Patient satisfaction vs. patient loyalty, what’s the difference? Simple, it’s the difference between the practice that has plateaued and the practice that is truly profiting. In recent years, management experts have spent a lot of time trying to better understand the disconnect between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. What they are finding is that while satisfaction is often high, loyalty is not.
Patients may be satisfied with your ability to see them on time. They may be satisfied with the cleanliness of the office. They may be satisfied with the care they received during their routine appointment. But satisfaction is one thing and loyalty is something quite different. Loyalty is driven by a patient’s emotional connection and experiences with the doctor, the team, and the office as a whole.
It’s the loyal patients who are sustaining your practice. They are open to your treatment recommendations. They see the doctor and the team as their partners. They pay on time. They happily refer new patients. They understand the occasional bad day in which you may be running behind. They are forgiving of a minor error on their statement. They don’t look for a new dentist because of a slight infraction. They recognize that occasionally fees will increase. In short, they trust you and your team and they value the care that you deliver.
So how do you recruit more long-term loyal partners? Take a close look at systems and service. While surveys indicate 70% of customers/patients cite service as the number one reason they defect, too often employees view managing patient service as a distraction from what they consider to be more important tasks, such as ensuring the schedule is full, collecting from the insurance companies, confirming appointments, etc. Ironically the success of each of these goes hand-in-hand with providing excellent service.
First, find out what your patients think. Survey patients to assess if seemingly minor concerns raised by a few patients are a bigger problem than you may have realized. Invest in a statistically valid survey instrument that is designed to ask questions that will elicit the most valuable and revealing information.
Next, engage in “action listening,” which is different from active listening. With action listening, the dental team commits to bring concerns and issues voiced by patients to the staff meetings for discussion and action. For example, if patients are commenting that practice hours are inconvenient, the team develops a plan to address the issue, such as adjusting the practice hours for 60 days, marketing the change, and monitoring patient reaction and subsequent patient retention. The team can then assess if the change should be made permanent.
Look at practice systems and evaluate if they are best serving the patients, thereby best serving the practice. If the schedule is booked out weeks for the doctor and months for hygiene, if the business employee is too busy to acknowledge patients when they walk in the door, if patients are routinely declining treatment, if collections are low, and holes in the schedule are frequent, these are all system indicators that patient loyalty is seriously lacking. Which most likely means patient service is seriously lacking.
Pay attention to the obvious:
- Welcome each “guest.” Treat each patient as the most important person in your office. From the moment he/she walks in the door, until they leave the parking lot.
- Have the answers. Patients expect you to have immediate answers to basic questions. Track the common questions that patients ask. Take steps to ensure that every member of the team is prepared to answer them.
- No Pretending. Under no circumstances should a patient be ignored when they come to the counter. Acknowledge their presence immediately regardless of what you are doing at the time. It takes five seconds to look over at the patient and let them know you will be right with them. If you pretend they are not there, you tell the patient that they are an annoyance and unworthy of your time.
Remember, building patient loyalty means building a strong emotional connection with the patient – not just running on time and providing great dentistry. It means that every member of the team makes it clear that they care about that specific patient, are willing to listen to them and show genuine interest and concern for them.
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