While many practices make great efforts to attract new patients thorough dental marketing, there are practices that are losing patients at the first point of contact. I call dental practices all the time and my personal impression is that more practices are experiencing busy times during the day when they cannot answer the phone. Instead of a live person providing a greeting, patients sometimes get a recording.
There are two issues here and two very good solutions. First, being adequately staffed to answer the phones is very important but often either overlooked are rationalized away as not possible. The same practices that attend dental practice management courses and other dental seminars and come away convinced that they should provide “Ritz-Carlton” service often miss the primary reason for the success of Ritz-Carlton: the company is always well staffed with helpful people.
I have checked into discount hotels late at night when the check-in line literally snaked through the small lobby and outside the building. At the Ritz, there are always plenty of well trained staff to expedite the check-in process, answer the phone, and handle guests’ needs.
In a dental practice, if you expect people to pay your fees for extensive treatment, then you need to cover the phones, even during busy times when all lines are ringing and multiple patients are checking in and out.
I know that some people will say that due to staff budget constraints, it is just not possible to provide adequate phone coverage 100% of the time. If this scenario has to happen, then my second recommendation is to have a specific outgoing message that callers will hear when you are busy. Instead the usual, after-hours outgoing message, put a special message on your voicemail system that says something like this: “Thank you for calling Dr. Smile’s office. Our office is open today. If you got this message it just means that we are busy for a moment but we will call you right back. Please leave your name and number and we will return your call in five minutes.”
For the busy potential new patient who is calling during his or her coffee break, this message is reassuring. The patient now knows that you are in the office, you care about the call, and you will call back momentarily. This is great dental marketing!
By following these two dental marketing tips, you will lose fewer patients and capture more new patients at the first point of contact.
David Schwab, Ph.D.
I know they are out there. It’s a question of finding them and bringing them into your practice with adroit dental marketing. One middle-age woman with a mouthful of broken down teeth, an unattractive smile, and significant periodontal disease recently completed dental implant treatment. She found the dental office that helped her when she responded to the practice’s Internet advertising. For years, this individual had driven past countless dental practices. She had no doubt been bombarded by ads promising replacement teeth and a beautiful new smile. Until one day, she searched on the Internet, clicked an ad that caught her eye, and made the decision to make a new patient appointment. Her life was changed forever.
This success story reminds us that demographics are destiny: we have an aging population with significant unmet dental needs. At my recent lecture at the American Academy of Implant Dentistry in Las Vegas, I identified four major challenges in dental marketing, specifically dental implant marketing:
- Increasing competition. There was a time when dental implants were placed only by specialists, but now general dentists routinely offer this service. Dental implants have gone mainstream. Trying to get a patient into your practice for implant dentistry is harder because every dentist around you has the same idea.
- Downward pressure on fees. With more competition and some very aggressive pricing in the market place, patients are seeing eye-popping fees for dental implants. It is harder for traditional practices to justify their fees, which nonetheless remain quite justifiable.
- It is difficult to cut through the clutter and get your message out. Doctors are honing websites, testing Google ads, and using more targeted television advertising to find patients who need their services. It’s not about “mass mailings” any more; it’s about precise demographic and geographic targeting.
- People often have priorities other than needed dental implant treatment. The patient I described above is now delighted with her new teeth, but she rationalized her procrastination for years before seeking treatment.
While marketing challenges have multiplied, the profession’s ability to deliver implant dentistry in an efficient and predictable manner has also increased. I will discuss specific marketing strategies in future blogs. Finding the “right” patients requires finely-tuned dental marketing, but every day we are reminded that they are out there.
David Schwab, Ph.D.
One of the most interesting developments in dental practice management in recent years has been the opportunity to beam into far-away offices via Skype for team training. While I still spend many days on the road presenting dental seminars and working with clients in my dental consulting business, I enjoy conducting virtual meetings with team members in Virginia one day and California the next without leaving my office in Florida.
My Skype training sessions are not webinars, because they are not lectures. These are back-and-forth interactive meetings where good discussions and qualitative learning take place.
During a recent Skype session, I was telling the team, including the doctor, about the importance of letting patients know that the practice is accepting new patients. I explained that typically many patients either do not know if the practice is open to new patients or they assume that because it takes time to get on the schedule, the practice may be closed to new patients.
I saw the expression on the doctor’s face. He had an “aha” moment. He suddenly realized that he could not assume that his patients would refer to him, because many patients, although very happy with his office, simply did not know that he would welcome new patients.
There are many ways to get the message out: systematically letting patients know through brief yet effective verbal messages, effective wording on the practice website, advertising, and good interior and exterior signage with the “new patients welcome” message.
The good news for doctors is that they have not fished out the stream. There are still many potential patients who would come to the practice, if their friends and family—current patients of record—were encouraged to spread the word.
The office team I was training that day on Skype took notes and made a commitment to shift their internal marketing into high gear. I could see the enthusiasm on their faces—another great advantage of video meetings.
I recently interviewed a doctor to develop dental patient education videos for his practice. The doctor’s winning personality and professional demeanor came across very well on video. He has a very fluid and easy speaking style and he inspires confidence. This doctor asked me a great question. He wanted to know if his interview answers should contain just the positive side of dental procedures or whether he should also talk about potential complications to cover informed consent.
My answer is that we have to make a distinction between relating positive stories to patients as part of patient education and sitting down with a patient to discuss a specific treatment plan. For purposes of a patient education video, the doctor has every right to talk about success stories. As long as the information is totally factual, there is no problem. If the success rate with dental implants in his office is 98%, he can say that. If a patient told him with tears in her eyes that the treatment he provided “changed her life,” then that is a powerful human interest story that he should share.
Patients are looking for solutions to their problems, and doctors routinely solve problems and improve the quality of patients’ lives. Quoting statistics accurately and relating positive comments from patients are perfectly acceptable ways to get the word out about services provided.
When discussing a particular course of treatment recommended for a patient, the doctor should explain that every dental procedure comes with risks. The documentation of informed consent should be thorough, consistent, and systematic and done in accordance with all applicable laws. However, the need to review the possible complications of a procedure should not prevent doctors from truthfully stating that they have successfully treated many patients who are now very happy with their results.
In practice management, think of patient education as talking up dentistry to get people’s attention. The goal is to make patients aware, peak their interest, and motivate them to come to the office to learn how dental treatment can help them. Once the discussion turns to the patient’s individualized treatment plan, informed consent should be part of the process so that the patient can make a fully informed decision.