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No-shows, explained

June 1, 2019
Graig Presti, CEO, Local Search For Dentists®

I was having coffee with an old friend the other day who went through a divorce about a year ago. She’s now getting back in the dating game and told me that, despite all the new apps and romantic matching services, first dates still just plain suck.

Not long ago, she’d been on a date with a guy—let’s call him Andrew—and from the moment she met up with him, she had weird, uneasy feelings about him. Andrew didn’t necessarily do anything wrong, such as insult her or be outwardly rude, but after the date, she decided to follow her gut and decided never to call him again.

Taking a step back, we are hardwired for survival. As leery, suspicious creatures, we tend to follow our intuition. Sometimes there’s no logical reason, but if something feels wrong or we get too many red flags, we avoid what we perceive to be a danger. Now, what I’m about to say may be a rude awakening for you, but this parable explains why your practice has way more no-shows than it should.

Let’s put it in perspective: Janie needs to find a new dental provider and asks her friend Susie who she recommends. Susie is a loyal customer of yours, so she tells Janie about your practice. Janie accepts the recommendation, calls you, and makes an appointment. But then she thinks back to her previous dentist, who wound up being a bit unethical, and she’s wary of not doing any further vetting. She looks you up on the planet’s most trusted media, Google.1

Lo and behold, there you are with Google reviews from a few months ago, which are worse than a bad review because they can lead prospective patients to think you don’t have enough happy patients and doubt your practice. This leaves your Google listing looking barren. Your listing also might not be branded properly, and if you’ve followed this column long enough, you know that I frequently write about building a brand online that does not involve your website, so you can become trustworthy without speaking about yourself by letting Google and its review platform do it automatically for you. So, when Janie goes to Google, there are no photos of your office and no video testimonials—just those paltry old Google reviews. You’ve posted nothing to counter the outdated reviews or to illustrate the quality of your practice or the experience that patients have in your office.

The very next doctor in the search results is only another mile down the road. And compared to your two old reviews, he has 200 reviews with a glowing average of 4.9 out of 5 stars. His Google listing is filled with stories from patients who are gushing about how the front desk staff was friendly and helpful, how the doctors made sure each family member was pain-free, and more. There are dozens and dozens of bright, beautiful pictures, contributed by his patients, that show his modern, comfortable office. (By the way, a study from the Harvard Business School revealed that a one-star increase on a review rating can lead to a 5% to 9% revenue boost, so we can conclude your competitor is benefiting from increased production from his stellar fresh reviews and reputation.2)

Immediately, those scary voices in Janie’s head evaporate into thin air, replaced by reassurance and excitement that she’s found her new dentist, and surprise, surprise—it’s not you!

Even though you’ve been a dentist longer than your competitor, and even though your dentistry is a heck of a lot better, Janie doesn’t even bother to cancel her appointment with you. She just makes a new appointment with the second dentist and leaves you standing there in the proverbial rain with a no-show “rose” wilting in your hand. First impressions are crucial, especially today. You have to present yourself and your practice well, and your patients need to feel the “warm fuzzies” if you want any chance of getting them to not only make an appointment but actually show up.

The modern-day referral has moved from offline to online, where people are having the same conversations on Google that they used to have at the local breakfast joint. Patients go to Google for everything nowadays—from finding a dentist, to mapping their way across the country, to picking a life insurance policy, to ordering the best pizza in town. More patients trust Google with their health (and their families’ health) than any other tool out there, and if you do not leverage Google’s search platform and reviews as your go-to marketing vehicle, you’re going to find that you’re losing out to the gal or guy who knows how to show up and look the part by creating a trustworthy and reputable brand.

Honestly, this isn’t complicated. Learning to be a good dentist is actually much harder, and you’ve already accomplished that. But this is just as important, if not more. Start building your Google “house” today to establish yourself as the go-to provider in your area and start seeing a windfall of new patients.

The new-patient game is no different from any other first date. Remove the red flags and show patients that they can and should trust you.

3 action steps to defeating new-patient no-shows

1. Claim and manage your Google presence.

Not overseeing your Google listing is like leaving the front door to your house wide open. You’re vulnerable to misinformation about your practice, including whatever people might be saying about you. Plus, it suggests to prospective patients that you just don’t care. Instead, take the time to claim the listing, make sure the logistical information is correct, and respond to any comments, both positive and negative.

2. Post your own powerful content.

Half of establishing a trustworthy online presence is controlling the conversation, and one way to do that is by posting your own content on social media sites. I’d argue that the most powerful one is YouTube because it focuses on video, and Google owns it. That means the more you videos you post, the better it ultimately influences your Google listings.

It’s easier than you might think. Start simple: begin by shooting videos of yourself in your office with your iPhone and uploading them to YouTube. Make sure you add a detailed description with keywords and tags. To learn more, you can either ask some experienced folks in your office or simply Google “uploading videos to YouTube.”

3. Encourage patients to leave reviews the right way.

OK, this is the tricky part. Google reviews can be an incredibly powerful tool to use in building your practice. But like any power tool, if you use it incorrectly, it can do more damage than good. I strongly recommend you hire a professional to manage the process for you. This means you should find an experienced individual or team who has gotten proven results for clients in the past. And nine times out of 10, this is not your web designer.

Get started today, and begin seeing the success you and your practice deserve.


1. Sterling G. Google overtakes traditional media to become most trusted news source. Search Engine Land website. https://searchengineland.com/google-overtakes-traditonal-media-become-trusted-source-news-online-213176. Published January 20, 2015.

2. Luca M. Reviews, reputation, and revenue: The case of yelp.com. Harvard Business School website. https://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/reviews-reputation-and-revenue-the-case-of-yelp-com. Published October 4, 2011.

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