Want Loyal Patients? Follow These Tips
Most dentists know how important attracting new patients is to practice success, and they often put a lot of time and money into bringing these patients through the front door. Yes, new patients are great, but they don’t do you much good if they never come back.
If you want your practice to meet its full potential, it’s important to focus on keeping the patients you already have as well as turning first-time patients into loyal patients. A strong patient base will help ensure practice productivity, and that means a more robust bottom line.
So how do you keep patients loyal to your practice? Follow these tips to build a strong base of patients who entrust you with their care.
Provide exceptional customer service. This starts when patients first call to schedule their appointment and continues the entire time they’re at your practice. Train team members to greet them with a friendly smile and offer water or coffee as they wait to see you. Offer to help them fill out their paperwork and let them know they’re in good hands. Focus on keeping patients comfortable, and they’ll not only be more relaxed during their appointment, they’ll be more likely to come back for treatment.
Build a rapport. Patients want to feel a connection with your practice and know you truly care about their well-being. Instead of just focusing on the dentistry, get to know your patients and encourage your team members to do the same. Ask about their jobs and their families, and talk about their oral health goals. This will go a long way in earning trust and loyalty.
Educate them. Take the time to educate patients about what’s going on in their mouths and why they need treatment. Answer questions and address concerns. This will also help patients feel more connected to your practice, making them more likely to schedule treatment with you.
Consider hiring a Treatment Coordinator. As a busy dentist, you often don’t have enough time to go over every aspect of treatment with patients. That’s where a Treatment Coordinator comes in. This team member can spend as much time as necessary talking patients through everything from what to expect during and after the procedure to how much treatment will cost.
Train your Treatment Coordinator to follow up with patients two days after the initial presentation. During these calls, this team member should continue educating patients about the possible consequences of not going forward with treatment, and ultimately get them on the schedule.
Make time for patients. When patients call your practice with questions or to schedule an appointment, they don’t want to feel like they’re bothering the team member who answers, or like they’re being rushed off the phone. Train team members to properly handle patient calls and see them as opportunities for growth, not as disruptions. When you do, you’ll soon notice your patient base and number of new patient appointments start to rise.
Stop ignoring recall. This is one of the most important practice systems, but also one of the most neglected. If you want more loyal patients, it might be time to reactivate your recall system. How? Consider hiring a Patient Coordinator who is responsible for reaching out to a certain number of recall patients each day. Use these calls as an opportunity to educate patients about the importance of maintaining their oral health and scheduling treatment. This will help get patients who are on the fence about treatment back into your practice.
Don’t keep patients waiting. Your patients are busy people and don’t have time to wait all afternoon to see you. This is a sure way to lose patients. If you find you’re often falling behind, it might be time to talk with your Scheduling Coordinator. Maybe you’re being double-booked, or not being scheduled enough time for certain procedures. No matter the problem, provide the team member with the necessary training to get your schedule back on track.
Be a leader. If your practice is in disarray, your patients will notice. Give team members the guidance they need to excel through detailed job descriptions, feedback and performance measurements. This will make them more effective and confident in their roles, while also enabling them to spend more time focusing on your patients – resulting in a more efficient practice with happy team members and happy patients.
The more loyal patients you have, the more successful your practice will be. Focus on keeping your patients happy and not only will they stay loyal, they’ll also refer you to family and friends, helping you grow your patient base and your bottom line even more.
For additional information on this topic and more, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
Interested in speaking to me about your practice concerns? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Why Work So Hard?
Many dental practices believe that providing less time for dental hygiene appointments will bring more production. Although this may be true initially, in the long-term this is often not the case. Do you want your patients to come in, get some of the necessary work done and possibly never return? Or do you want your patients to come in, stay long-term and potentially see more than one generation in your practice because they have been a patient of yours for so long.
When I graduated college as a hygienist, I wanted to find a forever home. I wanted to be with a practice where I would grow with my patients, and where I could watch my patients have their families grow. I would say I succeeded at that, as I have now been with the same practice for over 26 years. It is a practice that believes in long-term patients and quality of care.
If you are not allowing enough time in the hygiene schedule, whether you are a hygienist who determines the amount of time or a doctor, then you are not doing yourself or your patients a favor. I have cleaned up more patients than I can count who had root planing done in another office only a few weeks prior. The reason is often because the hygienist did four 1-4 teeth quadrants in an hour and a half or less, and did not truly provide the periodontal therapy the patient needed.
Consumers are much more educated now, and they know what to expect when it comes to a hygiene appointment. I also educate my patients specifically on why it is important to have the correct amount of time to benefit the health of their mouths.
Many practices do not allow enough time for the new patient exam that is done in the hygiene department. Remember, this is the first impression patients have of your office. If the patient feels they did not get a complete exam, it may be their last time in your chair. The patient should perceive that all of their concerns and questions have been answered by the end of the new patient exam. They should not feel that the appointment was rushed in any way. They need to feel comfortable and know that your practice is taking care of them.
If the time is not allowed, there may be restorative needs that are not gone over thoroughly, or worse, not even diagnosed. This is not a good thing when you want the patient to accept treatment. Providing adequate time in the hygiene schedule can increase the overall production of the office. Allow enough time for restorative needs to be diagnosed by the doctor, and for the hygienist to review with the patient why they are needed – whether it’s an existing patient returning for their hygiene appointment, periodontal maintenance, or a new patient.
When I say “adequate time in the hygiene schedule” I am referring to the time necessary to perform all of the recommended treatment for the day. Hygienists should be making sure all of the full mouth series and bitewing series are up-to-date according to office policy. If the patient has a questionable area, don’t just brush it off. Have the doctor come in and check the area. Do adult fluorides when it’s in the patient’s best interest.
The patient may always be moved if the time was not provided, but you do not want them sitting in a room waiting and making them stay longer than anticipated without their permission. This may encourage a patient to seek treatment elsewhere.
All of this can help increase production of the entire practice, not just the hygiene department. After all, it is the profit margin that really makes a difference when it comes to team members’ paychecks and being able to afford to run your practice. It is key to have patients in the chair who will return, accept treatment, and be long-term.
Interested in improving your hygiene department? Email email@example.com and ask us about our 1-Day Hygiene Training Program or call 877-777-6151
Accountability - What Is It?
You may be asking yourself, “I don’t understand why my employees are struggling to do their job. They don't seem to be listening to me. They are quick to blame others or even me for why their work isn't getting done.”
Unfortunately, you are not alone. It is a common perception amongst leaders in many dental offices and across organizations. If you find yourself thinking this way, you may be asking yourself why and what to do about it. Is it complacency, mediocrity, carelessness? When this happens, more and more of the responsibilities weigh on the shoulders of the dentist, who leads the charge on the success or failure of the practice.
Of all the things we expect of leaders, the single-most shirked responsibility of “the boss” is holding people accountable. Accountability is essential to achieving results. If you find yourself addressing the same issues in the same manner time and time again, you have a lack of accountability in your team. And the root cause is a failure to set and communicate clear expectations.
Communication is key. As the leader, it is imperative that you define the roles and responsibilities of each employee and clearly communicate these expectations. The nuances of communication are complex, and most of us do not communicate as clearly as we think or intend. For example, have you said any of these phrases during a morning huddle or the monthly staff meeting?
• Does anyone mind...?
These are the typical ways to avoid making a clear request. In each of these, it’s uncertain who is being asked, what they are being asked to do, and when they need to do it by. There’s no commitment from anyone. In many cases, the requestor walks away feeling good about bringing up an issue that’s been gnawing at him/her, but the communication has been too vague. The probability is nothing will happen.
The most successful requests follow a common pattern. Use first person language. Specify observable conditions of satisfaction, including deadlines. Explain your purpose for asking. If there is a designated person for the request, address her/him by name with direct language. Get agreement. Here’s a basic issue about office cleanliness and how it might sound:
• I am concerned about the appearance of the waiting room.
• I would like the magazines to be neatly stacked. The empty water bottles need to be recycled. I would like the carpet to be vacuumed.
• When patients arrive at our office, the waiting room is the first impression they have of us and our services to them. We want them to feel confident and comfortable.
• Keeping the waiting room in order is an immediate responsibility I am giving to the entire team. We are all accountable for the appearance of the office. It represents all of us. Can you commit to that? (pause and look each person in the eye until you get a “yes” or a head nod).
• Susie, since you are the Front Desk Manager, I am going to ask you to develop a rotation schedule. Each of us will be assigned a day to oversee the waiting room for the entire day. Susie, can you get the schedule posted for us by the end of today? (pause and look at Susie for confirmation).
A clear request demands a clear response. There are only three possible answers:
• Yes. When a person commits, they assume responsibility to honor their word. They take on an obligation to deliver on their promise, or if they cannot, they commit to doing their best to take care of your request.
• No. Declining a request takes a person off the hook. They haven’t committed and therefore they cannot be held accountable. It’s much better to get a clear “no” than to get bogged down in wishy-washy “I'll do my best.”
• I can’t yet due to a need for more information. This may be a clarification on the details. It may be an issue of inadequate resources, a lack of skills, or conflict with another commitment. It’s equally plausible that the other person just doesn’t want to do it.
If you hear anything else, beware. The other person is likely to ‘weasel’ out of any promise. Here are some examples:
• Yes, I’ll try.
Clear commitments don’t mean that everything will work out. Life is unpredictable, so even the most impeccable commitments can break down. As the dental leader you are accountable to model the way. That starts with your responsibility to keep promises.
Next Time: Accountability - When Commitments Aren’t Kept.
Dr. Brackin is available to coach you and your team to higher levels of performance. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Brackin provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more, contact her at email@example.com
Nancy Haller, Ph.D., a McKenzie Management Leadership Coach, contributed to the writing of this article.
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