Effective Ways To Win
— And Keep — Patients
It all starts with a great attitude, but the details are where patients are won or lost.
At the height of the COVID pandemic, in-person visits to healthcare providers were limited. With so many old habits broken, clients may be more willing to try new things — like a new dental practice. That presents both an outstanding opportunity — and a danger — to practitioners; you’d like to recruit patients willing to make a change while losing few of your existing clients to others.
We now live in a high-tech world, but also one that responds to “high touch.” What’s high touch? In dentistry, it means reaching out to patients to meet them where they are in their daily lives, creating strong relationships and making them feel valued and well cared for.
Start by consistently delivering five-star customer service, every patient, every time. It doesn’t matter if your hygienist is running late because her child couldn’t go to daycare today. What’s your plan when that happens? Reschedule? Bring in a temp hygienist?
Think of all the ways your practice disappoints patients. Better yet, ask your patients to tell you the ways you disappointed them. Come up with a set of plans to deal with each of those scenarios. Then act on those plans — each time, every time. Some things you may consider include:
- Offering gift cards when a patient is forced to wait more than 10 minutes past their appointment time. Remember, keep the value nominal so as not to run afoul of federal kickback rules.
- Use a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool that will help you build knowledge about your customers as well as handling records
- Learn one new thing about each patient at each visit and enter that into your records. You want the patients to see you as someone who’s interested in them — not just their teeth and their wallet.
- Call customers at night. This isn’t a perfunctory or pre-recorded call confirming a visit or scheduling a treatment date, it’s a chance to show customers that you care about them and that you know details about their dental conditions and personal lives. Appointment setters can use the information in the CRM to start a human conversation. If they reach voicemail, have a script for them to go beyond the appointment and talk directly to the patient, “Hi Andrea, this is Annie in Doctor Philips’ office calling about your appointment at 10 on Thursday. Paul mentioned he hopes your recent foot surgery was successful and you’re healing well. We look forward to seeing you Thursday.”
- Develop scripting for every new patient. They need to know why you’re the best option for them and to feel welcomed and appreciated.
- ABC: Always Be Cheerful. When two of your staff call in sick the same day and you have procedures planned, this can be difficult, but great practices do this consistently. Don’t think about the inconveniences and difficulties, think about how lucky you are that you have patients who trust you with their oral health and are willing to pay to maintain it.
- ABIC: Always Be In Contact. Waiting for patients to come in every six months to interact with them is not good enough. You need to maintain some level of contact at least monthly, if not bi-weekly. Reach out with health education, with office news, with contests and giveaways. Include them in the practice “family,” make them feel that they’re an essential part of something healthy and positive.
UPPING YOUR DIGITAL MEDIA GAME
While the profusion of digital media platforms can seem overwhelming (Website? YouTube or TikTok? LinkedIn or Facebook? Just Instagram?) they present a real opportunity for you to communicate easily, effectively and frequently with patients. You may need to narrow your choices of channels — asking your patients directly about their media habits is the best way to know which to choose.
Of course, if you’re a large practice — or want to be — the correct answer about platforms is “all of them.” Smaller practices who can’t dedicate someone to keeping up with their media can get the same results by partnering with a digital marketing company that also does content creation.
You have to look past Facebook, too, to ensure your marketing is strong across the board:
- Lead Generation: You need a defined strategy for lead generation with data feedback that you follow, analyze and optimize.
- Email is an oft-neglected but low-cost and highly effective tool for keeping in touch and getting feedback, including appointments. A digital marketer can help you create and set up a flow of “nurture” emails — a pre-programmed series of emails that move patients along the sales funnel, get them to come in and keep them coming back. Once created, these can be automated.
- Variety of content is also important. Don’t just link from your Facebook post or email to a new study that was published, create stories about your patients and their experiences that illustrate how your practice works and what it did to improve their lives. Testimonial videos are very, very powerful and can be filmed in-office with a little bit of self-education (or hire a video pro to come in, recommend a cost-effective equipment set-up and show your staff how to do it). Knowing how, where and when to distribute the content is one of the areas where a digital marketer will prove their worth.
THE HIRING HURDLE
Sure, you’d like to do all of those things, but you’re having trouble just finding associates, much less having enough staff to handle patient outreach. In a recent survey, two-thirds of dentists said they were having a hard time recruiting hygienists. Others who have staffs with extended tenure reported losing seasoned team members at a high rate during the pandemic.
Some strategies for dealing with the shortfall:
- Create the best possible environment for your team. Where would you rather work? In a practice where everyone is stretched impossibly thin, where the prevailing mood is one of exhaustion and despair? Or one where the vibe is positive and team members feel that they matter, that their input is valued, and where they are paid well and have desirable perks? Running a good show means you will get the best performers as word spreads about your practice in the dental community. Here’s where your social outreach can pay dividends as well. Try friending every dental hygienist you can find and make sure your posts are positive. Reach beyond your local area, too. You don’t know who may be looking to relocate, and your social media can be the magnet that draws them in.
- Work with a specialist recruiter like Prodentsearch. With a broad geographic reach and proven track record of finding and placing skilled professionals who will stay and help you build your practice, they’re a great resource in these times of talent shortage. Prodentsearch uses proprietary search tools to find talent that may not be actively seeking new employment. You get access to experienced professionals who have been successful in the field and may be persuaded to make a change.
One thing you probably noticed about these techniques is that they require a solid team, from ginning up new patients, to welcoming them into the practice, to exceeding their expectations with your care to following them back to their everyday lives to let them know you’re thinking about them. It’s about the relationship your team can create with each person who enters your waiting room. That’s where stability, longevity and profits come from.
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