Turn Today's Practice Shopper into Tomorrow's Loyal Patient
Before the person walking into your practice ever becomes a patient, they are a “shopper” of sorts. And when they’re shopping around and evaluating your practice against the others, they are looking at it with the critical eye of a consumer who is about to make a large investment of both time and money in what they hope will be a long-term relationship. When they make the decision that your practice is the right one for them and their family, make sure they know that they made the best decision.
Touch base periodically. Send a brief survey and ask your patients, especially new patients, for feedback. Showing them that you care about their satisfaction speaks volumes about your commitment to excellent care. It can also provide you with an opportunity to gain insights about other aspects of your practice that could be improved or expanded to further enhance the patient experience. Send birthday greetings, Thanksgiving cards or periodic email newsletters. No matter how you choose to do so, find a way to stay connected to your patients.
If they have missed an appointment or not scheduled a recommended visit, drop a letter in the mail and let them know that you are concerned about them, their oral health, and their overall health. It may also serve as the reminder they needed to get back into your office. Pick up the phone. A real human being should answer the office phone during regular business hours. Stagger lunch breaks to ensure that the phone is staffed with a human being - not voicemail - at all times.
Be prompt with inquiries. If a current or prospective patient calls and requests information or has a question, respond promptly or within a specific and reasonable timeframe that is expressed clearly to the patient. This shows your commitment to a high level of service and reinforces the patient’s confidence in you and your practice. Know the answers to common questions, and provide thorough and complete information. This tells them you have a team that is well trained and prepared. That alone speaks volumes about the quality of your practice.
If an issue arises, take action and make it your priority to resolve it immediately. Remember, mistakes and how they are resolved provide an exceptional opportunity to show your commitment to the patient. If you have an upset or disgruntled patient, take the negative situation and make it a positive opportunity for both of you.
Listen, listen, listen. Dentists are very good at talking to patients and telling them what they need, what they should do, what’s wrong, and what the best course of treatment is. While that’s an important aspect of patient education and providing proper care, listening is essential to building positive relationships with the person beyond the patient. Your patients provide cues that are windows into their interests and priorities. Ask questions, take notice, pay attention. Keep notes in the patient’s records and acknowledge milestones in the patient’s life, such as a child going off to college or the patient achieving a personal goal, taking a dream vacation, etc. It’s all part of building the personal side of your professional relationship with this person.
Be reliable. Patients expect the office to run reasonably on time. If the doctor or hygienist is behind schedule, telephone patients so they can make changes in their plans or reschedule if necessary. If you can’t reach the patient and they have to wait for more than 20 minutes, give them a letter signed by the doctor that apologizes for the inconvenience, thanks them for their understanding, emphasizes that the practice makes every effort to remain on schedule; however, occasionally special circumstances arise that affect the schedule, and include a $5 gift card to the local coffee shop or a similar gift in the envelope. The patient may still be frustrated about the delay, but they will appreciate that the practice acknowledged the inconvenience.
Maintain stability. A solid team is the mark of a strong practice. If the make-up of your team seemingly changes as often as the seasons, patients begin to wonder about the quality of your care and the competency of your staff, and often those concerns are for good reason. If yours is a revolving door practice, it’s a strong indicator of some serious shortfalls in your personnel systems, including hiring, training and employee evaluations just to name a few.
Next week, how would your practice rate in a “Consumer Analysis?”
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