Direct Mail Dollars Deliver Results
You may have heard that the US Postal Service is losing money. Evidently people aren't sending as many letters through the mail, and more are paying their bills electronically. So what does this mean for dentistry? Plenty! For starters - that friendly mail carrier just might be the key link between you and a host of new patients.
Today, direct mail marketing is as strong as it has ever been. Why? The obvious reason is that fewer businesses are using it. Instead they are filling up your electronic mail box with special offers, promotions, catalogs, coupons, and the list goes on. They are inundating consumers with email; consequently, what was once old is new again. Snail mail marketing is back, and all the better.
While electronic communication and marketing have exploded, so too has the amount of digital garbage. Spam and junk email folders collect hundreds of marketing missives that are targeted for us, but miss their mark. Web page ads become digital wallpaper on our computer screens. It's there, but we don't notice it like we did when it was new. Don't get me wrong, email and electronic communication are absolutely critical in effectively marketing a dental practice. But they are only part of a total marketing strategy.
What is particularly interesting about the swing of the electronic vs. paper marketing pendulum is that while people won’t hesitate to click “delete” to rid themselves of the multitude of electronic distractions, they will take time to actually look at a flyer, brochure, newsletter, or postcard sent through traditional mail. For a few seconds or a few moments, when a person is reading the expertly written letter or the professionally designed postcard sent through the mail, you have a captive and engaged audience. What’s more, direct mail can be used for a multitude of marketing purposes, including generating new patients, reconnecting with former patients, creating awareness of the practice in the community, educating patients and the community about services, and the list goes on.
Case in point, “Dr. Maxwell” recently took over a practice in a smaller southwestern city. The doctor she bought it from was retiring after many years. Dr. Maxwell has invested a fortune in updating the equipment, technology, and décor. The place looks fantastic, but the patient base under her predecessor had been dwindling. There were plenty of patient records - the problem, only a fraction of them were active. Dr. Maxwell needed to get her practice name into the community. She needed to reconnect with former patients, and she needed to set herself apart from the other dentists in the area.
To her credit, she didn't attempt to go it alone. Dr. Maxwell worked with a professional dental marketing company to establish her practice brand, develop a custom website, and train her team. But even with several marketing pieces in place, the puzzle still wasn't coming together. She needed to increase the numbers of new patients.
Direct mail, like many marketing tools, tends to be misunderstood. Typically, dentists will claim that direct mail doesn’t work, doesn’t deliver the patient numbers they want, and is too expensive to bother with in this age of electronic communication. Yet, few truly understand how direct mail works and the fact that the return on this investment can be huge - provided it’s done right. However, as is often the case, it’s not the “tool” that fails; typically it’s the manner in which it is used. In other words, most direct mail campaigns that don’t produce results are poorly executed.
In Dr. Maxwell's case, an overall marketing strategy was developed for the practice to implement over the long term. One component of that strategy was a direct mail campaign. During the course of twelve weeks, the campaign targeted prospective patients with professionally designed direct mail pieces. The phones were ringing. Her staff were trained to handle the increased phone and patient activity, and she was well on her way to rebuilding the practice patient base.
Marketing, like dentistry, is both an art and a science. There is no single treatment that will cure all dental disease. The same holds true for marketing the dental practice. There is no “silver bullet” technique to effectively market dentistry. It requires a plan, a strategy, and a system that is an integral part of running the business.
Next week, making the most of email and the least of social media.
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Is Your Business Coordinator Too Nice?
I am a hygienist in a small practice and we have a new hire that is really sweet and kind, but she is driving me crazy. My schedule is full of cancellations because when people cancel she says “Oh, that’s okay, how about tomorrow at 3:30?” She makes it look easy to get an appointment and makes it easy to cancel. I am tired of having to clock out and leave because of no patients but doctor says that the patients like her so what do I do?
Dentistry is a people business so we have to be kind, nice and accommodating - but dentistry is also a business that has bills to pay and salaries to support. Hiring a person who is kind and understanding but also communicates to patients that there are expectations and accountability associated with being a patient in your practice is paramount. Temperament testing in the hiring process has been advised by McKenzie Management for many years and remains as successful measurement of a person's likelihood of demonstrating personality traits necessary to do the job they are hired to do. This coupled with a written job description and systems in place that define how patients are to be communicated with when there are no-shows and cancellations will help your business coordinator with ensuring policies are followed in the practice.
When there are no standard operating protocols or systems in place, people will fall back on their personality to direct them in decision making. Your new business coordinator wants people to like her, and she is not aware of how this is affecting you and the practice financially. She may have been hired because of her personality and likeability. As a trainer in this arena for many years, my advice would be that this breakdown in system be pointed out to the doctor factually - not out of emotion. Prepare a report with data showing the number of lost patients off the schedule that were not replaced, and the numbers of hours that you have lost.
To remedy the situation, it would be necessary to make sure systems and scripting were created to train the business coordinator to communicate with kindness the rules of the practice regarding cancellations and no-shows. For example - if you are pre-booking appointments, these patients typically need a reminder two weeks and two days before with a call back confirmation request. Using e-reminders helps to remind patients that prefer e-mail or texting.
At the recall appointment, the hygienist should add value to the visit by demonstrating to the patient the need to return at the designated time. For instance, if the patient has good oral hygiene and is on a six-month recall, find another reason why it would be important for them to return besides the professional cleaning. Are there fracture lines, open margins attracting food, recession areas? Does the patient build up calculus rapidly because of exposed root surface? Sending a message that everything is okay does not ensure return of the patient on a timely basis. Often patients judge the length of time as being subject to the last good report they received and will postpone thinking they are okay to wait longer. If your parting script is something like the following, you will send a message of importance for the return visit:
Mrs. Brown, I am pleased with the results of your cleaning and examination today. I am going to keep you on the six-month return visit, however I may recommend a four month return if the calculus keeps building up as quickly as evidenced by the amount I found today. There is also a filling with an overhang that keeps attracting food and this filling will be assessed for possible replacement if the problem persists. Here is a mirror, let me show you the areas that I am concerned about. You will be receiving a notice two weeks before your scheduled appointment. If that does not work for you, please call us at that time to re-schedule as we need the time to find an appointment that suits your schedule as well as ours.
Communicating how the recall system works and the patient's responsibility within that system helps ensure fewer cancellations. We can all be kind and caring when there are systems and rules that guide our everyday operations.
Hire for Skills and Not Always for Dental Experience
I received an email from a former client, Dr. Joe Smith. He was devastated that his long-time Practice Coordinator's spouse was being relocated by his employer, and she had turned in her notice. It was a sad day for everyone, but more for Dr. Smith. He would never be able to replace her. She knew all the patients, understood him and his mood swings, was like a mother to his younger employees, and had not missed a day of work due to illness in over 7 years!
My guess is that you may have experienced this in your career, as well. It is like losing a family member, since you spend more waking hours with your employees than you do with your friends and family. And even more emotionally draining than the news of an employee's departure is the mere thought of having to interview for a new employee. Most dentists can only think of a handful of tasks that are worse than this!
Step 1 - Create the Ad
1. A clear subject line that states what you are looking for, as well as your annual salary range. Why an annual salary? “Salary negotiable” is not enticing to a potential employee that is already employed. It also screens out those potential applicants that are seeking a position that is more than you can afford to invest. Annual vs. hourly salary just “feels” like more and will get more attention to your ad.
2. A list of what you have to offer the employee. Keep in mind that you may be looking to “steal” an employee from another employer. Do you really want to hire someone that has been looking for employment for two years? Is it possible that there is a reason why they are still unemployed? List all the benefits that you have to offer your new employee, and don’t forget location. In larger cities, location can be a plus, as well as paid parking. Benefits are high on the list of necessary perks for most employees now.
3. What you are looking for. Computer skills, previous experience, ability to work certain hours or days, etc…
4. A cover letter attached to the resume indicating why they feel they are the perfect employee for the position. What exactly does this do? It weeds out those applicants that simply “go through the motions” because they know it is a numbers game. The more resumes they send out, the higher the possibility of being called for an interview. In our field, detail is very important. When I screen applicants’ resumes that do not attach a cover letter, I don’t consider them. It indicates to me that they don’t follow instructions and aren’t willing to put forth the extra effort to attach a cover letter.
If you want to really narrow down the field, ask for a “handwritten” cover letter. You will not only determine if you can read their handwriting, but can they spell (since they can’t use spell-check) AND are they computer literate enough to know how to attach a document to an email.
5. Information on how to respond to your ad (preferably, an email address that you obtain specifically for this purpose). Do not ask for faxes or mailed resumes. This is the 21st century!
Step 2 - Reviewing the Hundreds of Resumes that you Receive
Daily, review the Yes folder and look for the following scenarios: Length of time of employment with previous employers - professionalism of the resume - previous experience - skills - spelling. (I read a resume one time from a hygienist applying for a hygiene position and she misspelled hygienist throughout her resume!)
Deciding on Skill vs. Dental Experience
Often, we find that we will hire someone only because they have “experience” from previous dental offices. Yet - if they were THAT good, why were they the one that was let go when the practice down-sized? Apparently they didn’t make themselves indispensible in the eyes of the employer. I realize that there are wonderful employees in the field that do bring to the table years of experience so I am not excluding them. I am only giving you another avenue to travel.
We are in the “people skills” business. We also are in sales and marketing with the need to be able to crunch numbers. Why not hire an applicant with these skills, which are almost impossible to teach. All the other necessary tasks for a business coordinator can be taught. Think outside the box when you interview your next candidate and hire for their personal skills and not always for their previous dental experience.
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