What's the Real Reason Marketing isn't Working for Your Practice?
The sign outside next to the street says “Dentist.” The waiting room is papered in country blue and pink with birdhouses stamped along a border. It was a look wildly popular in 1988. The plastic vinyl chairs have seen their share of wear and tear that comes with years of use. Pages are torn out of the magazines and most are two or three months old.
The doctor would like to market his practice as a state-of-the-art office, yet the entrance to the place screams old, dated, and worst of all - mediocre. And it doesn’t stop there. The carpet in the hall leading to the treatment room is worn and frayed. Sitting in the dental chair, the ceiling tiles are stained and dirty. When I ask the doctor if he plans to address the “look” of the practice, he proudly tells me that all of the treatment rooms were painted in the last year. Ah yes, nothing like putting a little lipstick on a pig. “What we need to market,” he emphasizes, “is my new CEREC machine. That’s what the patients care about.”
It is the classic example of a doctor who believes that marketing is a special promotion, a one-time event, an advertising blitz. Yet he is surprised when new patients don’t respond as expected. They come once and don’t return. He says the marketing campaign didn’t work, yet refuses to consider the real marketing messages the practice sends that go well beyond the singular message he intended.
I have watched dentist after dentist throw thousands of dollars into so-called “marketing campaigns,” convinced that this one will bring in all the patients they need. It’s the “silver bullet,” the answer to all of their struggles. The campaign kicks off. The mailers are sent, the ads are placed, the special offers are promoted, the radio jingles are playing, and, yes, the phone is ringing. The schedule is full. Ninety days later, it’s over and so is the rush of new patients.
Stop looking at marketing as a one-time external event. Marketing is taking place in every interaction with every patient. It is what happens when your business staff answers the phone. It is what takes place when you explain a procedure to a patient. It is in the layer of grime on your front door that no one on staff notices because they’re always going in and out the back. Marketing is the small stuff and the big stuff. It is the “whole package.”
When your “campaign” doesn’t yield the results that you want, look around your practice and ask yourself a few simple questions: Did you deliver what you promised - state-of-the-art facilities, superior service, etc? Did you prepare your team? Did you prepare your practice? Did you prepare yourself?
Case in point: “Dr. Bassett” wanted to generate more new patient activity in her practice. She had made all the arrangements with a dental marketing company and was paying a hefty price for their services. She felt confident that the effort would pay off. The company representatives had suggested that the employees go through a short training session to help them prepare for the increased calls and patient activity. Dr. Bassett was confident that her team would do great. As far as she was concerned they just needed to do what they always did. What would be the point of training, she wondered.
The promotion was launched a week later. Dr. Bassett could hear the phones ringing away. She was convinced that the campaign was a success. What she couldn’t hear was the number of times that the caller went into voicemail because staff were either away from the desk, on break, at lunch, or busy taking care of “more important” tasks to answer it. Nor did she hear the employee responses to prospective patient questions - “We can’t do that.” “You want to come in when?” “We don’t take that insurance.” “I really don’t know anything about the procedures. I just answer the phone.”
Next week: what Dr. Bassett and every other dentist should consider before they invest in that so-called “silver bullet” marketing campaign.
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The Performance Evaluation is a Necessary Task
I hate staff performance appraisals, so I avoid doing them at all costs. I don’t feel I am effective and I don’t like the negative feeling I get before I give one. What is the proper way to give my employees a fair value judgment of their work?
Dr. Able Payem
When there is a cancelation, you are judging your Business Coordinator, when there is a failure to set up the bridge prep tray correctly, you are judging your Dental Assistant, when there are no notes for clinical findings on the hygiene patient, you are judging your Dental Hygienist. But you should be judging their performance on the job. Every employee should be told how you view his or her work on a regular basis. This evaluation should not come as a surprise once a year, but should occur as feedback on a day-to-day basis. When the performance occurs is the time to tell your employees whether it is good or needs improvement. Compliment your dental assistant for her/his technical skills in front of the patients, let your business coordinator know if the schedule worked for you and tell the hygienist when you hear her/him encouraging patients to get their treatment scheduled.
If there are negatives to discuss, wait until you are calm, select a location free of interruptions and make sure no one else can hear your discussion. The behavior or act should be the focus and not the personality or motivation of the person. Stick to the here and now and avoid broad generalizations like “You never get anything done on time.” Ask for information and don’t jump to conclusions. Ask: “What happened yesterday, you usually let me know when a specialist calls about a patient?” Instead of “You are not sensitive to the fact that the specialist needs to speak to me.”For infractions, suggest a plan of improvement. If additional training is in order, then set up a plan of action for the employee to get the training they need to improve skills. Check to make sure there is understanding by continuing the message that teamwork and improvement is for the betterment of the practice, not just the individual.
Set performance goals for the year based on the job description of the employee and the specific improvement agenda. The annual performance review is a formal summary of previous discussions about work performance over a year’s time. Performance evaluations should include the following:
Most employees are seeking a place to work where they feel appreciated and valued. High employee morale is necessary for the success of any business, but especially in dentistry where the interaction with patients in a close and personal environment fosters trust. Employees need to feel that their contributions are important and that they can make a difference in the lives of the patients that they help daily in the office. Mutual respect and having a sense of “ownership” are qualities that ensure the success of the dental practice. As an employer, it is important that the dentist embrace the performance evaluation as an opportunity to communicate with the team and to bring the performance of the practice to a higher level.
Importance of Monthly Team Meetings
As the practice owner, just the thought of having any kind of meeting causes you to start sweating, right? I understand that, because it puts you in a position to either have to conduct the meeting and drag information from your audience (your team), or sit through an hour of complaining that accomplishes nothing. So why even subject yourself to that?
One of the top 10 complaints that your team will have if I asked them would be that you don’t communicate with them! You and I know why… but they don’t. This article is intended to give you some tools to put in your tool box to assist you in conducting efficient and productive monthly meetings.
Yes - I said morning. 7:00am - 8:30am would be good. If you want someone to bring donuts or refreshments, that is fine. If you try to plan for meetings at lunch, they will never happen because YOU will work through the time set aside! Also, eating lunch in a hurry and trying to conduct a productive meeting is an oxymoron.
As you review the tentative topics, you should organize them in order of importance, as you may run out of time. However, place any topics that were not discussed from the previous month to the top to ensure that they are covered. Attempt to cover all topics that are suggested, in order to empower staff to take the initiative to make suggestions. Once they feel that you have turned off the faucet, so to speak, it is very difficult to turn it back on and they will shut down.
The Meeting Coordinator should be prepared to create the actual typed agenda, make sure that all the statistics are complete and copies are made for everyone, a copy of the updated Action Items is available for everyone, and everyone is reminded to arrive early.
It is also the Meeting Coordinator’s responsibility to keep the meeting moving, the topics productive, and most of all, to help everyone in drawing a conclusion and/or assigning a task to someone with a deadline for the task to be completed. This is an area where you can assist, if needed. The new Action Items must also be placed on the current Action Item List by the secretary for review at the next meeting.
As a practice owner, I hear that you are tired of “rowing the boat” all the time and why doesn’t your team come up with new ideas for the practice, implementation of new equipment or techniques, read interesting articles in the journals to share, etc. Maybe you have never given them an avenue to do so?
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