by Glenn Christenson
Consumers have higher expectations than ever before. They want more value for the money they spend on services, whether it's going to a restaurant or a dental office. And if they feel they didn't receive the kind of value they expected, they probably won't come back.
In today's fast-paced, uncertain economy, people switch brand allegiances – whether it's a cell phone company, an internet provider, or dental office – much quicker than in the past.
In addition, with fewer people having dental insurance and out-of-pocket costs increasing for those who do, today's consumer is much more critical when it comes to paying for dental care.
This is no longer the insurance company's money or their employer's money – it is their money.
Patient retention is more challenging than ever. Patients have more options than in the past. In a recent survey conducted by the Patient Satisfaction Institute, here are the top six reasons why patients switch dental practices:
1. Bad Experience at the Front Desk
Visiting the dentist isn't anybody's idea of fun. When patients aren't greeted by a warm hello and a smiling face, they will begin to doubt whether they chose the right practice. This is the beginning of the appointment and if it gets off to a bad start, the practice may have sabotaged the rest of the patient's visit.
2. Long Wait in Reception Area
Time is important. When patients have to wait 10 minutes or longer, they will be upset and frustrated. If the practice is running behind, it's best to let patients know. If the practice is more than 20 minutes behind, give patients the option of rescheduling. At the very least, offer them a beverage. Patients will give you the benefit of the doubt, if you address the problem as soon as possible.
3. Unattractive Practice
Have you looked at your practice through the eyes of your patients? Does it have a warm and inviting look? Or does the decor look like a holdover from the 1990s or earlier? The look of your practice is a reflection of the care delivered, at least in the minds of patients. If your practice looks outdated or dingy, the patients will transfer that impression to the type of care they receive as well.
4. Can't Get a Timely Appointment
If new patients have to wait weeks before they get an appointment with your practice, they will go elsewhere. Why should they wait when five other practices can see them within 10 days or less? If you can't schedule new patients in your practice within seven days, you need to redesign your schedule – and fast!
5. Doesn't Accept Their Dental Insurance
People with dental insurance will choose a practice that accepts their insurance. They have an economic incentive to do so. Many practices add and drop different insurance coverages without performing any type of analysis. Before you do so, always consider the impact on your patients.
6. Hygienist Who's a Stabber
Do you monitor the work of your hygienists? Do you regularly survey patients about their experience? No one wants to go to a hygienist who turns a patient's gums into a pincushion. This type of hygiene appointment reinforces the old-time perception of a dental office as a place where pain is inflicted. You want your practice known for compassionate care – not as a source of unnecessary pain.
Customer service and patient satisfaction matter more than ever. Patients have higher expectations and are less tolerant. Practices need to ensure patients have a great experience, from check-in to checkout. If your practice is making any of these six customer service errors, now is the time to fix them.
Because you "live in the fishbowl" of your practice day after day, the less-than-perfect experiences that some patients may be receiving without your knowledge could go unnoticed for far too long. Improving the patient experience may be the single most important step you can take toward increasing both patient retention and referrals from existing patients.
If even one of these customer service failures is occurring in your practice, fixing that problem should be your No. 1 priority.
The Patient Satisfaction Institute (PSI) offers the only patient satisfaction certification available to dental practices. PSI collects data from thousands of patients and practices annually. For more information, go to: www.PatientSatisfactionInstitute.com.
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