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8 lessons from Corporate America: Building patient loyalty, retention, and referrals

Nov. 1, 2007
David Taylor is co-founder and content developer for Staff Meeting In A Box™ - a DVD dental training series.

by David Taylor

David Taylor is co-founder and content developer for Staff Meeting In A Box - a DVD dental training series. He holds a bachelor’s degree in training and development and a master of business administration. In addition to his consulting career, Taylor has owned and operated several private businesses, including two nationwide training companies. He may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]. For more information, visit www.staffmeetinginabox.com.

For the past 20 years, our company has provided training and consulting to corporate America on building customer loyalty, retention, and referrals. There are powerful lessons to be learned by small business owners, and by now you’ve figured out that’s what you are - a small business owner. There are certain proven business “best practices” you must follow to be successful and increase patient loyalty, retention, and referrals. Here are some best practices that might help.

Lesson 1: Early bonding buys boo-boos

Did you know that a new customer can withstand up to eight negative interactions with a business, as long as he or she has one positive interaction first? Now, we recommend not going for the eight negative interactions. But, when prospective patients call for the first time, visit for the first time, and receive your first follow-up calls, are you doing anything special to really bond with them and turn the interaction extremely positive in their minds?

Lesson 2: One size does not fit all

Customers are delighted - and loyal - when we understand and respond to their specific needs. The same things are not important to all patients. Some personality types value relationships and want to feel deeply appreciated and known on a personal level. Some are very business focused, and just want the bottom line in terms of cost and time; others value comfort and avoiding pain and nothing else really matters. Still others value dialogue and want to be consulted as a peer in their care and have everything explained to them.

How long does it take you to learn each patient’s specific needs - and how many gaffs are team members committing in the meantime? Can you survey or interview new patients during their very first visit to find out what makes them tick?

Lesson 3: You must convey value

Customers continue to exchange their money for products or services as long as they feel they’re receiving sufficient value. What is your practice’s unique value proposition? A value proposition answers the following questions:

  • What are my patients really “buying” from me?
  • Why are they buying it from me and not from someone else?

In answering these questions, push yourself. The answers are not always apparent or simple. Once your value proposition is internalized by team members, you must convey (communicate) that value to patients at every opportunity.

Lesson 4: Communicate effectively

Customers love communication, as long as it comes in the format they like, is brief, and contains information they want. Sounds simple, right? So, how are you communicating with your patients? How are you educating them? Do you know the type of communication they want and do you provide the information they’re looking for? Do you provide various ways for them to communicate with you - including valuable feedback on your services?

Even if you consider yourself a “people person,” effective two-way communication isn’t easy, but you can learn it with the right tools.

Lesson 5: Know why customers leave

Successful businesses know why customers leave, and they work hard to understand - and fix - the problems in their organizations, systems, products, and services that are causing those departures. Did you know that the main reason patients change practices is the attitude or indifference of the staff or doctor? What are you doing to address that problem in your practice? As you work hard to gather - and listen to - patient feedback (and ex-patient feedback), look at your systems and processes to determine the root cause of the problem. Fix the root cause and they will stop leaving you for that reason.

Lesson 6: Measure!

If you want something to improve, measure it. If you want loyalty, retention, and referrals to increase, measure them. What should you measure? Consider the following metrics:

  • The number of patients in your database who you see at least once a year
  • Patient recall success percentages
  • The number of new patients who found you because they were referred by someone
  • The number of patients seen per month as a percentage of total active patients in the database
  • Patient satisfaction ratings gathered via surveys. You are doing surveys, right?

Lesson 7: Ask for referrals

At the right moment during patient visits, are you asking for referrals? Are you offering an incentive or reward to existing patients for referrals that result in new patients, or are you leaving it up to them to just refer on their own? Sure, you’ll have to prompt them a little. Ask them if they know anyone who is new to the area, or anyone who isn’t completely happy with their oral health, or if anyone they know has said, “Gosh, I wish my teeth looked like yours!”

Lesson 8: It’s a team sport

Great companies realize that customer loyalty, retention, and referrals are the responsibility of every team member. If one person lets down, the company suffers. Have you unified your team around the goals of loyalty, retention, and referrals? Do you reward your team around the goals of loyalty, retention, and referrals? Are you carefully selecting the right team members and removing the wrong team members?

Hear that? Opportunity is knocking!

As you commit to implement proven best-business practices in your small business - your practice - consider investing in proven tools to help you. They allow you to lead your practice to new levels of patient loyalty, retention, and referrals, train your team without leaving your office or preparing lessons, and focus on practicing dentistry and providing leadership as you unburden yourself and your staff.

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