by Lisa Zalovick
How could I have missed this? Is there really an amazing new marketing technique that will catapult my practice to the next level, without costing me an additional penny in overhead? Will patients actually line up outside my door, begging to get an appointment ... with me?
Well, the answer is yes ... and no. Yes, there is an amazing practice-changing plan that, when applied to any motivated dental practice, will catapult it further than any fancy radiograph system or spa service ever could, and yes, without costing an additional penny. But no, we aren’t talking about anything new. This amazing win/win marketing plan has been around for ages, but sadly, has been ignored. Although patients may not literally take your door off its hinges to get in, they will be calling, anxious to visit and see for themselves what the buzz is all about!
What is this amazing plan that will send your practice soaring to new heights? It is simply this: Create the extraordinary patient experience!
Visiting the dentist is not usually at the top of anyone’s list of favorite activities. The number one reason people dread visiting the dentist is that they have had negative and sometimes even frightening experiences associated with dental visits in the past. Their stories often have nothing at all to do with their actual dental treatment, but rather with their experiences in the dental office. Dealing with an unfriendly staff, lengthy waits, and uncomfortable encounters with the business office are among the top complaints.
As dentists, it is easy to get overwhelmed with staying on schedule, ushering patients in and out, answering the ever-ringing phones, and taking radiographs. But if the goal of your practice is to grow, creating the extraordinary patient experience is essential. If you don’t plan for success, you can’t expect to experience it. It is important to continually look for ways to improve the patient care skills of the entire dental team. If your goal is to provide quality dentistry in a friendly, patient-centered atmosphere, your plan must reflect your mission. It’s as simple as this: If patients get quality dental treatment in an atmosphere where they feel heard, validated, and well cared for, they will come. If they enjoy coming, they will tell others. If they don’t come, you don’t make money.
Incorporating the 10 tried and true steps listed below for creating an extraordinary patient experience will catapult any motivated dental practice to the next level. Be ready to see referrals grow and profits soar as you implement your plan to provide extraordinary patient care.
- Hire and train a great team.
It is definitely a challenge to find quality team members, but it can be done. Hiring someone full time just because you need a warm body to fill a position is a big mistake. Hire a temp, if necessary, while you are interviewing. The temp can do paperwork, clean rooms, develop radiographs, and run sterilization.
Compensate other quality staff members to help pick up the slack instead of bringing someone onto your team who does not enhance the quality of the practice. Always conduct a working interview to get a feel for how the prospective new employee performs duties and interacts with the team. Staff meetings and departmental meetings are the backbone of a successful practice. They are imperative not only in planning for success, but in monitoring progress and evaluating future needs. These meetings are as important as production, so don’t cancel them to accommodate a busy schedule.
- Take team members on a new patient journey through your practice.
There is nothing quite as eye opening as sitting in your own reception area or dental chair! Have each team member take a mock new-patient journey through your practice, looking at it through fresh eyes. Team members tend to overlook familiar sights and drown out familiar sounds, but if patients walk in and see clutter, or hear drilling and grinding, it raises their apprehension level. After this exploratory journey, give team members a questionnaire asking them to offer feedback about how to improve patient areas.
- Make sure every patient who calls your office feels welcome and informed.
It is said that the most important tool in a dental office is the telephone! Whether answering a call from a new patient, a returning patient, or a specialist, every caller should be greeted with great care and respect. Here are a few guidelines for team members when answering the phone:
- Smile when you speak, and state your name. You can actually hear a smile over the phone, and letting callers know who you are gives them a point of contact.
- Never say “Please hold!” at the end of your greeting. Give callers the courtesy of an introduction. Allow them to tell you who they are and the reason for their call before asking them to hold. Offer a return call if you will be any longer than a minute or so.
- Always verify contact information at the end of the conversation. People move and change jobs without informing you, so verify all contact information. It is inconvenient for both you and the patient if you cannot reach them due to outdated contact numbers.
- End the call with a pleasantry such as: “Please let me know if I can be of further assistance,” or “It is my pleasure!” This is a small way to add great things to the caller’s impression of your practice.
- Have team members greet each patient as if they were a guest entering their home.
It is helpful for team members to think of your office as their home, and your reception area as their living room. Acknowledge every patient as soon as he or she walks through the door. It doesn’t matter if your team member has two calls on hold and is in the middle of discharging a patient, three seconds can always be spared to smile, say hello, and let guests know you are aware of their presence. Walking around the reception desk to take coats, briefcases, or umbrellas and offering a small bottle of water in the summer months or a glass of warm tea in the winter are all ways to make dramatic statements about your patient-centered practice.
Whether your team uses an intercom, a light system, or actually walks back to alert the other team members that a patient has arrived, be sure the patient knows that the rest of the team is aware of his or her presence. Once patients are seated in the dental chair, remember that they are hearing dental terms and experiencing dental procedures that are unfamiliar. Compile a list of lay terms for explaining clinical words and phrases used during the office visit. Some patients will ask questions and want to hear clinical details, but others would rather just put on a headset and listen to a CD until you are finished. You will be able to accurately gauge the individual preferences of your patients if you listen and have a detailed new-patient interview process.
- Use information gathered to create the extraordinary patient experience.
Listening to what patients say will give you valuable insight as to how to make them feel special and create their extraordinary patient experience. It is extremely important to actually use the information you gather!
The new-patient interview is a valuable tool and a smart investment in the future of any practice. It is optimal to have your practice administrator or treatment coordinator perform this interview one-on-one, but you can have an effective interview incorporated into your initial paperwork. Most offices ask about any problems associated with past dental treatment, such as abnormal bleeding or anesthetic issues, but they typically do not address the personal issues that have formed a patient’s opinion and feelings about visiting the dentist.
Ask patients this question: “In your opinion, what are the top three reasons most people do not enjoy visiting the dentist?” This will tell you quite a bit about how they perceive dental visits.
If you ask patients to rate their level of apprehension when visiting the dentist or ask how they would like to be addressed by the team, but no one listens and acts on the information, why ask? It is not only useless, but also detrimental not to document patients’ preferences and honor their requests.
- Each new patient should be invited on a personal tour of your office.
At the beginning of each new-patient visit, have a team member introduce patients to their new surroundings, pointing out where they can find a restroom, get a drink of water, and the locations of all administrative offices and treatment rooms. Of course you won’t want your team to interrupt treatment, but do have them introduce the new patient to any team members who are available. Having name badges, including team member titles, is very helpful, especially for new patients.
- Your team should be trained to be “cheerleaders” for you and your practice.
A successful practice not only encourages long-time patients to refer family, friends, and co-workers, but also encourages team members to look for opportunities to say good things about other team members and the excellent quality of care that the dentist provides. Just like there is no hiding the negative energy in a practice where team members are disgruntled, there is no hiding the positive energy that flows through a practice where team members love what they do and whom they do it for!
- Every patient who leaves your office should look forward to coming back.
At the end of each visit, the first questions asked should be “How was your visit today? Did we meet our goal of making you feel welcome and comfortable?”
If your team has followed the steps discussed above, how can the answers be anything other than wonderful! ... and yes! How patients are treated at the end of their visit is just as important as how they are treated upon arrival.
Carelessly managed dental practices have led patients to believe that collecting money is the priority at the end of a dental visit. Yes, dentistry is a business. We do have to take care of the financial aspect of dental treatment, but patients should never think that collecting money is our top priority. If we are going to create the extraordinary patient experience, it should be our goal to change that false perception.
A creative response when asked if a team member is “the money lady” might be “Money? My goodness, we have so much more to talk about before we get to the business end of your visit!” or “I’m not the money lady; I’m the let’s-make-a-plan-to-get-your-smile-healthy lady!” It is imperative that patients know that the number one priority in your practice is to create healthy smiles.
- All new patients should be contacted immediately after their first visit.
Imagine a new patient who has just had an extraordinary first experience in your practice skipping back to his office with a renewed faith in the dental field. He listens to his phone messages and then turns on his computer to check his e-mail. To his surprise, your dental team has already sent him a note welcoming him to the practice and thanking him for choosing your office as his new dental home. Courtesies like that are what will make your practice stand out and really wow your patients!
There is no greater investment in the future of your dental practice than to take an ordinary dental visit and turn it into an extraordinary experience for every patient. What happens in your dental office will be shared with others – at home, over the back fence, and around the water cooler. Make a plan today to catapult your practice to the next level, ensuring that everyone looking for the extraordinary patient experience will know exactly where to find it!
Lisa Zalovick is a veteran dental practice administrator who has spent 20 years at the helm of a high-energy, successful practice located two blocks from the White House in Washington, D.C. She has been privileged to work with Dr. Everett Schneider, whose passion is providing healthy smiles to downtown D.C. professionals. Dr. Schneider is not only listed as one of the top dentists in Washingtonian Magazine, but is the top-rated D.C. dentist on Google’s dental referral site, Dr.Oogle.com. Contact Zalovick at [email protected].