It’s not WHAT you say; it’s HOW you say it.
Dental practices have two major functions. The first is to provide excellent care to every patient. The second is to develop positive relations with these patients to ensure they:
• Have the right experience in the practice
• Accept recommended treatment
• Remain in prevention or recall programs
• Refer other patients
When this is accomplished, the practice remains vibrant and functioning. The way to establish positive, interpersonal relations with patients is through verbal communication. While office décor, body language, and written materials all play important parts, the main relationship-building activity between dental practices and patients revolves around the communication among the doctor, team, and patients. As I travel the country presenting seminars to dental organizations and study clubs, I frequently am asked, “What is the best way to increase case acceptance?” The answer is superior verbal communication with patients.
Keys to verbal communication
Levin Group consultants have identified two non-verbal keys to verbal communication -
• A smile - The first thing any patient should see on the face of a team member is a smile. While you undoubtedly have heard this before, it is important to be reminded regularly. In the course of in-office visits, our team of consultants is continually amazed at how seldom dentists and team members smile in their offices. This is probably because they want to carry out the functions of the day. Nevertheless, patients arriving at the office always should be greeted with smiles, which send messages that you are glad to see them. Patients are then likely to have positive feelings toward the practice.
• The right attitude - Offices tend to have personalities or attitudes. Some are upbeat and happy while others are serious (sometimes too serious). Think about the attitude of your office. Does it send a message of energy and enthusiasm or one of complacency and working through the day - or even one of discontent, tension, or depression? Disorganization at the front desk, bickering among team members, and other types of negative situations damage any trust the patient has in the practice. While these situations might happen occasionally, patients immediately notice and their impressions of the practice are tainted. Patients are attracted to positive people and more likely to accept higher levels of dental treatment in a practice that has a high level of energy and enthusiasm.
It's not what you say - it's how you say it
The words we use have tremendous impact on others. Anyone can improve communication with a few simple changes. How we say things has a dramatic impact on patient loyalty, referrals, and overall case acceptance. The reason? People tend to place their trust in people they like. The formula for superior communication in the practice is as follows -
❶People are attracted to positive and enthusiastic people.
❷ People often judge others by appearance, body language, how they talk, and the words they use.
❸ A doctor’s language will have a direct impact on patient perceptions.
❹ Positive language makes it easier for the patient to like the doctor.
❺ Liking the doctor leads to trust.
❻ People who trust the doctor tend to accept small, medium, and large cases presented by the practice.
❼ The more people who trust the doctor, the better the case acceptance.
Review this list numerous times and include it as the first step of each morning meeting. Positive language is not just a courtesy to patients. After consulting more than 8,500 practices, Levin Group has demonstrated that positive communication can have a direct impact on overall practice productivity. Many dentists think patients inherently trust them. While patients might be more than happy to accept routine procedures in the practice, many patients are turning down recommendations for periodontal treatments, prosthetic enhancement, new dentures, implants, and cosmetic dentistry. Dentists want to believe that patients trust them, but many patients have rejected excellent recommendations for treatment because they were not comfortable with those suggestions from the doctor. Whether you are concerned about practice productivity or excellence in patient care, case acceptance is an essential component of each.
As you review the steps, you realize the impact of a positive personality on others. Dental patients react to positive and enthusiastic dentists like they react to any positive and enthusiastic person they encounter. Practices that want to enhance the level of dentistry they provide and the amount of dental treatment that is accepted will pay attention to how they are perceived by patients.
Power words and energy
One of the fastest ways to increase the perception of energy and enthusiasm by patients is to use power words - words that create energy and excitement when used at the beginning of sentences. A quick list of power words includes:
When someone asks you how you are, a response of “Great,” or “Unbelievable,” is perceived as positive and different (remember, most people just answer “fine”). Gradually, the practice will become known as a positive place that patients will look forward to visiting. When most dental patients are asked about going to the dentist, they report that they make regular visits but don’t love it. Practices that have higher levels of positive attitude and verbal skills tend to have higher levels of patient enjoyment.
Additionally, power words create an energy that encourages patients to particularly like that dentist and dental team, which leads to case acceptance, following the formula outlined above. Use power words often and encourage the dental team to participate.
You will be amazed how quickly the reactions of patients will become different - more cooperative and energized.
In learning to communicate effectively with patients, you must concentrate on benefit statements. Many dentists and team members open conversations by telling patients what they want the patient to do or why the patient should do it. They focus on technical needs such as treating broken teeth, decay, periodontal disease, infection, or stained teeth. These needs are valid, but they don’t convey energy and motivation, nor do they enable the patient to quickly envision benefits of treatment.
People don’t want to know technically why they should do something, but what the benefit will be to their lives. Will they have less pain? Less future expense? Improved appearance? Many people go to the dentist to maintain their teeth for the rest of their lives. Others go to take care of a problem while it’s small so they don’t have to face perceived pain or expense that would come later if the problem were not addressed. Discovering what motivates a patient to accept treatment is the heart of case acceptance.
Benefit statements are most important during case presentation for elective services. For example, during a case presentation concerning porcelain laminate veneers, your conversation may go as follows:
“Chips, cracks, gaps, misalignments, and discolorations in the front teeth can detract from the rest of your facial cosmetics. Today, porcelain laminate veneers placed over your front teeth can quickly and painlessly correct these imperfections and help you achieve a beautiful smile. Veneers are thin, custom-made shells crafted of tooth-colored materials designed to cover the front side of the teeth. Veneers help people enjoy a healthy, natural-looking, beautiful smile with little or no discomfort.”
Benefit statements work well because they create interest and future focuses. Identify the three major benefits of every need-based or elective service and repeat them at least three times when presenting information to patients. Our adult-learning specialists confirm that adults learn in threes and that key facts should be repeated at least three times. This reinforcement of benefits is conducive to case acceptance.
A specific methodology developed by Levin Group has been effective for our clients. John was a 42-year-old general dentist in California. His practice was grossing $575,000 and had more than 75 percent of patients in some type of PPO dental plan. He was frustrated with recent turnover of his team, flat production, and patients who seemed to accept only what insurance covered.
Following training to identify comprehensive dentistry for patients and a way to present it without overwhelming patients using total treatment-planning methods and phase-planning methods, the practice began to present more comprehensive care. Using power words and benefit statements, the doctor and the team enhanced their verbal skills. The team cooperated and the practice became energized to increase treatment acceptance. Insurance factors were still explained to patients, but a complete explanation regarding why comprehensive care would benefit patients and help them achieve and maintain optimal oral health became a focus.
At the end of 12 months, practice production had grown from $575,000 to $895,000. To concentrate on comprehensive care presentation, the practice deliberately reduced the number of new patients it saw each month. Financing options allowed patients the affordability of having treatment today rather than putting it off.
Verbal skills and effective communication can enhance any business and increase overall customer satisfaction. Satisfied patients enjoy their dental practices, trust dentists and their teams more, and accept more treatment.
Some dentists think patients should automatically trust their professional opinions and accept whatever is recommended. However, it is more likely that effective verbal communication, power words, benefit statements, and outstanding customer service will motivate patients to accept treatment. Excellent verbal communication fosters an enjoyable, inspiring, and satisfying dental office environment.
Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA, is founder and CEO of Levin Group Inc., a leading dental-management consulting firm specializing in implementing documented business systems into dental practices. Levin Group can be reached at (888) 973-0000 or at www.levingroup.com.