Turning “Wants” Into Realities
So, you want more new patients. You reason that you’ve done your part. After all, you’ve begged, cajoled, pleaded and in some cases bribed them to come to your practice and yours alone. You have promised in all your marketing that their experience in your practice will be the best ever! And then what happens? They show up in your practice ready to be wowed - but can you deliver?
Delivering the excellent experience that patients expect begins long before they are seated in your treatment chair; it begins when they call your practice to schedule the appointment. If staff are not trained to expertly communicate with prospective as well as current patients, you are losing money. You are losing patients. And you are losing control of your reputation. I guarantee it. Consider the situation we recently encountered in a practice in which the doctor could not understand why his new patient marketing efforts were not delivering more new patients.
“Kelly” the scheduling coordinator believed that the manner in which she was handling patient calls was perfectly fine. After all, no one had told her otherwise. She answered the phone, determined why the person was calling, and did her best to assist them. A typical new patient exchange went something like this: “Doctor’s office, this is Kelly. May I help you?” The prospective patient usually responded: “Yes, I am calling to schedule a teeth cleaning.” Kelly then asked the caller if s/he was an existing patient. When the new patient callers indicated that they were not, Kelly responded with her standard answer: “Sure, no problem. We have a few openings in about five to six months. How does April 15th look for your schedule?”
These telephone exchanges commonly ended with the stunned callers simply saying, “Six months to get an appointment? Okay. Thank you.” Click. And they were gone. Kelly has worked in the practice for nearly a year. She is a competent and personable individual who, in the nicest possible way, consistently sent prospective new patients to other practices. But don’t blame Kelly. The scheduling systems were poor. She was provided no professional training. There were no protocols or scripts in place to guide her. Yet the doctor could not understand why his marketing efforts weren’t paying off with bigger numbers.
Eventually, Kelly received much needed professional training. The practice incorporated carefully developed scripts for various patient exchanges, including new patient calls, and the office revisited its scheduling procedures to accommodate new patients. The next step was determining if the practice delivered the type of experience that marketing efforts promised. It didn’t. When patients arrived they were expected to complete a variety of forms and necessary paperwork, putting a strain on the schedule. Consequently, new patient appointments were often stressful experiences because the doctor and/or hygienist felt rushed.
All new patients should be sent a practice “Welcome Packet” the day they schedule their first appointment. This includes a brief welcome letter from the doctor indicating his/her commitment to providing the best possible care for patients. The letter also emphasizes specific qualities about the practice that set it apart from others, such as the extremely high infection control standards, dentistry for the entire family, painless dentistry techniques, etc. Additionally, the letter should direct patients to the practice website where they can learn more about the practice and the staff and complete necessary forms and paperwork in advance of the appointment. The Welcome Packet also should include a business card, a New Patient Information form, and a map to the practice with the office phone number on it.
Finally, when new patients arrive, they should feel like the most important person in your office. If possible, the treatment coordinator should promptly escort the patient to a consult room where necessary paperwork can be reviewed to ensure everything has been completed, and most importantly, the coordinator can discuss the excellent quality care available in the practice - again according to a well-developed and rehearsed script. Take the new patient on a brief tour of the office, and pay attention to the questions s/he asks and the comments the individual makes. These provide insight into the patient’s own oral health goals, objectives, and possible concerns.
The patient should leave the appointment feeling very positive about the experience and the dental team, and excited about the potential opportunities this new practice offers for them to achieve their dental wants and needs.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side.
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email email@example.com
One of the most important skills today’s leader can have is asking powerful questions. The intention is to capitalize on and mobilize the strengths of your employees. Asking the right kind of questions also serves another purpose. In times of rapid change when complexity and uncertainty are the order of the day, you can’t know or control everything that goes on. By using powerful questions you will learn a lot, and in the process you will be coaching your staff to higher levels of performance. Unfortunately the questions most dental leaders ask do little more than show off their own knowledge. Your job is to be a facilitator, not an oracle. You also don’t want to be like an attorney who peppers the “witness” with rapid-fire questions until the “truth” is revealed.
Consider a study conducted in a large, progressive global pharmaceutical company where the set of competencies for leadership were compared with the competencies of a coach. The result? 75% of the competencies were the same. To be an effective leader, you must be an effective coach. That means asking good questions.
I have found that one of the biggest complaints of employees is that their bosses do a poor job of providing coaching. From a boss’s perspective, coaching seems like another task in an already too-busy schedule. But employees rarely want detailed instructions about how to do their work. What they DO want is ongoing communication about the “big picture” - the outcome goal(s), how their work is contributing to the mission of the practice, and suggestions on how they can improve.
The good news is that coaching does not need to be a time-consuming process. Employees do best with consistent input to make sure they are heading in the right direction. Frequent and brief exchanges are more important and effective than long interactions or meetings. This enables employees to ask for help or clarification when they need it.
In order to be an effective coach you need to challenge your certainty. You may think you know why Tammy is often late to the morning huddle, but your beliefs and assumptions are skewed by personal biases that may be incorrect. You see her as disorganized. Open your mind to the possibility that there are complexities about which you are unaware. Be willing to enter a state of “not knowing.” You may think she’s inattentive to time and lacking in punctuality, only to learn that she cares for an elderly parent in addition to two children while her husband is on military deployment.
Avoid asking “leading questions” - questions that prompt the desired answer. For example, if Front Office Mary doesn’t answer the phone as quickly as you expect, a leading question might be, “You weren’t paying attention to the phone ringing were you?” Although that seems to be true on the surface, the more important question is what is distracting Mary. When you have that information you can formulate an action plan to correct it.
Most powerful questions are open-ended and start with “What.” The intention is to get a conversation going. Let’s say that there’s tension between Hygienist Susie and Assistant Becky. A closed question would be: “Are you having problems with each other?” while an open-ended approach is: “Tell me what’s going on between the two of you.” In the former you’re likely to get a definitive “yes” and no additional information.
Good coaching questions are not meant to tell your employees what to do. Certainly there is a time and a reason to convey direct and factual information. Coaching is helping your employees discover the answers themselves. When they recognize issues through your supportive questioning they can set actionable goals and move past unproductive behaviors.
Here are some questions to add to your repertoire.
People generally know what is the right or appropriate thing to do. Your job is to draw out the answers. Great questions can bring great insight. They enable you to make important changes and take your practice to the next level. How can I help you to do that?
Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here
I Found Your Office on the Internet!
New patients are the lifeblood of a dental practice. While retaining patients-of-record is essential for a successful office, getting new patients in the door will always be a major component of practice progress. Patient referrals, direct mail, and even the “old stand-by” yellow pages can still be effective - but the Internet has emerged as the prime driver of new patient contacts. Today we look for everything on the Internet. Want to find the closest restaurant that serves fresh seafood? Go to Google. Need an address for a store location? Go to Google Maps. Want to buy a used bicycle, a new car, or an antique butter churn? Try Craigslist. Need airline tickets? Travelocity.
The web has everything. You can find out how to pronounce words and phrases and actually hear them pronounced, translate newspaper articles from one language to another, and search out images for everything from space photos to insect habitats. The Internet is “the place” for it all. Some young children have actually never even seen an encyclopedia or dictionary in printed form.
So, what does this mean for those of us in the dental profession? It means that our online presence is vital in providing our patients and potential patients with information about our offices and what we have to offer. Websites that present limited details about a practice lose out to sites that are dynamic, organized, colorful, and filled with articles and illustrations. Successful practices need a website that gives potential patients more than just an office address and phone number! Website articles of general interest, such as how chronic diseases are related to oral conditions, or why dentists take x-rays, or important tips on child tooth care, encourage potential patients to read on. As they read about topics that are of interest to them, they are also learning more about why dentistry is important in general, and ultimately what your office can do for their families. We all know that women are the primary decision makers when it comes to family health care. Women investigate and look for information before making these decisions, and today they look for that information on the Internet.
For example; last week I had two new patients, in one day, tell me that our office website had convinced them to set up appointments for their families at our practice. I asked one of the women how she had gone about her search. She explained that she had looked for dental offices that were close to home, then looked at individual office websites, read one of the articles on our site that was of interest to her as a mom, looked at the photos of the dentist and staff, and finally…decided to give our practice a try. The second patient explained that she wanted to find an office that offered new technology. She had heard about “one-visit” crowns and thought she might need a crown when she began her search. She told me that the last time she had a crown placed she had been forced to wear a temporary for three weeks and had not liked the experience. Our website features information about single visit crowns and that caught her eye. An article on crowns and onlays that appears on the site cinched the decision.
It is obvious that Internet searches can be vital in driving new patients to a practice. It may be time to give your office website some attention to see if it’s reflecting the image and professionalism you want to convey. Some tips:
Pictures are very important to an attractive and compelling website. Before and after photos of successful cases can advocate strongly for your practice. Pictures of a lovely treatment room, reception area, and photos of staff members and the doctor round out a vision of what potential patients will see when coming to your office.
Content! Articles and stories make your site interesting and your practice worth investigating. Put together several short articles on topics of general interest and change them frequently. If you are not a “writer” then delegate the task to a knowledgeable staff member. If this is not practical, consider purchasing articles designed for website display, such as the ones from McKenzie Management HERE. Remember that you may not just “lift” articles from copyrighted sources without permission.
Toot your own horn! Be sure to list accomplishments or distinctions on your website. If you are a member of your local or state dental association, mention it. If you have been published in a journal, tell about it. If you have volunteered for a dental mission or free dental clinic, explain how these work and what treatment you provided. If staff members have distinguished themselves through community service, athletic events, awards, etc. then be sure they are recognized on your site. Existing patients like knowing that your office is involved, interesting, and one of the best. Potential patients want to come to a practice that stands out from the pack.
Once a new patient arrives at the office, you and your staff have the chance to impress them and make sure they want to come back. No one can dispute that the first appointment is extremely important and first impressions can be lasting ones. No amount of advertising, promotion, or website attractiveness can overcome a poor new-patient experience. However, getting patients in the door in the first place is a huge part of the battle. Don’t neglect your online presence. It is a vital component in our increasingly web-based information society, where so many patients will tell you: “I found your office on the Internet.”
Carol Tekavec RDH is the Director of Hygiene for McKenzie Management. Carol can improve your hygiene department in just one day of training “in your office.” Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department? Email email@example.com.
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