Attracting and retaining patients is critical to the success of your practice. To acquire patients and keep them coming back, dentists and their teams should use multiple touchpoints to show patients they care about them and their oral health. In my practice, we focus on at least 12 touchpoints, starting with the first interaction and continuing to recare and beyond (figure 1).
1. Make your website welcoming
The first interaction a potential new patient may have with your practice could be online—visiting your website after hearing your name or searching online for a dentist. Take a critical look at your website and make sure it’s professional and patient friendly.
Your website should have several ways for patients to interact with your practice. I have a chat feature for questions, LocalMed to schedule appointments, and a “Request an Appointment” button on the first page. My front office team responds immediately to all questions or requests during office hours, and I do so after hours, including having office calls transferred to my cell phone. If calls go unanswered, prospective patients will most likely contact another dental office.
2. Embrace social media
Using social media such as Facebook and Instagram can be a great way to reach out to patients and potential patients who respond to your posts. Be sure to positively showcase your brand, post consistently, and comment on posts from your followers to show you care about their activities.
3. Don’t forget the phone
Even if patients can interact with you through your website or social media, the phone is still the lifeline to your dental practice. Your team members should answer the phone with a greeting that is professional, consistent, and inviting. The phone should be answered by the third ring, and the caller should feel like he or she is the most important person who has called that day.
When new patients call, the front desk team members should find out why they’re calling and who referred them. This information will be important for a later touchpoint. The phone call should include praise for the dentist and hygienists in the practice to ease any concerns the caller might have about becoming a new patient.
4. Welcome new patients in advance
Another touchpoint that makes patients feel comfortable is to have the doctor call all new patients prior to their appointments to introduce him or herself, answer questions, and confirm all paperwork has been completed. Patients are more likely to keep their appointments when the doctor takes a personal interest in them.
5. Greet patients warmly
When patients arrive for their appointments, team members should greet them in a way that makes them feel special. As they say in Hollywood . . . roll out the red carpet. Assure patients that they will be taken back to the operatory shortly, then direct them to the restroom and refreshment areas. Giving new patients a tour of the office before their first appointment is a great way to make them feel welcome.
6. Make yourself available
After a dental appointment ends, your touchpoints with the patient should continue. Make sure you hand new patients a business card with your cell number written on the back. Let them know that if they have an emergency, they can call you, or if they know of anyone looking for a dentist, you are gladly accepting new patients.
7. Give a gift
It's always best to give someone something if you want to get something in return. Dr. Robert Cialdini’s law of reciprocation states that if you receive something, you are more obliged to give back. We have a gift that we present to new patients in the operatory—a branded plastic pouch, the size that can be taken on an airplane, filled with a travel toothbrush and other swag. By handing patients a gift, we’re asking them to schedule the treatment or recare that they need.
8. Escort the patient
Once the procedure is finished, either the assistant or hygienist should hand off every patient to a front office team member. There’s nothing worse than leaving a patient to figure out where to go and what to do next. The assistant or hygienist should make sure that the front desk team member knows exactly what was done and what the next appointment is for so there are no misunderstandings.
9. Say thank you
After new patients have been to the office for the first time, we send them a branded card thanking them for choosing our office. We try to add a sentence that is personal to the patient. For instance, if we find out that the patient is getting married, we include a congratulatory message in the thank-you card. At the same time, we also send the patient who referred the new patient a gift card to a supermarket in the area.
10. Send automated text reminders
Sending automated texts through Weave’s two-way texting is an effective way to touch patients and remind them about their appointments. The same system can also be used to inform patients that they are overdue for their recare appointments. People are more likely to respond to a text message than an email. If you take photos of your patients and someone calls the office, his or her photo will pop up on the computer, allowing your front desk team to put a face to a name and recognize the patient when he or she arrives at the office.
11. Check in on patients
The doctor should call any patients who have had multiple injections during their appointments, either that evening or the next morning. Making post-op calls is the second most important touchpoint after how the office phone is answered. It is also a good idea for someone to call the patients who have been referred to a specialist to check in and see how they’re feeling after their procedures with the specialist. This is also a perfect opportunity to get patients to schedule other treatments on their plan.
12. Acknowledge life events
Using the Weave phone system to send happy birthday text messages to patients is an additional touchpoint that everyone loves. After all, who doesn’t enjoy receiving birthday wishes? As a dental practice, we want to acknowledge other happy occasions, such as the birth of a baby, a wedding, or an anniversary. Likewise, we want our patients to know we’re thinking of them when someone in their family is sick or has passed away. If we are aware of these situations, we send a printed card to show we care.
Whether you’re putting your best foot forward for a new or existing patient, using a variety of touchpoints goes a long way in establishing lasting relationships. Everyone wants to feel welcome, and the dentist’s office is no exception. Take a moment to review your practice protocols and see if you can add a touchpoint or two to help your practice stand out in the community as one that values its patients.
Editor's note: This article appeared in the January 2022 print edition of Dental Economics.