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Who really influences your dental patients? (Hint: It’s not you)

Aug. 2, 2022
If you think you have the most influence on your practice, you’re right. But if you think you have the most influence on your patients—well, maybe not so much.
Jay Geier, Founder, Scheduling Institute

If you think you have the most influence on your practice, you’re right. But if you think you have the most influence on your patients, you’re wrong.

Think about all the interactions a potential new patient has with your team members and office processes—especially at the front desk—before they even meet you, much less benefit from your clinical skills. The time you personally spend with an individual patient is a small percentage of their interactions with your office and as such has minimal influence on whether they book a first appointment, are satisfied with an appointment, or are willing to refer others.

These are the key make-or-break touchpoints that influence patients and yet have nothing to do with your expertise (or your charming personality).

First phone call to the office

Most potential new patients will call an office to make a first appointment instead of booking through a website. If they go to voicemail, they are unlikely to leave a message and will start calling competitors until they reach a practice that cares enough about patient convenience to properly staff their phones.

The objective of a new patient’s call is to book an appointment, and they want to do so in an easy, efficient, and hassle-free manner. Remarkably, most practices lose many potential new patients because of how poorly the front desk manages these calls. The fix is simple: train front desk team members to handle new-patient calls with intention, efficiency, and care.

First visit to the office

Assuming the first phone call resulted in a new-patient appointment, your next opportunity to make a great impression starts with the building’s exterior and signage and follows with a lobby that has that “wow” factor the moment they walk in.

Then comes the all-important front desk experience. Everyone on the team must dress and behave impeccably. Patients must be warmly greeted by name and with eye contact immediately. The paperwork and check-in process must be handled flawlessly. If you use iPads or a kiosk, the patient must be quickly assisted if they are uncertain what to do. New patients should be given an office tour and welcome gift so they feel appreciated and comfortable in your place of business before they even meet you.

Checkout process

No matter how well the appointment goes with you and how much the patient may like you personally, if the final front desk experience goes poorly, that will be their last impression—and quite possibly their last visit. Checkout processes must be efficient and hassle-free. At the same time, the team member must genuinely engage with the patient so they feel cared about as a person rather than only taking a payment, and they should not rush patients out if they have questions.

What you don’t see does hurt you

Chances are you have little to no idea how well all those things are being done—you're busy treating patients because you believe your time with them is the most influential part of the patient experience. It’s not. Patients tend to take on faith that if you’re in business and a legitimate dentist, you know what you’re doing. They won't look at your credentials or ask about your continuing education credits.

Unless something goes horribly wrong during treatment, by far the biggest determining factor for whether a patient comes back and also refers others is how well all the other pieces of the end-to-end experience are handled by team members, and how well your front desk processes work from the patient’s viewpoint instead of yours. This can be a major blind spot for practice owners.

Accept reality and then change it

Don’t let your ego get in the way of accepting reality. Your team has more influence on patients than you do, especially your front desk team and especially with new patients. But as the one with the most influence on the practice overall (i.e., the decision-maker and business leader), only you can ensure your team is set up to succeed at doing what you need them to do. Only you can intentionally decide to provide your people with the training they require to know what it looks and feels like to be:

  • Open to being coached as part of a high-performing team with the discipline to always put the patient first;
  • Committed to shared performance and growth goals and being held accountable for results; and
  • Capable of executing the necessary processes to deliver an outstanding experience that cultivates long-term patient relationships and business-building referrals.

Done right, team training is an investment that provides immediate ROIs in terms of the new patients and referrals that will keep your practice from plateauing and that will further drive profitable growth. So, while you’re busy wowing patients in the back, you can be confident they’re being wowed at the front desk and at every other touchpoint of the end-to-end experience.

Editor's note: This article appeared in the August 2022 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.

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