Dentists Need Scripts for Three Reasons

Dentists need scripts for three reasons: to make the practice more efficient, increase case acceptance, and provide consistent dental patient education. The word “scripts” is used as a short-hand method to suggest what are also called “talking points.” It is not a question of reading word-for-word prepared scripts when patients ask questions, but having key phrases available that each team member can weave into their own speech patterns.

Make the Practice More Efficient. A common scenario is that patients are told they need a certain procedure, such as dental implants. The benefits of dental implants are numerous, which is all the more reason to have a script that concisely conveys the most important information. For example, “dental implants are the most advanced tooth replacement system ever devised. They look and function just like natural teeth. They never decay or require root canals, and they can last for decades or even a lifetime with proper care.” One can always expand on this explanation, but notice how much information is conveyed in a short message.

Increase Case Acceptance. When patients cannot decide whether to go forward with recommended treatment, you can use a very compelling script: “The proposed treatment will never be more conservative, more cost effective, or less invasive than it is today.” Let’s unpack that sentence. Everyone wants conservative rather than radical dentistry. “Cost effective” is a very good term for conveying value. Finally, if patients delay treatment, they may need more extensive treatment in the future. The concept that the treatment will never be “less invasive than it is today” nicely captures that point.

Consistent Patient Education. For procedures that you commonly provide in your office, you need to have an agreed upon list of benefits. This list, or script, creates consistent patient education. If a patient asks why a crown is needed, it is likely that everyone in the office can provide correct answers, although the answers will no doubt vary depending on the person who is responding. The great advantage of having a script is for everyone literally to be on the same page and give patients consistent answers that the doctor has deemed in advance to be the best way to answer the question.

The wording used to answer commonly asked questions should not be left to chance.  Dentists need scripts to remove variables and provide a consistent and efficient way to provide dental patient education and increase case acceptance.

Podcast: Cell Phone Use in the Dental Office

The issue of cell phone use in the dental office causes a conflict between two competing interests: the need for a total focus on the patient and the fact that we live in an electronic age where employees depend on cell phones to stay in touch with family.

This podcast puts forth a common sense solution to the problem and challenges practices to develop a clear policy that keeps employees’ cell phones out of the sight of patients but still allows opportunities for team members to discretely check cell phones during the workday as long as this privilege is not abused.

The issue of patients using cell phones in the office will be addressed in a subsequent podcast.

Price Shoppers Need Dental Patient Education

One of the greatest threats to dentistry is that it is often perceived by price shoppers as a standardized commodity. This off-the-shelf mentality undermines the dentist’s message and the value of dental services and creates a dental patient education challenge.

The mentality is as follows. Your child needs braces? No problem. Just shop for the orthodontist with the lowest fee, because—in the minds of many—the treatment is all the same and the orthodontist is programmed to work the same way again and again. Start with crooked teeth, put on braces, straighten the teeth, remove braces. Repeat with the next patient. Most people do not appreciate the diagnosis, treatment planning, and clinical skill necessary to get an excellent result in orthodontics, especially with complex cases.

Price shoppers are of course not limited to orthodontic treatment but are pervasive throughout the dental marketplace, whether the treatment involves impacted wisdom teeth, dental implants, or even a single crown. When told that a crown is necessary, a patient’s first question is often related to the cost of the crown, not the type of crown or the expertise of the doctor who provides it. If you told your patients that you have boxes of crowns in your supply room organized by sizes, like shoes, many would believe you and wait for you to grab one off the shelf to test the fit.

The need for dental patient education to combat this perception grows every day. When the patient says, “I can get it cheaper somewhere else,” the message should be:

Dental treatment combines my artistic judgment with all my training and experience in the science of dentistry. You can get something similar somewhere else, but the crown that I provide is unique because no two crowns are exactly alike. I am committed to high quality dentistry that is customized for you.

One well placed volley will not necessarily slow the onslaught of price shoppers who come to your practice, but the “dentistry-is-an-art-and-science” message is both high minded and resoundingly true. You are a Picasso in a studio creating masterpieces, not a Sam Walton opening chain stores filled with mass produced merchandise. There is no sale on crowns in aisle four of your practice.

Like so many other artists, you may not be fully appreciated in your own time, but you are teaching patients, often individually, and exposing them to unique dental artwork.

David Schwab Ph.D.

Podcast: The Power of the 15-Second Message

This dental podcast is all about your message.   Learn how to create a consistent and compelling 15-second message and how to use it effectively. You will eliminate the guesswork and inconsistency and have a concise, polished message you can use inside and outside the office to promote your practice.

Dental Marketing: The Patient’s Point of View

Have you heard of “the curse of knowledge?” If an astrophysicist tries to help a high school student with his Algebra I homework, the supremely educated adult may not understand why the student just does not get it. Part of the answer is that the astrophysicist knows too much—that which is obvious to the scientist may leave the student oblivious.

Micah Soloman has an interesting article in Forbes on the curse of knowledgeMr. Soloman writes:

“In healthcare, where the stakes are extremely high, the patient experience and patient satisfaction often suffer from devastating manifestations of the curse of knowledge.  It can lead healthcare workers to deal poorly with the distress experienced–because they’ve seen a similar non-life threatening situation (say, a broken ankle) so many times before and it always turned out all right that they discount the pain and fear experienced by someone for whom this is happening now.

A similar scenario plays out in dental offices every day. A patient is scheduled in an endodontist’s office for root canal therapy. Let’s say that the patient has been told by his brother-in-law that root canals are very painful. The brother-in-law is seldom right but never in doubt, even though he has never personally had this procedure.

Based on modern misconceptions of root canal therapy and comments from his uninformed brother-in-law, the patient is very nervous upon arrival at the office. To allay the patient’s fears, team members in the endodontist’s office may simply say, “Everything is going to be fine.” This message is part of their mantra because every day patients show up afraid and leave saying that they cannot believe the root canal was so easy. This message, though meant to be helpful, may not be Continue reading Dental Marketing: The Patient’s Point of View

The Secret Statistic that is Costing You Money

Dental practices are losing patients because they are not tracking a secret statistic that is costing them money. By easily tracking this number and using specific verbal skills, dental practices will enhance dental practice marketing.

Key points:

  1.  Track number of potential new patients who call but do not make an appointment.
  2. Make this verbal skill part of your script: “In case we get disconnected, may I have your name and phone number?”

Marketing Dental Implants: New Teeth or New Car

Dental practices often use car analogies when talking to patients about fees for dental implants. A typical response to a patient who recoils at the fee for dental implant treatment goes something like this: Think about what it costs to buy a new car. Dental implant treatment lasts longer so it’s a better value. This message is good but it needs to be much more specific and cogent to be an effective way tool for marketing dental implants.

I believe that car analogies should only be used in certain situations. If the patient has been fully educated about the benefits of dental treatment, including quality of life benefits, and still has a hard time accepting the fee, then a skilled treatment coordinator can talk about the relative value of optimal oral health versus a new car.

The problem is that most patients are unprepared for a large dental fee. The average person may assume that a visit to the dentist for an exam, cleaning and x-rays will be in three figures. Patients also often know ahead of time that treatment for something more extensive such as periodontal disease or the fabrication and placement of one or more crowns will be in four figures. Few patients, however, are ready at the outset to come to terms with a five-figure dental fee.

Once the patient has heard the fee and is wrestling with the cost/benefit analysis, then you can talk about cars. Here is a great message for patients:

The average person in the U.S. buys a new car every six years. The average price of a new car is about $33,500. If we add an inflation factor and subtract trade-in value, the average person will pay over $100,000 for four automobiles over an 18-year period. Dental implant treatment typically lasts for decades. In fact, with proper professional maintenance and home care, many people have dental implant treatment done once and it lasts a lifetime. The bottom line is that dental implant treatment improves the quality of your life and over many years it is an exceptional value for the dollar.

Patients who have dental implant treatment often say that it was money well spent and they wish they had had the treatment sooner. Prior to dental implant treatment, however, it is often necessary to talk about value, and the car analogy has its place in marketing dental implants when explained properly.

David Schwab Ph.D.

Bezos Drives to the Post Office

In a television interview, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said that in the early days of his company, he collected packages bound for his customers, loaded them into his personal vehicle, and drove them to the post office.   You won’t see Jeff waiting in line at the post office to ship packages these days. By Cyber Monday 2013, Amazon was selling items at the rate of over 300 per second! The company had net sales in 2014 of $89 billion and Amazon is on track for $100 billion in sales in 2015.

Jeff Bezos is an inspirational figure. He started a very small business, scoffed at his critics, and created an empire.

There are start-up dental practices that have few patients. There are doctors in these new practices who are wondering if they can generate enough revenue to keep the doors open.

While the challenges are daunting, there is always a market for excellent dentistry. Every day 10,000 people in the United States turn 65, and our youth-obsessed culture creates a continual market for cosmetic services, even as patients need care for periodontal disease, the replacement of missing teeth with dental implants, and basic restorative services.

The next time you wonder if your fledgling dental practice is going to succeed, think of Jeff Bezos carrying packages into the post office. He started with a vision, understood that people wanted to take advantage of easy, online shopping, and built his business even while the skeptics were wringing their hands. Now consider the latest brainstorm from Mr. Bezos: delivering packages to your front door via drone. It is easy to imagine all sorts of practical problems, not the least of which are drones falling out of the sky and causing hazards, but that vision of drone package delivery will probably also become a wide spread reality.

Entrepreneurs with imagination and perseverance often succeed, a lesson that applies to dental practice management.

David Schwab Ph.D.

Fire in the Trash Can: Dental Practice Management Issue

Quick! There’s a fire in the trash can in your dental office. What do you do?

You could move the trash can to another room even as it sprouts flames and then go back to business as usual. Out of sight, out of mind, you know.

But wait. Do I smell something burning? Of course! The fire is still in the trash can, and it’s spreading! Even though the trash can is in another room, the problem has not been solved, because the fire is not out. In fact, the situation poses a greater danger the longer it is ignored.

In many businesses, including dental practices, the short-term solution to many dental practice management problems is to, as it were, move the fire in the trash can to another room. Just pretend the problem doesn’t exist or hope it gets better without any intervention.

  • There is a problem brewing between two staff members in the office. Let’s change the subject and hope the problem goes away.
  • The number of new patients has been trending down. Let’s talk about that great case we had last week and put off grappling with the new patient issue.
  • One of the computers isn’t working properly. Let’s use the computer in the back while we hope miraculously that the main computer will get better with some rest.

One of the hallmarks of good dental practice management is to face problems squarely and solve them in a timely way while they are still controllable.

You may have gone to dental school and you may not see yourself as a firefighter, but one of your main jobs is putting out fires.   Follow all the rules: prevent dental practice management fires when possible, respond immediately when there is a problem, and put the fire out once and for all so that problems in the dental office do not smolder and reignite.

David Schwab, Ph.D.

A Name for Dental Marketing

As one who is on the telephone with dental practices every day to evaluate their dental marketing, I take the pulse of practices and find out how they are answering the phone. Here are the results of my informal, non-scientific survey of dental practices.

About 75% of practices have someone answer the phone by giving her name as part of the greeting. (I am using “her” to mean “his or her” but most phone answerers in dental offices—but by no means all—are female). The other 25% omit a name in their standard phone answering script.

What are the 25% thinking? Some of these offices claim to offer “personal service,” and on their websites they use words such as “caring” or “friendly”; but every day they answer the phone without revealing the phone answerer’s identity. Are the people at the front desk in the Witness Protection Program?

Alas, the explanation for this curious lack of dental marketing is more mundane. The problem is either that a) no one taught the phone answerer how to answer the phone, or b) no one is supervising this function.

Lack of training results from an assumption: “Everyone knows how to answer a phone politely.” However, there is a difference between being polite, attentive, and even chirpy on the phone and making sure that good dental marketing techniques are used consistently. When even the most helpful person remains incognito, the practice loses an opportunity to connect with the caller.

Even when people are taught exactly how to answer a phone—and given a script to read—problems arise when there is no reinforcement or accountability. People fall into patterns and habits, and phone answering is a mantra that becomes fixed very easily.

Kudos to the practices that always provide a name as part of the greeting. For those who have forgotten this important lesson in dental marketing, it’s an easy fix that will help the practice be perceived as one that puts an emphasis on personal relationships.

David Schwab