Snail-Mail Marketing = Steady Success
As Mark Twain once said, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” And such would be the case for direct mail marketing, which after being declared dead just a few short years ago is experiencing something of a Renaissance.
What’s changed? For starters, most of us have a love/hate relationship with email and those digital devices that keep us tethered to our cluttered, noisy, and relentlessly demanding electronic mailboxes. Our inboxes full of special offers and must-have items commonly distract us from the smattering of real and important information that is actually relevant to our lives.
Certainly, email and digital marketing are relatively inexpensive and accessible marketing tools, which is why their use and abuse have exploded. But it’s a profoundly crowded medium in which messages must fight for a sliver of recognition, let alone real acknowledgement and engagement by the recipient. Just look at the numbers - in 2012, there were 144 billion emails sent per day, all clamoring for the recipients’ attention.
Yet in today’s digital marketing climate, if you are selling anything from dirt to diamonds to dentistry, the unrelenting push is on to be in virtually every electronic medium - from email to Facebook to Twitter to Google+ to YouTube. “Content is king” cry the marketing gurus. And don’t forget the compelling calls to action urging recipients to click and buy right now, right away, don’t delay. When everything is an “important, urgent, limited time, not to be missed” offer, soon none of it seems urgent, important, or useful. Ultimately, most of us hit “delete” indiscriminately with nary a second thought other than “How quickly can I get this junk off my computer screen, and how do I stop the deluge of annoying useless messages?”
Yet, you too have important messages to convey to your patients. You have information and health education that is of real value to them. Certainly, you must inform current and prospective patients about your services using the various communication tools and media that they routinely access. At the same time, you recognize that your patients, those who can most benefit from your products and services, also are experiencing the daily deluge of digital information overload. How do you distinguish your message from everyone else’s? Read on.
Quietly remerging from the ashes of much professed obsolescence is postal mail - direct mail to be more specific. It’s of little surprise that direct mail is enjoying something of a rebirth. Electronic marketing must scream for the recipients to act immediately, for if they don’t that message will soon drop 10, 20, 50 places or more and be buried in the email black hole. But snail mail is, well, slow - as in relaxed. The recipients don’t have to open it right now. They can save it for a moment when they can enjoy paging through the information. They can take a moment to appreciate the look and feel and weight of a well-designed brochure or mailer. They can actually pause to focus on this one single item without the beeping and dinging and ringing of some other message fighting for their attention. They can appreciate that there was a very real investment of time and resources that went into crafting an attractive and well-designed message.
It’s low pressure, which is practically unheard of in today’s digitally demanding culture. With direct mail you give the recipient time to not only appreciate the message, but to actually read it - rather than merely scan it on the screen. Best of all, oftentimes the recipient does exactly that. They read and absorb the message.
So what’s changed? It’s obvious. Today there is less competition in the mailbox as compared to the inbox, so the chances of your direct marketing message not only reaching the intended audience, i.e. your patients, but also being read by that audience have increased significantly.
Let’s be clear, I’m not suggesting that you abandon digital marketing efforts. They are essential. The key is to have multi-channel marketing. Certainly, you have a website, a presence on Facebook, and other relevant social media. And it’s important to consider investments in search engine optimization and ad words. But don’t overlook the value of enabling a current or prospective patient to take their time and appreciate the design and content of a well-designed and professionally written marketing piece that educates them on the services you have to offer.
Next week, direct mail - top tips to consider.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Successful Patient Communication
Dorothy Leeds said, “When you know how to ask the right questions, you can talk to anyone about anything.” Questions allow you to find out about other people, assist in keeping the conversation going and direct the conversation to where you want it to go. To better understand your patients and their wants and needs, questions can clarify what you don’t understand and demonstrate your interest and curiosity in the patient’s issues. A well thought-out question can stimulate thought and convey appreciation for the patient’s input.
Open-ended questions start a process of information gathering that can take time, but offer the clinician an opportunity to get to know the patient. So often dentists and hygienists are pushed to stay on schedule and have trained themselves to ask close-ended questions that bring the conversation to a stop. If your practice is scheduled on a “clinical time in the chair” only with no added time for conversation with the patient, then you will feel the stress when the patient has questions that you don’t have time to answer.
Close-ended questions are designed to be answered with one word, usually yes or no. This keeps you in control, but that is not the key to treatment acceptance. In that arena the patient needs to feel they are in control. Close-ended questions start with “Do you...”, “Did you...”,”Are you...”, or “Have you...” Using this approach you will be able to gain the basic truths, but sometimes you will come off as an interrogator. Questions such as “Have you seen a dentist recently?” or “Do you floss daily?” are important, but they can be taken as punitive. Instead, try “When you saw your previous dentist what were you told about how often you should see him/her?” or “When you floss, are you having difficulty getting between any teeth?”
Open-ended questions start with Who, What, When, Why, Where or How. Some people can talk quite a long time, and that is why it’s important to use another question to direct the conversation. Asking too many questions can make a person feel uncomfortable and can kill the genuine exchange you are trying to achieve. Balancing questions with statements and adding humor when necessary are the skills of a good chair-side manner. During this exchange, be sure to not answer your own questions. Some people will think before answering or take a pause. This should not be a time where you rush them through their thoughts.
Asking “why” questions can be good at establishing a motive for behavior, but at times is intrusive and aggressive. People often feel obligated to answer a “why” question because the alternative is “I’d rather not say” - which is often more uncomfortable than answering the question. For instance, if the patient is not wearing their bruxism appliance, the obvious thing to say would be, “Jack, why aren’t you wearing your bruxism appliance?” Perhaps a better open-ended question would be, “Jack, how is the bruxism appliance working for you? What have you noticed about it that has benefitted you?”
Sometimes in the exchange between the doctor and the patient there may be questions that are too personal, intrusive or rude. No one is obliged to answer questions like that and the best line of defense is to redirect the conversation back to dentistry. “I will have to give that some thought, let’s get back to your current dental situation.”
Taking the time to get to know your patients involves foresight and planning. When scheduling a new patient, be sure that the chair-time includes the necessary talk-time, unless you intend to move the patient into another room. Have a pre-planned set of open-ended questions that you would like to ask the patient. If the patient has filled out the patient information form ahead of time, you can access that information to formulate your questions.
Recall appointments that include the examination should also include a planned open-ended question. When the patient is known to you and your team, this becomes easier and pleasant. “How was your trip to Europe?” “Where did you last play golf?” “What have you cooked in your gourmet cooking class?”
When patients sense that you are truly interested in them as people, not just a set of teeth, the level of communication improves as does the trust in your practice.
A Day in the Life of an Effective Business Assistant – Part 1
A day in the life of a Business Coordinator requires multi-tasking, keeping priorities in check, making decisions (sometimes quickly), and keeping customer service on the forefront - in addition to getting the job done. Let’s take a big picture snapshot of what that might be like.
Step 1. Open the office, turn on the computer and check phone messages and emails that have come in for any changes in the day’s schedule.
Step 3. Greet arriving patients by their name and review any changes in their demographics if they have not been seen recently (including insurance). Notify the clinical team of the patients’ arrivals.
This completes the initial opening and check-in process. Until the next patient arrives or the phone rings, now is a good time to start following up with insurance company requests for additional information such as x-rays, digital photos or narratives that may have not been responded to from the previous day.
Tip: Want to train all your patients to send you emails opposed to calling when they have questions? Have your own personal business card from the office with your direct business email address and request that your patients email you with any questions they may have. It is much easier for you to multitask if you can respond via email, as opposed to answering their phone calls while you are busy with patients. What a great way to reduce the number of incoming phone calls! It is important, however, to check your email frequently throughout the day and “copy and paste” any applicable correspondence into the patient’s digital notes.
Step 4. Now it’s time to follow-up manually with patients who have not responded to their digital confirmation requests. Patients should receive automated confirmations for upcoming appointments two working days prior to their appointment, allowing time for them to respond and for you to contact them manually the day before.
Let's not forget that during these 4 steps, patients are being presented to your Business Coordinator for check-out. If the patient being dismissed by the Hygienist has new treatment needs, it is helpful for your Business Coordinator to know this in advance either by wireless headsets, messaging or sending a printed treatment plan from the clinical team to the front desk’s printer. This allows her/him to review and prepare for the treatment presentation.
During the check-out process, the day’s treatment is reviewed, any payment due is collected, and the new treatment is presented and scheduled. The patient’s portion is written on the back of their appointment card as a “friendly reminder” or they are given a blank appointment card with the amount written on the back, as well as the Business Coordinator’s business card with the email address.
How should you follow up if the patient does not schedule immediately? Whatever software system you use, the Appointment Tracking Form, the Unscheduled Detailed Treatment Plan and/or the Task List are imperative in order to follow up with your patients should they not contact you within 1-2 weeks.
Step 5. Hopefully by now the mail has arrived. In-between answering phones, reviewing emails, checking patients in and out and performing other tasks given to the Business Coordinator by the doctor or clinical team, it is now time to open the mail and post all the payments. Posting payments involves not only posting the personal payments received from the patients, but also posting the insurance payments and generating statements for those patients with remaining balances.
This is a typical morning at the business area of your office. Next month we’ll complete the day with the afternoon tasks. If you feel your Business Coordinator is not busy and you find that when you walk up to the front desk she/he is “waiting” for something to do, it is not their fault - they may not have to tools in their toolbox to know what needs to be done. Let McKenzie Management give your team the tools necessary to improve performance and increase your bottom line!
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