The best new patients may be looking for you!

Aug. 1, 1998
Hundreds of people, right in your own neighborhood or town, are looking for a new dentist. All you have to do is find a classy way to lead them to you.

Hundreds of people, right in your own neighborhood or town, are looking for a new dentist. All you have to do is find a classy way to lead them to you.

Arthur L. Labelle, DDS

Everyone is looking for new patients these days, and there`s a lot of scrambling to find them and attract them.

You may be working too hard at it, doctor! Hundreds of people, right in your own neighborhood or town, are looking for you, and all you have to do is find a classy way to lead them to you.

Let`s look at the problem from the perspective of the patient who wants to find a dentist. That person might be new to the area or someone who is vaguely unhappy with his/her current family dentist. Where to look? How to find just the right dentist?

If this is an important decision for the individual or the family, mass advertising is not the place they`ll look. We all are targeted by direct mail (look at all this junk we`re getting and throwing out!). Look at all of the unsubstantiated claims in the Yellow Pages, the newspapers, and even on television. How do you know whom to believe?

Advertising and trust

Besides, if a dentist has to advertise so much so often in such a pushy way, could there be a reason ... such as maybe some people don`t like this dentist? If we believe in getting the best treatment, is an advertisement the place to look? How true are the claims you see? We need to evaluate the answers to these questions from a patient`s perspective.

The smart people in your community, the people you really would like to have as your patients, won`t choose a new dentist from a slick advertisement or from an advertisement that appears to offer a cut-rate service. Such discerning persons know that a dentist, attorney or physician should be a special person, attuned to that individual`s unique needs. Wise people know that principle before they make the leap into unknown waters.

In a perfect world, it would seem logical to expect that an announcement of your fine work would be a simple way to let people know about your superiority, and then the world would beat a path to your doorstep, clamoring for your services. But everyone in the profession is trying so hard to be sincere and less expensive. To accomplish this, many offer extras that are misleading. As a result, the trust level for service-type advertising is dropping.

Just take a look at the stuff saturating the market: for example, 75 percent of dentists advertise family dental care. Many tout specific services, such as tooth-whitening and cosmetic dentistry, in the same way a gas station advertises different grades of gas. Others focus their ads on their attention to good sterili-zation techniques or the fact that they accept emergencies (just try to find one of these people on a weekend!). Many patients are hesitant to go to dentists who advertise in this manner for fear they will be pushed into something they don`t want.

One of the earliest lessons that a marketing student learns is embodied in the old saw that "the best source of new business is old business." Ask any good marketing people and they`ll agree with that idea. In other words, your own patients are the best place to go to find new people for your practice. These are the best patients because they are referrals from happy, satisfied folks who leave your office with a smile and a sincere "Thanks, doc."

Focus on the home front

The best thing, doctor, is to forget about 98 percent of that external marketing and clean up your act at home. We`re talking about internal marketing here - making your place the most attractive dental-care place around! We`re talking about providing the most personalized, the most caring, the friendliest, and the warmest dental office you can imagine. We`re talking about caressing each patient carefully.

From there, let the patients do your marketing for you (with some very nice encouragement, of course!), and then those patients will believe in your office even more because they are sending people to you. This approach requires a plan and probably some outside help (not necessarily a practice-management person). It requires a close look at your staff members and the way they treat your patients.

It also requires some close contact with your existing patients - conversations, interviews, written comments, telephone calls. Then, you can go after the best patients - the ones you really want! Then, you can feel comfortable knowing that people will want to send their friends to you.

Here`s just one idea. How much would you be willing to spend to bring a new person into your office? That`s what we`re talking about with external marketing, isn`t it? An advertising program is directed toward the attraction of new people, right? Each new person also represents a certain cost.

How about lunch?

If an average lunch at a nice restaurant in your area costs $10-$12, would you pay that amount to get a new patient into your practice? If you offer a free lunch to your existing patients as a reward for their referrals, how many lunches would you be willing to buy?

Take that idea one step further and recognize that the restaurant might be willing to share the cost with you just because of the increase in visibility. An inexpensively printed certificate, with your name and the restaurant?s name on it, would be simple to do ... but just look at the PR mileage it would bring! One referral, one lunch; two referrals, two lunches; five referrals and you can pay for the ladies? Tuesday bridge club lunch (eight women)! Do you think this would be effective use of your promotion dollar? Do you think the $80 you spend for the bridge group is a better investment than the $500 you would spend for a possibility of five new patients coming to you as a result of external marketing efforts? Also keep in mind that what I?m suggesting ? the free lunch ? takes place after the new patient comes to you.

Now you can think of something nice to do for that new patient?s intelligent choice. However, you?ve got to clean up your internal act before you try maneuvers like this. If any patients are leaving your office for any reason except moving from the area, there is something wrong. It makes no sense at all for you to search the world for new patients if you aren?t retaining the ones you already have.

Take a look around, doctor. Is everything in your office exactly the way it should be to make everyone comfortable, content, happy, smiling, enthusiastic, joyful, and pleased to be a part of your practice? If not, get busy! That?s the first step to bringing in a lot of wonderful, new patients for your wonderful treatment.