By Glenn Christenson, Senior Researcher
Providing excellent service to patients strengthens relationships with them. Less obvious, yet equally important, is its impact on growing a business. Happy patients have the potential to be persuasive advocates for a practice.
The very idea of marketing dentistry still goes against the grain for many dentists. At some level, they believe that their professional knowledge, skills, and dedication to patient care should not have to be "sold." Unfortunately, changes in the competitive landscape – combined with postrecession economic conditions – compel dentists to think about how they can keep adding new patients and increasing production.
In short, it's time to think about the marketing potential of providing patients a great experience.
Give your patients something to talk about
When patients are not in the office for an appointment, where are they? Who do they see? What do they say to the people in their lives?
The answers to these questions are unique to each patient, but there is a common denominator – all patients have opportunities to talk about a practice to people who could become new patients.
In reality, people typically have little to say about their dental experiences. A routine visit makes for boring conversation, even if the service was good. Something has to stand out – for better or worse – to get patients talking.
They might want to talk to friends about how nice a new crown looks, or tell fellow workers, "They kept me waiting for 15 minutes!" They are not likely to tell their acquaintances how great their dental practice is. From a dentist's standpoint, this represents a missed opportunity.
In order to generate excellent word-of-mouth advertising for a practice, a dentist and team should focus on "wowing" patients in ways that they will want to mention (including "tweets") to their friends, fellow workers, and others.
Some of this can be planned, starting with brainstorming sessions at regular staff meetings. Much of it will come about naturally if a dentist and team members have the right attitude – when the opportunity presents itself, the practice rises to the occasion.
Planned service enhancements might include:
- Free use of MP3 players, with diverse playlists, while in the reception area
- Free parking
- Informative handouts about home care
- Alerting patients when an emergency case has caused delays
A strong commitment to "wow" service could result in such spontaneous displays as:
- Offering a light blanket to a patient who is feeling chilly in the operatory
- Following up with a phone call to see how a patient is doing after a procedure
- Asking about a hobby that was mentioned during the previous visit
Encourage referrals based on satisfaction
Patients will not automatically make the connection between their experience and making referrals. Help them understand that if they are happy with a practice, they can make their friends happy, too, by connecting a practice to them.
The most important and successful strategy for encouraging patient referrals – dentists have heard it before but it's worth repeating – is to ask. Assuming patients know a practice welcomes referrals is a big mistake.
They need prompting in some form, whether it's a simple sign by the front desk (We welcome new patients), a casual comment, or a printed "invitation" they can hand to people they know.
Become experts at saying thanks
In modern life, expressions of thanks are often either absent altogether or tossed off in an insincere manner. Referrals from patients deserve strong acknowledgement, considering how much new patients may be worth to a practice through the years. This can take many forms.
First, of course, is a personal "thank you" from the doctor. Most impressive would be a phone call from the doctor. Even if it ends up as a voice mail, the effect will still be great. A thank-you card with a handwritten message will also make an excellent impression.
Striving to please patients pays off not only in stronger relationships but also as an effective internal marketing strategy. Happy patients have good reason to recommend a practice to others, knowing that the dentist and team will live up to their endorsement.
For nearly three decades, Dr. Roger P. Levin and Levin Group have shown thousands of dentists, specialists and their teams that measuring and improving customer service makes smart business sense. Customer Service Certification is the latest addition to the effective tools Levin Group offers dentists to help them achieve their goals. To learn more, visit the Levin Group Resource Center at www.levingroup.com/award.
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