic happens when your plan is structured so you are making money, the patient is saving money, the team is on board, people are enrolling without hesitation, and you start to feel the freedom that comes with working directly with your membership patients.