Blissfully Exempt from Disaster (today, anyway)

Here we are between Canadian and American Thanksgiving festivities. I must say, I am thankful every day to wake up exactly where I do. For many reasons, but mostly right now for the reliability of our weather patterns.

It is heartbreaking to watch the wrath of Mother Nature unfold on the news, seeing homes buried in mudslides or people wading through waist-deep flooded offices. Hurricanes and wild fires, tornados and volcanoes. Homes, businesses, highways and entire communities demolished… it seems to be increasingly frequent and alarmingly closer to home.

When I watch the news coverage of these events, I can’t help but wonder how many dental practices might be affected. I worry about customers who have not yet made the time for official data backup and disaster recovery measures. Like insurance payouts that help rebuild, accurately backed-up data and system files can help turn a potential disaster into a minor inconvenience.

We have a contingency plan in place. Do you?

Ransomware: scarier than ever!

Around this time last year, I posted a blog about a couple of dentists whose practices were endangered by sinister ransomware. I reported that the security company McAfee had charted a 165% year-on-year increase in ransomware attacks.

Clearly, this nasty behaviour has not gone away. On September 29, 2016, OntarioMD issued a bulletin to all physicians using Electronic Medical Records systems to be extra-vigilant about security. They’re seeing an escalating trend in ransomware threats and caution that healthcare professionals in particular are being targeted by cybercriminals.

We passed the warning along to our medical customers and want to also share it with our dental customers. The OntarioMD bulletin contains sound advice about how to deal with such a threat and, more important, steps to take to protect your practice in the first place.

Last year’s post had similar tips. Maintaining current data and system backup files off site is one great way to thwart cybercriminals and limit ghoulish behaviour to one night per year.

How do you share success?

I’ve been hearing an expression recently that has piqued my interest: Skin in the game.

It’s not necessarily a new term: It is often used to describe buy-in to the success of an enterprise. Having some kind of risk or reward inherent in the “game” builds motivation, effort and positive outcomes. The usual context is financial and encompasses players like investors, franchisees, partners, and entrepreneurs.

But each time I hear it, I think… Why not employees?

Even if a team is intrinsically motivated to do a good job, I can’t help but wonder how much more productive they could be when inspired by tangible rewards. Incentive programs and performance-based bonus plans are instrumental in driving growth in many industries. A dental practice could derive the same benefits.

Achieving best patient care and optimum oral health are highlight goals for every practice. New patient acquisition is an obvious goal. Organic growth, i.e. developing business from within your existing patient base, can be realized through diligent follow-up and patient relationship building to optimize recall cycles and increase acceptance of recommended treatment. Improved collections and claims processing all impact the bottom line.

There are various models that could be appropriate for your group.

  1. Revenue-generation compensation plans are common and appropriate in many industries for business development roles. A small percentage of new patient revenue can be pooled to acknowledge admin support of business development activities.
  2. Profit-sharing plans are effective for celebrating company-wide success on a semi-annual or annual basis.
  3. Team incentives tied to achievement of specific performance goals are an excellent method to drive immediate results. The frequency keeps the motivation top of mind.

We all enjoy cold, hard cash – even when it is reduced by income tax payable. But softer rewards can be equally effective in promoting morale and practice results. “Employee of the Month” recognition, special perqs like a coveted parking spot, gift cards, team lunches, monthly prizes… these are all proven techniques that inject fun and camaraderie into your workplace.

Whatever the reward, the details of an incentive plan must be well thought out. Some pointers:

  • First understand and itemize which specific objectives you want to accomplish.
  • Identify your current benchmarks and articulate what you want to improve and by how much.
  • Make the goals challenging yet realistic: Make it understood that goals can be changed or increased to maintain momentum and avoid auto-collect.
  • Your plan must be fair and reflect the relative contributions of each member of your staff.
  • The details and terms must be established, documented, communicated, and understood with clarity.

Finally, the program needs to be carried out with consistency and excitement. Genuine appreciation should accompany the presentation of every reward: sharing success is a win/win/win!

In with the new… Patients

For many, fall is a time of great change and renewed beginnings. With that in mind, we turn our focus to business-building strategies: attracting new patients and retaining existing ones within your practice. Today’s complimentary Point-of-View Paper: “Through the Looking Glass: What Your Patients See” is chock full of techniques, tips and advice to help position your practice for success.

If you build it, will they call?

The current thinking on website design seems unanimous. From our in-house Webmaster (my go-to resource of choice) to an array of trusted Consultants with many an article read along the way: A business website should be designed for prospects.

It’s not all about you — even though the “About Us” tab on the majority of sites appears FIRST on navigation bar! It’s about what you can do for them.

It’s not even primarily for your existing customers. Your current patients should ideally get exclusive access to a customized extranet or personalized communication through a portal. “Already a patient? Click here.”

Your website exists as an information destination for new leads and a powerful mechanism to convert these leads into patients. It’s digital real estate to present your Value Proposition. Its raison d’être is to get your phone to ring, email to ping or online chat to buzz.

So if your website doesn’t already have a prominent and compelling call to action on every page, you’re ready for a refresh.

I’ve compiled some tips through the above-mentioned research. Whether you’re tackling your first website or an upgrade to an existing one, I hope you and your website designer find these helpful.

1. Yup. A compelling call to action on every page

2. Craft a powerful expression of your practice’s Value Proposition and Positioning Statement. You want visitors to clearly understand what makes you stand out from your competition

3. Offer a clear, accurate description of your services

4. Plan a layout that follows current conventions. Visitors don’t want to work too hard to get the information they need

a. Place your logo where they expect to see it: in the upper left corner
b. Put your contact info in a prominent spot
c. Structure your site with a top or side navigation bar with intuitive menus and titles
d. Offer your key info above the fold – don’t make them scroll
e. Use colours that reflect your practice personality

5. Keep your copy short, and focus on the benefits to the reader

a. Use concise, plain language to express your unique strengths and grab your reader’s attention
b. Make a list of keywords – the terms that resonate with your desired audience – and use them frequently
c. Express all your features as benefits. This is a practised skill – it may take some time, thought and brainstorming
d. Create “read more” links so your reader can choose when to scan and when to delve
e. BUT avoid the tendency to bury good info under too many clicks!

6. Testimonials. True sentiments from real patients help build trust, especially when they’re in synch with your Value Proposition. Make sure the stories focus on the patient experience and service, avoiding clinical commentary

7. Vary the way you deliver your information. Some people like words, others like facts and figures. Infographics and pie charts are great for this. Most of us like photos to help visualize ourselves as a patient in your practice

8. When you get to the “About Us” section, strive for a personal touch. Using “I” and “We” is one simple way to create warmth in your copy. Photos of the practitioners, teams and practice environment add depth

9. Search Engine Optimization is vital. Use your keywords in your copy and in your page titles. Again, brainstorming can help you and your team figure out what words and strings of words your ideal prospects are likely to enter into a mainstream search engine like Google or Bing or into a specialized dental directory

10. Make sure your site is mobile friendly. A responsive design will adjust the view to best usability on a smart phone, tablet or computer screen. It’s easy to check this: just click https://www.google.ca/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/ and enter your URL

This list just scratches the surface of a very interesting topic. The next level involves setting up benchmarks and analytics to assess your site’s effectiveness. You and your website designer likely have much advice and many more tips… I’d love to hear about them and share with our clients! Drop me a line at angela@abelhealthgroup.com. I’ve started to build it – it’s your turn to connect.

Sometimes it’s okay to break the rules

Every new patient starts out as a stranger. So we need to set aside the rule our parents taught us: it is okay – even wise – to talk to strangers.

How are new callers to your practice treated? Do they receive a warm, welcoming greeting and patient, empathetic service… or are they put on hold and made to feel as though they’re interrupting someone’s too-busy day?

Because we rarely get a second chance to make a first impression, our front line staff must be equipped, trained and coached to be a one-person welcoming committee. Consider these techniques:

1. Put a Smile in your Voice
One of our consultants told me that many years ago, as Supervisor of a Hotline Centre with a major insurance company, she had this little slogan affixed to every telephone handset. Corny as it may sound, a caller can tell when you are smiling. Good advice does not go out of style.

2. Perfect the Art of Listening
I frequently quote this line from the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind: “Constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating”. Listening carefully to your callers’ introductory words will guide the conversation and help you set a positive tone from the outset.

3. Be Prepared with a Front Line FAQ
Good service providers are definitely friendly. As important, though, is knowledge and the ability to accurately answer Frequently Asked Questions. A caller’s first question is usually the deal breaker: How soon can you see me? Are you good with children? Can you direct-bill my insurance company? What’s the earliest/latest appointment possible?

Beyond the first questions, staff should be able to recognize common symptoms, probe to fully understand the issue, confidently explain basic procedures, describe your services, and discuss insurance details.

4. Aim to Book an Appointment On the Spot
Like the old saying goes… Strike while the iron is hot! Your goal should be to get an appointment scheduled. Offering an appointment date that falls within 5 days increases the chance of getting the caller to join your practice.

Then, make the data collection process foolproof by creating and using a checklist: name, address and phone number; email address including permission to use it; reason for call/services of interest; preferred appointment times. (Better yet, take advantage of the new patient booking feature built into ABELDent!)

It is good practice to have a back-up available to manage callers if reception is busy with patients. Always ask permission to put someone on hold and then check back quickly. If the caller cannot be immediately served, promise to call back asap. Sitting on hold or waiting through transfers can feel like forever to a caller and lead to a hang-up.

Some people may advise that you ask the prospect how they found you. That is definitely good information to have, as it helps you measure and refine your marketing efforts. But do remember that this detail is for your benefit, not theirs. Respect that the caller’s time may be limited; you can always probe later.

When an appointment is scheduled, close the call by telling the caller that “the team is looking forward to meeting you”.

5. Keep Track of your Callers
If the caller is not ready to schedule right away, by offering an appointment you have opened the door to ask for their contact information and permission to stay in touch. Maintain a database of these prospects. Converting your strangers into patients may require a few calls or emails, maybe even a heads-up when you are offering any specials to your patient base. We all need reminders – some more than others.

The key is to drive home the importance of genuinely welcoming callers, showing interest, offering an immediate appointment and building relationships. I can still hear the words of a wise supervisor from early in my career: “A ringing telephone is not interrupting your work. It is your work.”

Don’t be a stranger.

The Power of Word-of-Mouth: Case in Point

We received an unusual request the other day.

A man called our office to ask if we wouldn’t mind contacting his dentist for him. His problem: Although he was already receiving appointment reminders via email, he wanted to be able to book his appointments online too. “My wife just goes online to arrange hers,” he explained, “and she loves it. It’s so convenient!”

On the surface, the answer seemed simple: Do whatever your wife did to sign up. But we suspected the situation might be a tad more complex. With further probing, we found out that the man and his wife actually go to different dental offices. We then discovered that both dentists run ABELDent, and both use portal.

But where the wife’s dentist appeared to be making use of the full gamut of portal capabilities, including patient booking, we wondered if the other may have only implemented the email reminder function.

The caller hoped that we might have the influence to convince his dentist to start using the online booking feature. We were happy to at least pass along his feedback with a phone call to the dentist. We know how easy it is to put things off – any change can take a bit of time and effort. So a gentle reminder of the benefits can often help (that’s what usually works for me!).
Sometimes, though, a quick call to our customer can reveal that an office is not even aware of the full potential of their portal. It can be a perfect opportunity to get them up to speed with current capabilities and primed for upcoming features like e-statements and patient feedback surveys.

In this case, it was great to learn that the man’s dentist had already booked the training and would be implementing the new function within days. The patient was pleased to hear the news!
For me, this drives home the fact that patients are becoming more and more aware of evolving technology and communication options. It shows that they are willing to go out of their way for the convenience it can bring. And that, at the end of the day… people talk.