Make Your Dental Practice Office Irresistible
Are you in the dental practice experience business?
Before spending money on marketing or a new website, determining the business of the dental practice is the first priority. The desires of dental patients will determine that business. What is it that they dream about, aspire to, or imagine? When these basic, often secret, desires are satisfied, the practice will grow. The primary objective of marketing is to make prospective dental patients aware of the office and to communicate that you have the ability to provide them with what they are seeking.
Often the dental patient is thwarted by the process of getting to the office, for example:
- The right and left hands of a dental practice don’t talk to each other. Everyone in the office needs to deliver the same message and work for the same outcome. The dental patient should never have to give the office the same information twice. It shows a lack of organization and communication.
- Anyone who interacts with the potential dental patient must be ready with all the information a dental patient might ask for or hope to receive: the administrator’s voice on the phone, the ability to ask good questions, and to interpret what the dental patient means by what she says. Does the first person a potential new dental patient comes into contact with have the knowledge and ability to answer questions and move this person to the next step; i.e., make an appointment or a follow-up call? call?
- The doctor and team must be clear about what the dental patient actually experiences when doing business with the office. The experience a dental patient has while processing through the office is as important as the clinical delivery of care. Offices who want dental patients to accept larger treatment plans must pay careful attention to the office environment, level of personal service, amenities, knowledgeable team members and a little extra pizzazz whenever possible and appropriate. Better restaurants are masters at creating an experience for their patrons.
It’s been said that the business of the practice is the set of feelings the dental patient leaves with, not the set of procedures that were completed.
Dental patients don’t care what you think they need; they care more about what they want. If practice growth is important, find a way to discover what they want.
In some practices, the new dental patient is intentionally diverted to a highly trained dental patient coordinator who is charged with the task of building the relationship and gaining under-standing of the dental patient’s wants. This is done before the new dental patient sees the doctor on the first visit. She spends time talking with new dental patients to learn what they believe they need or want and why they need or want it. What problems are they trying to solve? What pain are they seeking to alleviate or avoid? What pleasure or gain are they hoping to experience? What do they see as the ideal outcome and how will that make them feel?
The treatment plan will optimally highlight what the doctor can deliver and will describe how it will benefit them clinically and non-clinically. The doctor must answer the question the dental patient asks, “If I give the money you require, what will change in my life as well as my mouth?” The doctor must have well in hand what the dental patient is looking for and why and what they see as the ideal outcome. This is the message that will move dental patients to a “yes.”
You are not your dental patient.
One of the easiest traps to fall into is to think that dental patients want what the doctor or hygienist want and like what they like. This mistake is easy to make when there is a poor understanding of who the dental patient is and what they value.
A recent practice scratch start was not going well. The doctor became quite exasperated because he could not understand why his dental patients didn’t schedule for the dentistry he was diagnosing.
The question was, “What makes the doctor think they want the help that he wants to give them?” The doctor answered . . . “but they need my services.” The real issue was . . . but do they want them?
The doctor’s point of view is not necessarily how the dental patient views their situation. Avoid telling people what they need and instead become a practitioner who under-stands the dental patient’s wants and then fulfills them. This is called “lifestyle dentistry.” It is important to remember that dental patients are not just saying “yes” to treatment plans but they are also saying “yes” to everything along the way: the process by which the dental patient is engaged – the smells in the reception room, how it is decorated, is the parking lot weed free and lighted? Is the experience congruent with the image the practice portrays? The dental patient is as important as the treatment plan. This means the dental patient’s experience becomes as important as the clinical skills of the doctor.
Feelings are emotions.
The truly happy dental patient feels an emotional connection with the office and with the doctor and staff personally. This means the staff has a strong role to play in practice profitability.
People naturally gravitate toward those who make them feel welcome and special.
Dental patients have many choices of which office to visit. The team must make them feel special by greeting them with a big smile, shaking their hands, remembering their name or recognizing their voice on the phone, recalling something from a conversation they had in the past, and asking how they’ve been since they were last in. One office in rural Minnesota always receives more referrals than any other. Dental patient surveys show that the dental patients say, “THEY ARE ALWAYS HAPPY TO SEE ME!”
Unexpected gifts and extras have a very positive influence on dental patients. Everyone, no matter who they are or how much money they have, loves getting a little something extra, especially when they do not expect it. These little “gifts” do super duty when properly executed. They delight the dental patient and make them feel special and appreciated. They reinforce the dental patient’s belief that this is the perfect dentist. When chosen carefully, the right gift subliminally supports the image of the office that it is trying to project. The perfect gift is one that says that you understand more about your dental patient than just their teeth.
When was the last time a business you deal with sent you a thank you note or made a follow-up call to thank you for your patronage? Imagine how good it would feel if you had spent a particularly significant amount of money. Imagine how good it would make you feel if the note was handwritten on a nice card or stationery instead of a generic letter spewed out by a computer.
At a New Year’s Eve fundraiser for a local regional charity, the president of the local medical clinic explained to the guests seated at his table that they were able to double the size of their clinic because of a conversation he had with his personal dentist. He related that he had a difficult procedure done and his dentist called him at home that evening to see how he was doing. He was so impressed with that act of kindness that he required all of his doctors at the clinic to do the same. The result has been a huge increase in their business.
Flowers are an excellent way to express thanks, especially to female dental patients. Dental patients who receive a flower arrangement after a long procedure are excited and will tell their friends about it for weeks.
Do not be lured into taking the easy way out and giving a discount or some kind of freebie from the office as an expression of thanks. These gifts are self-serving and are usually recognized as such. Giving a $50 certificate applicable to their next visit is uninspiring and not meaningful. Please remember that an expression of thanks should make dental patients feel appreciative of the office for being the kind of office that really went out of the way to thank them for their patronage. The gift should communicate to the dental patient that they have been “heard.” Gift cards suggest a lack of thought as do items that look as if they were purchased in bulk or were given by a vendor.
A practice in Minneapolis discovered that their recent new dental patient was from a law office in their building. When they got to know the dental patient during the new dental patient experience and throughout treatment, they discovered that he was a baseball nut who traveled to different stadiums across the country on his vacations to see the games. He also had a sweet tooth. When they completed the last seat appointment, the entire team and doctor was on hand to present him with a chocolate baseball bat they had ordered. He was surprised beyond belief that someone would go to all that trouble for him. Do you think that he told this story to his colleagues at the law office? And how many became new dental patients?
The doctor and team became members of the “eyebrow raisers” club which inspired them to do more for the next new dental patient.
Why do people stay with the same doctor for years? It’s because they feel that the doctor knows them and their history and cares about them. This is the realm of the team who can remember children’s names, the name of their dog and where they vacationed last summer. It helps to have a computer to keep track of all this personal information so that you can seem more knowledgeable when memory fails.
Recently a metropolitan office wanted to really push hard for new dental patient growth. The doctor’s novel idea was to engage a professional clipping service to send him news-paper clippings out of selected magazines, etc., on topics which he knew his dental patients had an interest. He then filed them by subject and periodically the team would include a clip from a magazine with a personal handwritten note from him indicating that he ran across this article, thought of (the dental patient) and thought that they would like a copy. Dental patients loved the personal attention and referrals grew commensurately.
Find ways to make dental patients feel recognized, special, valued and appreciated. Get to know them and take an interest in them. With the arrival of e-mail and Facebook, there are even more opportunities to “reach out and touch” dental patients. Give them a reason to be loyal. This will pay dividends when insurance companies change and dental patients can go elsewhere a bit cheaper.
How to be in the dental patient experience business.
Starbucks knows how to get their customers to come back and back again. Every afternoon Marty walks four and a half blocks to the Starbucks near his office. He can get coffee free at the office yet he walks past two other coffee shops to get to Starbucks where he gladly pays $2.60. It isn’t the coffee! In fact he probably can’t taste the difference between his preferred Starbucks cup and whatever is at the office. But when Marty walks into Starbucks, Jayson is already pouring him his Grande Sumatra, calls out his name and greets him with a welcoming smile. He always leaves a bit of room in Marty’s cup because he knows Marty always adds half-and-half. Marty pays the $2.60 and tosses his customary quarter in the tip jar and climbs on a stool by the front window. Marty isn’t buying coffee, he’s buying an experience. He’s buying a half-hour break from his desk and the incessant e-mails. It’s not that the coffee is worth it – it’s that Marty feels the Starbucks experience is worth it….and even more important that he is worth it. Starbucks is his personal moment in the day, and he would be hard pressed to give it up. Marty gives something to Starbucks, Monday through Friday, but that is because his favorite Starbucks store gives him something back. Lasting, meaningful relationships are always reciprocal.
Today’s successful dental office can duplicate this type of experience in a much more deeply satisfying experience. The dental office must give the dental patient more than just “coffee” or a procedure. Successful offices give their dental patients self-esteem, security, a feeling of “belonging”, confidence and much more. The doctor and team must know the secrets of the “experience” business.
One of the secrets is “do not try to be everything to everyone.” This is not possible in the first place; and secondly, it is so much more enjoyable to be everything to a smaller number of wonderful people.
You want to provide an experience that will appeal to dental patients who have qualifiable wants, needs, and expectations and who have the wherewithal to satisfy them. Providing a markedly different level of service differentiates the practice and provides a distinctly different value than other offices.
Depending on the kind of experience that is desired for the practice, consider answering the following:
1. What would delight them?
2. What would be fun for them?
3. How could the practice surprise them?
4. What would make them feel unique and special?
5. What would make them feel good about themselves?
6. What would reaffirm the way they see themselves and reinforce that identity?
7. How could the office create feelings of validity and satisfaction about themselves?
8. What could be done to make them feel safe and secure and give them peace of mind?
9. How might the practice help them become the person they have always wanted to be?
10. How might the practice give them the ability to do some-thing they have always wanted to do?
For example, there is a very successful office in a major city in which the doctor and team have a very sincere belief in Jesus Christ, which dictates how they behave in and out of the office. Before treatment the doctor and assistant will pray with the dental patient and Christian music is heard throughout the entire office. At the morning huddle there is prayer for the dental patients of the day and for the well-being of the office and team members. There is no apology for their beliefs and there is a six-month waiting list to be seen in this office. They know who their target dental patient is and provide an experience that is satisfying and life-changing. It just happens that is their belief system too.
With the appearance of the chain dental stores, and the growing homogenous level of service in our country, dental patients are yearning for something different, something that feels special and unique, services that recognize each person’s specialness, and encounters with their dental office that engage them in experiences that feel more personal and intimate.
Practices that can add value to their list of clinical services by giving their dental patients such an experience will be wildly profitable.
So get in the experience business with our dental practice consulting services.
Jason B. White is VP of White & Associates, Practice Consulting., an Minneapolis, Minnesota based management consulting firm. He holds a marketing degree from Northwestern University in Chicago and an M.B.A. in Marketing Administration from the University of Southern California Graduate School of Business Administration. He lectures at state dental associations, study clubs, and his articles have appeared in many health professional journals.