I want more patients. I want better patients. I want increased production. I want to make more money... Sound familiar? I hear from dentists on a daily basis who want all of the above and more. Virtually every one of them could have it all were it not for one small obstacle.
In hopes of attracting new patients, for example, dentists will invest in beautiful direct mail pieces, promotional brochures, catchy commercials, etc. The results can be great, at least at first. New patients are calling. They’re taking full advantage of the special offer the practice is providing. The office is a flurry of activity. Diagnosed treatment is being scheduled. Visions of production records are dancing through the doctor’s head. Yes siree, the office is reeling them in.
Then the cancellations begin. The patients don’t pursue the recommended treatment. They took advantage of the special offer, but never returned. A few months down the road, few lasting results have come of the marketing campaign.
What went wrong? It goes back to that one small obstacle that often interferes with dentists’ ability to turn their wants into realities. The fact is that it’s easy to want, but it takes willingness and an investment of time, energy, and money to turn wants from wishful musings into results yielding realities.
The dentist isn’t willing to take the necessary steps internally to keep patients returning. He/she is not interested in looking at what is happening with the patient experience once they’re in the office. “I want more patients, but I can’t afford to train my staff on customer service. I want more production, but I’m the only one who can deliver treatment presentations. I want better patients, but I don’t have time to think about ‘the patient experience’ and I don’t want to take valuable staff time to develop a New Patient Packet.” And so on.
If your campaigns are bringing patients in only to see them slip away, you may not be delivering on what the patient is expecting. It’s time to look beyond the catchy jingle or the fancy “special offer” postcards.
Starting with the first phone call. In the business of dentistry, the voice on the phone is the voice of the practice. If that voice comes across as unprepared, rude, or unprofessional, that is exactly how the entire office is perceived to prospective patients. The positive, enthusiastic welcome from a smiling face rings loud and clear to the caller, so too does the tension-filled tone through gritted teeth.
Patients can be alienated in 20 seconds or less depending how that “typical” phone transaction is handled. The person calling your practice should feel as if you’ve been expecting them, and they should feel welcome and appreciated. The business employee should convey enthusiasm and a positive demeanor even when the phone rings at inopportune times. In addition, your practice should use a standard greeting such as, "Good morning, Dr. Gary Mack’s office, Julie speaking. How may I help you?" No one should ever have to ask if they've reached the right office.
Next, consider your schedule. The ad says that you’re taking new patients, but callers are told they’ll have to wait at least four weeks to get an appointment. If you claim to take new patients, make sure they don’t have to wait any more than a couple of weeks for an appointment. Reserve popular appointment times for those responding to your promotion.
Reinforce their good decision. Send all new patients a New Patient Packet. This assures them that there’s substance beyond that slick campaign. It tells the patients that they will be valued and the office will make a sincere effort to communicate effectively with them.
The packet should be sent within 24 hours after the appointment is made. It should welcome and educate the new patient about the office. It should include a brief letter from the doctor indicating his/her commitment to providing the best possible care for patients. The letter also should emphasize specific qualities about your practice that set it apart from others, such as, the extremely high infection control standards, dentistry for the entire family, sedation techniques, cosmetic procedures, a commitment to never making the patient wait more than 5-10 minutes, etc.
Next week, managing patient expectations.
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