HOW TO PROFIT FROM... marketing

May 1, 1999
A poll conducted by Dr. Chris Kammer revealed that more than 80 percent of dentists prefer their new patients to come by word-of-mouth referrals. Because your own patients already know and trust you, it is easier to market services to their friends and family as opposed to starting from ground zero with the Yellow Pages or a direct-mail list.

Would you like 100 new patients per month?

Gregory F. George, DDS

A poll conducted by Dr. Chris Kammer revealed that more than 80 percent of dentists prefer their new patients to come by word-of-mouth referrals. Because your own patients already know and trust you, it is easier to market services to their friends and family as opposed to starting from ground zero with the Yellow Pages or a direct-mail list.

Good marketing can quickly lead to a profitable dental practice. If you position yourself as a desirable dentist to patients, their glowing reports about you and your practice will bring you more patients through their personal endorsements. Once a positive domino effect begins, your patient base can grow quite rapidly. As you add new patients, you add substantial value to your practice. According to one dental-sales company, this value is greater than $600 per new patient. What can you do to attract $600?

One of the most valuable tools in our marketing strategy is to enlist patients of record to refer new patients. Before we can do that, we have to impress our patients and send them home satisfied from every office visit.

How do we accomplish this?

(1) We try to treat patients royally. We wow patients on their initial experiences with the office and send them out as missionaries to recommend our office to all their friends, co-workers, and family. We keep in mind that first impressions are the most important, so we greet them enthusiastically when they come into the office, trying always to greet them on a personal level.

(2) We impress them at their first glance. Someone once said: "Don`t sell the sizzle unless you have the bacon." It`s important to have a good system in place to provide a top-quality experience. When new patients walk in the door, they should feel that they have entered a place where they know their doctor cares about them. Think of the feeling you get when you enter a favorite retail space, be it a Starbucks, The Gap, or other store. These smart marketers know how to "frame" your initial visit by stimulating your senses in a way that makes you want to be there.

Here is an exercise to help you accomplish this in your own practice. Walk into your front door and see if you get this feeling. Do you want to be there? If not, think of what you can do to change your impression. It might mean updating your decor with comfortable furnishings and new wall hangings. In our office, for example, we use fabric on the walls to create a positive and relaxing atmosphere. Attractive framed posters and interactive educational toys keep children busy and parents relaxed.

Evaluate your practice needs. A vase of fresh flowers, for example, will give an immediate positive impression through sight and smell. Consider arranging with a local florist (hopefully one in your practice!) for a weekly contract. It`s an inexpensive investment that is used successfully by many restaurants and hotels. Why not a dentist`s office? Next time you are at a mall or a favorite store, notice how they stimulate your senses and make you want to stay. You may pick up other ideas that you can import into your practice setting.

(3) Impress patients with your staff and facility. Once you`ve made a good first impression, you must impress patients with your top-notch staff, facility, and equipment. Everybody in our office is aware that we are not here to meet expectations, but to exceed them. We make a point of remembering names, being informative, and never keeping a patient waiting. We especially want every new patient to say, OWow, I have never had an experience like that in a dental office before. I?ve got to let my friends know about the excellent service and treatment I received.O Patients leaving your office on this kind of positive note are the kind of patients who will bring you those referrals.

(4) Impress patients with your knowledge and skills. Let patients know that you use the most up-to-date materials, treatments, and equipment available. Tell them ahead of time that a scheduled treatment will be quick and painless. If you can get your patients bragging about how little time they spend in your chair, and how painless and productive their visits are, you can be sure their friends will be calling for appointments.

(5) Leave them wanting more. At the end of each appointment, you and your staff have the ultimate challenge of making payments and reappointments a positive experience. You want to send your patient out the door with a mission (to recruit new patients for your practice) and a tool with which to accomplish this mission.

Here is what we do. To keep our name up front in patient?s minds, we hand out tooth-shaped plastic refrigerator magnets. We also give out high-quality mugs to patients who send us referrals as a way of saying thank you, and, more importantly, as a way of keeping our name and number available at a glance for future referrals.

One of our most successful marketing tools is an unexpected gift that truly sets us apart and ahead of the rest. It?s a gift that shows our new patients we are prevention-oriented, that we have their best interests at heart, and that we want to share with them additional knowledge that cannot possibly be covered in an office visit. The gift is a video, book, or audiotape of OLook Mom E No CavitiesO (Patterson Dental). These high-quality educational aids reflect our commitment to being the best. You can give them these aids at virtually no cost to yourself, as you can easily bill the costs as a take-home series of oral hygeine instructions, under ADA code #01330, or as an initial patient administrative fee of $15.

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