by Patrick Wahl, DMD, MBA, and Ginny Hegarty
There are two simple rules which, when followed passionately, guarantee you wild success in dental practice. In fact, these two rules ensure success in any business: 1. Have a great product. 2. Ask enough people to buy it.
Your “product” is everything you do, from the procedures you perform in the treatment rooms to how you ask for payment to the follow-up calls you make. Your product is the sum total - the entire experience of your patients.
The first thing any dentist will insist is, I have a great product. Most don’t. Call any dentist and see how his or her phone is answered, how you’re treated, and how soon you can get in.
Even fewer dentists market themselves effectively. Oddly, most dentists point to their very lack of marketing savvy as some sort of badge of honor. Consequently, most dentists never enjoy the wild success they should, instead tolerating modest results from their unexceptional practices.
If you’re not as busy as you’d like to be, you either don’t have a great product, or you’re not asking enough people to buy it. Period. Like it or not, that’s that.
Most dentists have the clinical talent to achieve practice success. “If you have a conscience,” says Patrick Wahl’s brother, Mike, “you are a good dentist.” As Pat’s dental school professor Dr. Allan Schlossberg used to say, “It’s not a sin to create an overhang. It’s a sin to leave an overhang.”
Even with exceptional clinical skills, you can’t have a great product in dentistry without delivering great service. To the patient, your product is your service. And as sure as the sun rises in the east and as sure as there will always be an England, laypeople will never be able to evaluate clinical dentistry properly.
How do patients decide which dentist to go to? It’s the feeling they get when they come to your office. That’s service.
●Have a great product
Here’s a simple exercise to make sure your patients are getting a great experience in your office. How do you treat people who come to your home? Do you just leave them standing at the door? Of course not! You welcome them in and ask them to make themselves comfortable. When they talk to you, are you preoccupied and fail to look and smile at them? As a good host, you give them your undivided attention and demonstrate that you’re glad they came.
Let’s say a guest in your home wants to see your newly completed Florida room. Do you just say, “Walk around and look all you want. I’ll just sit here and wait”? If you’re a good host, you’ll happily give your guest a tour with pride. Escorting guests is a hallmark of good service.
Now, think about how patients are treated in your office. When they walk in the door, are they warmly welcomed every time? If they need to ask a question, does your team member lay down his or her paperwork and treat your patient as a number one priority? When it’s time for the appointment, are your patients “sent back” or escorted to the treatment room by a caring team member who is glad to see them? Are new patients given a tour of the office so they know where the bathrooms are and can become instantly familiar with their new surroundings? Are they escorted back to the team member in the front office after treatment, or are they left to wander through the hallways looking for an exit? Trust us - we’ve seen it this way!
More and more dental practices are providing spa-like amenities to reach “five-star” status. Little extras are great, and they differentiate your practice if done well. But alas, they are only tools, and without the rest of the package, you won’t see the results they can bring.
If you offer a coffee and juice bar, is it clean and neat? If nobody in your practice takes charge of this area and it is unattended and untidy, you could be better off not offering the amenity at all.
Or if you provide a warm towel after treatment, does the team member thrust it at the patient with a warning: “Watch out; it’s hot!”? Or is it handed to the patient with caring: “Here’s a warm towel for your face and hands. Sometimes treatment can leave your face feeling sore and tired, and this is a great refresher”?
It’s all in the presentation. Which would you rather have for dinner? Cold, dead fish? Or does “sushi” sound more appetizing?
If your presentation doesn’t say “This is something special we’re doing for you because we care,” then people might not even notice it. Or worse, a half-hearted effort (such as a coffee bar with a stained tablecloth and no cream and sugar) will leave patients wondering what else you do sloppily.
●Ask enough people to buy it
For years, dentists made quiet agreements with each other not to advertise. To this day, some dentists believe that advertising cheapens the profession. In reality, we all market ourselves, whether we realize it or not.
Advertising isn’t about slicing up a finite pie; it’s about “growing the pie,” to borrow a phrase from the late, great dental innovator Dr. Thom Gleghorn. Half the population doesn’t come to see any of us! Sadly, the only advertising some dentists do is advertising their practices for sale!
A rising tide lifts all boats. Dentists who advertise are doing us all a favor. You no doubt get questions from your patients about various procedures advertised by other dentists.
If you have a sign, you advertise. If you have a Yellow Pages ad, you advertise. Your new patient “welcome brochure” is advertising, and even your stationery and business cards promote your practice. Marketing is everything you do. Do it well.
The efforts you make internally to turn your patients into raving fans who refer their friends and family cannot be separated from any marketing efforts you make externally. It all works together. Rarely will you obtain a patient as the result of any one such contact or effort. Most patients come to see you after hearing about you more than once.
Most dentists say they get patients by word of mouth. Word of mouth happens by chance. If you get a patient by word of mouth, then you got lucky. You came up in conversation. Your results will be neither consistent nor predictable. You are not getting all the patients you should be.
Patients want to give you referrals. But patients are busy and lazy. Most do not naturally send you referrals even when they’re thrilled with you and your practice.
At Office Magic, we like systems, including a formal and tangible patient referral rewards program. A system is consistent and predictable. You know why they call it a “system”? Because S-Y-S-T-E-M-S save yourself time, energy, and money! We like referral systems, not just word of mouth. Without one, you’re not getting half the patients you’re earning.Keep it simple. Simple can be very powerful. Provide a great product and ask people to buy it. Success doesn’t get any more straightforward than that.
Dr. Patrick Wahl and Ginny Hegarty of Office Magic turn talent into performance that grows practices, boosts profits, and makes each day more enjoyable. Office Magic’s “Colossal Case Acceptance” system and “Double the Response of Your Marketing at No Additional Cost” is designed to better your product and transmit your message. For more information and to order, visit www.officemagic.com.