Panic over marketing and new competition seems to be woven into the fabric of our industry. Baby boomer doctors who grew up when advertising was prohibited find it difficult to compete against new-age digital natives. Both camps fear corporate takeover, and everyone is looking for a silver bullet in the next clinical continuum or technology. Everywhere you turn, there is someone with a fancy gadget or "new" advertising scheme to help you get patients through the door!
Marketers (note that I use the term loosely) smell this fear and are taking advantage of opportunities created by this new economic climate. Have you noticed your inbox is filled with flashy messages about how your "website SEO stinks," or "we can guarantee x number of patients per month - CALL TODAY!"
I say, stop the bus! If your receptionist receives a call from anyone promising results, especially before meeting you and understanding your goals, hang up, run, do whatever you need to do - but don't take the bait. No doubt the economic climate is far removed from the days of "hang up a shingle and they will come," but not as much as you might think. Getting the phone to ring is merely the first step, and quite frankly, has the lowest impact on your business outcomes. What happens afterthe phone is answered, and even more importantly, while the patient is in your chair, has a far greater impact on your bottom line.
A Tale of Two Dentists
Think of it this way - two dentists, Mike and Jim, are virtually identical to the casual observer. Both have similar clinical skills, service mix, office hours, and about 30 new patients per month. A close look at their numbers reveals a vastly different story:
New patients per month
Revenues per new patient
Overall production per month
Percent of patients who refer others
Mike is likely in a panic. That's when my phone rings and I hear, "Help, I need more new patients!" My experience tells me that it's likely not an advertising challenge, but rather a holistic marketing challenge. Marketing encompasses everything you see, hear, taste, feel, and perceive about a product or business. It involves emotional connections and customer service skills.
This is wherevirtuosity - performing the common, uncommonly well -becomes paramount to your success. All things being equal, people want to do business with individuals who connect with them first as a person, then as a consumer. Jim's team has mastered these skills. While there are dozens of details, focusing on the following three areas will create an immediate impact on your bottom line:
You truly get only one chance to make a first impression. The initial phone call is your best marketing tool. Train your team to do two things: welcome the caller to your practice, and assure him or her that you are the best. In today's fast-paced world, you only have eight seconds to gain attention and connect, so don't get bogged down in a nitty-gritty checklist of the call (e.g., insurance or medical issues, premedication). All of that is handled after you connect and create the appointment. Treat the patient like a new best friend you've just met.
Few things are more frightening than experiencing a new dental office. Public speaking, death by fire, and financial ruin come to mind. Remember, the patient is a person first, and conditions second. Creating an environment that is both emotionally and physically comfortable is job one! Physical comfort leads to more relaxed conversations and helps the patient reveal more details about his or her true needs. My top three considerations are basic, but often overlooked:
· Painless injections (e.g., topicals, wands, onset, gentle techniques): Use whatever works in your hands to keep patients comfortable while you (as our Canadian counterparts say) freeze the tooth.
· Body mechanics: Regulate the patient's blood sugar by having him or her snack on cheese or other light fare prior to anesthetic if the appointment will last more than 90 minutes. Adjust the chair to meet his or her comfort needs, and have pillows and blankets available. Use petroleum-free lip balm to keep lips moist and prevent chaffing.
· Emotional security: Nothing ranks higher on the fear-of-dentist meter than the possibility of being embarrassed financially. When asked, "What is the most important piece of information you need regarding your dental care?" three out of four people responded, "understanding the cost." Ironically, when the same question was posed to clinicians, the response was "the materials used." Align your processes to address financial options prior to initiating treatment. Your patients will thank you.
What a broad word to discuss in a short article. To demonstrate virtuosity in communication, simply be uncommon. Go against your natural instinct to educate patients on the processes of your work. If they wanted to know the melting point of titanium, they would have gone to dental school. Most of your patients simply want to know that you care about them and that they can trust you. Spend time getting to know them; we call this linking. At Productive Dentist Academy, my partner Bruce B. Baird, DDS, teaches doctors the "one-act play" that he's successfully used for three decades to build trust and get patients to accept care. He starts by asking open-ended questions about a very neutral topic:
· How long have you lived in _______?
· Where did you move from?
This allows people to open up and start talking about themselves. Your role is to listen for things you have in common. Do you know something special about the part of town they live in? Do they live there because of the golf course, nearby schools, or natural beauty? What aspects of your own life can you share that match that? Simply start a conversation. This lasts about three to five minutes and builds common ground and trust.
Virtuosity: performing the common, uncommonly well. While this may not be a flashy new advertising secret, it certainly reveals why Jim's revenues are four times those of Mike. Day-to-day commitment to connect with others - to bring your best self into every conversation - truly is the 21st century secret to success.
Vicki McManusis a certified emotional intelligence coach, the cofounder of Productive Dentist Academy, and the owner of multiple dental offices in Wisconsin. She is the collaborative author of FUNdamentals of Outstanding Dental Teams; her latest book, Frustration: The Breakfast of Champions,will be released in spring 2015. She can be reached at info@ProductiveDentist.com or 800-757-6077.