Reducing Anxiety is the Key to Patient Retention

Identify and Reduce Common Causes of Dental Anxiety

Understanding Positive Patient Perception Will Help You Grow Your Practice

If you are a fan of Netflix or enjoy a night out at the movies, you’ve probably noticed that dentists aren’t often portrayed kindly in popular media.

The movie industry still clings to the cliché of dentists as villains – just look at Horrible Bosses, where Jennifer Aniston plays a crazed dental practitioner who gleefully tortures her patients and staff, or horror films like The Dentist or its sequel.

These portrayals are unfortunate because most dentists, and their team members, are actually quite amiable and likeable. Personally I can say that at the dental clinic where I receive care they routinely share little anecdotes and we have some good laughs.

Any dental practice in the know recognizes the importance of patient perception and will address and even reverse the all-too-popular assumption that the dentist’s office is a place to fear.

Dental industry experts tell us that the most common reasons given by patients for not routinely visiting the dentist are:

  • Communication issues
  • Failure to address concerns over the cost of dental care, and
  • A lack of appreciation for patient anxiety

If you run a dental practice and you want to ensure that your patients not only return for future work, but also return for regular preventative care – and not just to deal with a crisis – you need to address these concerns.

Improving Communication

Effective communication is essential for creating positive perceptions, and improving communication is easy – if you know what people want. Most patients appreciate a health care professional that speaks to them, not at them. By reducing your reliance on technical jargon and by presenting information clearly, you can significantly improve your patients’ overall experience. After all, the more aware they are of your administrative and clinical processes, the more comfortable they’ll be.

You can also work on improving the non-verbal communication skills of your dentists and support staff to increase patient retention. It’s a dentist’s office after all, so make sure everyone’s smiling!

Addressing Concerns about Cost

Many patients reporting negative reactions to their dental experience say the care was satisfactory but are unhappy with the cost. This is especially true in countries like Canada where many other forms of healthcare are fully or partially funded publicly.

One way to help patients understand the cost-to-benefit ratio of dental work is to explain the treatment process, the breakdown of the individual services you are providing, and the consequences of not proceeding with the required treatment. For Millennials, who tend to be more budget savvy, spend time educating them during their decision-making process to help them understand the reasoning behind your recommendations.

Dealing with Dental Anxiety

Fear of the dentist has been reported as the second most common phobia – second only to public speaking – and every dental patient experiences some degree of anxiety.

To help alleviate this anxiety, remember that comfort is key. Go the extra mile to establish an open and caring relationship with patients, especially those under the age of 12. Coloured glasses can help reduce the glare of the bright lights above the dental chair and can add a bit of fun to the experience, while having TVs spread about the office can give both kids and adults a happy distraction.

Reduce Appointment Jitters

Patients are already anxious enough about going to the dentist, and they don’t want their appointments continually cancelled or postponed. Running a dental clinic should never be viewed as chaotic, and ABELDent’s automated patient communication and other dental scheduling software can help keep you organized – which will help reduce patient anxiety, and keep them coming back for future care.

Don’t let the Hollywood media define you! Address these common patient concerns and watch your practice grow and patient satisfaction increase!

ABELDent Keeps You Informed on Digital Dental Office Solutions

Consult our Simple, Straightforward Guide to Building the Perfect Facebook Group

As a follow-up to our October article about using Facebook to promote your dental practice, here is a new article that will show you how to harness the power of Facebook groups to better engage and connect directly with your patients.

At ABELDent, we know how to connect dental practitioners to the right dental practice management software and the tools they need to increase productivity, but we also know how to connect to people – which is why we’re confident the insights presented in this guide will help you build a better practice.

Consult our Simple, Straightforward Guide to Building the Perfect Facebook Group

What to Know Before You Start

Understanding patient needs is the most important pillar of any healthcare practice, and being able to connect directly with those patients is the first step toward building a lasting relationship.

You probably already know that owning the customer experience is the key to marketing any brand on social media. But if you really want your dental practice to stand out from the competition, you need to understand how these platforms actually handle user experience, and where your individual brand fits into the equation.

These days, companies compete first and foremost on the basis of customer experience (according to Forbes, 89% of companies list it as their primary metric for success). Like any other type of customer, dental patients use how they feel about the service you’re offering to decide whether or not they will keep doing business with your brand – or engage with that brand in the first place.

This is why companies in the know have begun to use the community-building nature of Facebook groups as a backdoor into deeper connections with potential and returning customers. The experience of being connected to a community paves the way to brand interaction, and Facebook privileges and promotes this kind of organic interaction.

Think about it. At the start of 2018, Facebook needed to change the way its News Feed functioned, and so they tweaked the algorithm – the code that decides what information to present to users and what information to deprioritize – to promote more posts from family and friends, while demoting content posted by brands, businesses, and media outlets.

While the new algorithm actively pushes followers away from traditional ad campaigns, it simultaneously rewards businesses that connect to users by building vibrant group communities.

Tip #1 – Find your Niche

Facebook groups are great at bringing together people who share a common interest. Creating a group dedicated to spreading dental health awareness, for example, might attract Facebook users who have similar oral health questions, or who want to learn more about local dentistry options in their city.

This gives you ample opportunities to improve awareness of yourself and your dental care brand simply by being helpful and informative.

Tip #2 – Engage with your Members

Posting and engaging with your group members goes a long way to building your numbers (just ask social media marketing expert Neil Patel, whose own Facebook group has over 11,000 members)!

More than just a controllable asset, a Facebook group is a hub – a space for people to gather, share, and discuss – which influences users in a far bigger way than a Facebook page alone.

People need answers to their questions, and if you are able to offer consistent solutions, you will see patient communication within your group soar, especially as people start to share the experience with friends and family on the platform, driving more attention to your brand. You can start by offering simple dental hygiene tips related to proper brushing and flossing techniques, the benefits of teeth whitening, and the importance of routine visits to the dentist. Once you’ve solidified your brand’s status, you can then begin to suggest specific services, such as those offered by your practice.

If you’ve been consistently providing answers to oral health questions, you can slowly begin to recommend that people stop by your clinic to learn more, turning Facebook engagement into potential business.

Tip #3 – Commit Yourself

If you’re thinking about starting a Facebook group for your dental clinic, or you want to improve the group you’ve already started, you need to put some time and energy into the endeavour. Remember the following:

  1. Be informative. Let the world know what your group is about. Write a great intro blurb in the About section to get people interested. This is your elevator pitch, so make those characters count.
  2. Be welcoming. Create a pinned post anytime a new person joins your group, welcoming them aboard and inviting them to introduce themselves. People who feel like they belong are more likely to participate and engage with your content.
  3. Be encouraging. Talk to existing customers in your group routinely, and encourage them to post positive reviews or testimonials. This will allow you to highlight patient experiences for others to see and share.
  4. Be present. Make sure you commit to giving your group members a piece of your time every day. It might not be the most ‘scalable’ use of your half-hour, but you need to be present in the group to get members to believe in you and your brand.

There you have it! Hopefully you can use this guide to create the perfect Facebook group that will allow you to position yourself and your brand in a more visible space, find new customers, and bring more attention to your dental practice.

At ABELDent, we routinely publish informative pieces on all things related to dentistry software and dentistry itself, so be sure to check in on the blog regularly!

Bad Press? You’re a Doctor… Spin It!

We often hear that there is no such thing as “bad” press. The fact that someone is talking about you at all is considered a good thing, right? It can place you in the spotlight for a fleeting moment and give you the opportunity to right a wrong. Misfortune may befall, and mistakes will be made. The fallout is usually brief; it’s how you deal with it can help you win friends and influence others.

There have always been forums for patients to voice complaints and, of course, regulatory bodies for serious claims. But in today’s culture of sharing the most mundane of activities and trivial opinions on social media, the exposure is magnified. People are increasingly post-happy, looking to provoke controversy in search of their 15 minutes of fame.

Within this climate, it is only prudent to develop a plan for damage control. Like back-up and recovery of your data in the event of cybercrime or catastrophe, reputation management requires an ounce of prevention.

Essentially, it’s the patient experience itself that becomes your best risk mitigator. One of the wisest things you and your team can do is ask for patient feedback after each appointment. Did we meet your expectations? Is there anything we could improve to make you more satisfied? Especially if your team has tracked the patient’s appointment in your practice management software and has used the information in real time to smooth out any glitches, feedback is valuable.

Post-appointment surveys can be even more effective; they open lines of communication and keep you top-of-mind. They provide an equal opportunity for positive feedback which can be used (with permission) as a testimonial. A survey also opens the door to ask for referrals. The important thing is to ask for feedback and make it easy for your patients to give it.

In the case of a clinical error or unfortunate outcome, you would likely be immediately aware of the situation and able to work with your patient towards resolution. In the case of dissatisfaction with service or other issues, however, you may never have the opportunity for direct communication. And either case could go viral before you even break for lunch.

For a business, receiving a complaint – or worse, reading about one directed at your practice – can be shocking. The natural first reaction is emotional: we get angry, insulted, defensive. Some respond by immediately firing back an angry tweet.

Don’t do that. Instead:

  1. Give it time. In 24 hours, emotions will fade, and you can focus on facts. Make sure that your staff is aware of this advice.
  2. Assemble your facts. If warranted, involve relevant staff. Use your practice management software history for details. Make the exercise about fact-finding, not blame-seeking.
  3. Respond to your challenger using the same channel. Thank the patient for taking the time to communicate. “Your feedback helps us understand and address how patients perceive our service.”
  4. There is usually no need to apologize. “We are sorry you feel that way.” is a good way to validate feelings without accepting fault.
  5. Depending on the patient and the complaint, you might consider inviting the person to contact you directly to offer their perspective for improvement.
  6. Again, depending on the patient and the complaint, a personal phone call might be warranted, instead of or in addition to the above.
  7. Finally, there are situations where you are best advised to simply defer to your lawyer.

It seems unjust that one negative incident can outweigh the scores of positive interactions and examples of exceptional service you provide on a daily basis. Alas, the rule of asymmetrical rewards can apply in dentistry as much as in any customer-facing company.

Here is some food for thought to address the imbalance:

  • It is healthy to acknowledge your feelings. Criticism stings. Any Psychologist – and any mother – will assure you that “Nobody’s perfect” and “You can’t please everybody all of the time”. In fact, the principle of the pratfall effect validates the idea that infallibility is endearing. Flaws can make an individual more likable and less intimidating.
  • You – and your practice – have supporters. In the event of bad press, you may discover loyal patients inspired to voluntarily rally to your defence. I described in a recent post some of the steps you can take to improve your Facebook and social media presence… asking for testimonials is one of them. Let the occasional negative item get lost in a sea of praise. And the more digital presence you create, the more search engine prominence gets placed on space you control.
  • Remember the power of the self-fulfilling prophecy, also known as the Pygmalion effect. It’s helpful to keep this principle in mind so that you – and your staff – do not allow a minor complaint to build out of proportion.
  • Finally, count on the spotlight effect. Although an overblown bad review about a trivial matter can still seem earth shattering, the fact is that in most cases, an isolated bit of bad press is not noticed as much as we think.

I am not a Psychologist, but I am a mother, and I learned from the best. I also found inspiration and data for this post in an article by Rebekah Bernard in Medical Economics, and another by Kevan Lee, Director of Marketing at Buffer. When it comes to the power of positive thinking, I’ll take the half-full glass every time. Cheers!

Take Advantage of Facebook to Market your Dental Practice. Step 1: Create a page. Step 2: Use It.

How many organizations, small and large, stop after step 1 of this simple 2-step formula? Sadly, far too many. Neglecting a Facebook page – or any other digital property – is one of the most common social media management mistakes. And it’s a big one.

It is tempting to believe that if you build it, they will come. But they will not. Not unless you let people know about it, make it interesting, offer opportunities for interaction, and keep it fresh. Facebook mastered the push-out mechanism, making it incredibly easy to define and reach your desired target audiences, but as the saying goes, it won’t work unless you do.

It works like SEO – search engine optimization – for your website. Complex algorithms are constantly judging the content, context and relevance of your material against keywords, and ranking it accordingly. Google et al want their users’ searches to be productive. Facebook wants to be popular. It wants to be liked.

So how can a dental practice optimize Facebook without turning it into a full-time job? Here are a few tips we’ve compiled:

  1. Involve your team. Add Facebook strategy to your weekly team meeting agenda. Or devote one team lunch every month to brainstorm content ideas.
  2. Assign a Champion. You’re bound to have at least one person on your team who would like to take this on as part of their job – with a reasonable time commitment of course so as not to interfere with other tasks. If not a team member, find a digital native: a son, daughter, or local college student who would love a part-time job.
  3. Be helpful. Supply facts, health information and useful links that will inspire your readers to like, love, be wowed by, and share your posts. Following you is the ultimate Facebook compliment. Be worthy.
  4. Try a little empathy. Publish what your think patients want to buy, not just what you want to sell. Special offers for Facebook friends are useful to reward followers and attract new business.
  5. Go for the visual. Photos, graphics, videos, and colour all add to readability. Before-and-after procedure photos are always popular – just make sure that you have permission for any photo you use.
  6. Stand out. Facebook algorithms are able to distinguish original and distinctive content. If it judges your post newsworthy, it will push your content to news feeds.
  7. Think local. Your existing and prospective patients are within convenient proximity. Get interested and involved in community events and report on them.
  8. Repurpose your content. Market your practice to even more people in your community by posting each of your messages on other social media like Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and Twitter.
  9. Get help. Ask your staff, family, friends and existing patients to like and follow you. Even better, ask them to post and share testimonials on their personal pages. Facebook gives higher visibility to an original post on a personal page.
  10. Using, monitoring and managing your Facebook page is a vital aspect of overall Reputation Management. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on this topic!

The most important takeaway from this post is the emphasis on fresh and frequent activity on your page. Attention spans are short and digital multi-tasking is the norm. So when it comes to a company page on Facebook, use it… or lose it.

Word-of-Mouth Marketing: Shouldn’t Dentists be Especially Good at This?

Sales executives in every business will unanimously agree that referrals from existing customers are the of lead generation. Certainly for us, when a satisfied ABELDent user recommends our software to a colleague, we are thrilled on multiple levels.

First, it is testimony to the confidence that Dentists place in our product. We are honoured that they take the time out of their busy day to champion ABELDent! Second, the positive introduction promotes our solution and dramatically reduces the sales cycle. Finally, the direct lead to a qualified decision-maker is the most cost-effective method of welcoming new customers.

The same benefits apply to a dental practice whose patients trust them enough to recommend their services. Imagine for a moment if one-quarter of your existing patient base was to successfully refer just one new patient each. That would represent a 25% growth spike without touching your advertising budget!

As great as that sounds, it is actually realistic to aim to receive one referral per year from 40-60% of your existing patient base, of which ideally 10% will successfully convert to a new patient.

So how does your dental practice measure up? Do you even know how many referrals you received over the past year? Are you aware of the value to your practice?

Every dental practice should know:

  • The number of new patient referrals and revenue attributed to the new patients
  • Your referral conversion ratio – how many leads actually convert to new patients
  • The net patient growth of the practice (the number of patients leaving the practice vs. number of patients added over the same period)

The good news is that all of the information necessary to calculate these KPIs resides within your ABELDent data. Detailed Referral Reports present useful data about all referrals including names, sources, timing, and resulting revenue generation.

Now… considering the value of patient referrals, imagine the exponential benefits that could be achieved with a little proactivity:

  • Ask for referrals. Train your front-desk staff to be confident: “We’re expanding our practice. Do you know anyone who needs a great Dentist?”
  • Print out cards that your patients can easily pass along to contacts
  • Develop an email or texting campaign to make it easy for your patients to forward your coordinates
  • Create prestige whereby a referred patient receives a value promotion (and be prepared to offer that same promotion to existing patients upon successful referral)
  • Offer an incentive. Contests, random draws and Frequent Referral Rewards always spur participation
  • Establish a Patient Appreciation Event… remember the famous car maker that sponsored a free drive-in movie event each year for customers and their families and friends?
  • Maintain top-of-mind awareness through ongoing communication. Brief, interesting newsletters tend to have a high readership ratio

It is important to remember that new patient acquisition should only be a priority focus once a successful patient retention strategy is in place. To explore some practical ideas and strategies for patient engagement and loyalty, just re-visit my previous posts:

In with the new… Patients

Facts and Figures Speak Volumes about Dental Patient Retention

Every dental practice has a UVP. What’s yours?

In closing, we have recently launched our amazing new ABELDent 365. Do you know anyone who needs some great practice management software?

I invite you to continue this conversation by reaching out to our team at any time.

Are you Living the Vision, Mission and Values of your Dental Practice?

Audience fragmentation is a challenge that marketers have been grappling with for some time. Consumers can no longer be pigeon-holed into a few contact channels: They are increasingly adventurous, capricious, demanding, and armed with information. Just when you think you’ve built a toehold on a social media site like Facebook, the early adopters have already moved on to the next shiny thing.

Consumers want to understand what you stand for, but they also want you to understand what makes them tick. Increasingly, they expect responsiveness, interactivity and customization.

Dental professionals cannot ignore these trends. The current environment for attracting new patients is competitive to the point where clinical expertise and caring service are just part of the equation.

Market differentiation is necessary to fuel momentum. A practice that can define and clearly articulate what unique advantages they offer to their patients can often move the needle from surviving to thriving.

In ABELDent’s Practice Management by Objectives™ methodology, the development of a meaningful Value Proposition is fundamental to a solid business strategy. There’s a mutual underpinning between the Value Proposition, the Mission, the Vision and Values statements, and the Operating Plan. Learn more about Practice Management by Objectives™.

If you have not yet articulated your thinking on this, your Mission is a good place to start. It should describe:
a. Why you are in business
b. Who you serve
c. How your practice adds value or improves the life of those you serve

Next, explore your Vision:
a. How do you define success, both short and long term
b. How will you and your practice improve, grow and prosper over the next several years

Finally, identify your Values:
a. What’s your patient care philosophy
b. What principles and qualities are important to you
c. What behaviours model those principles

This exercise is both a personal exploration and a team exercise. In order to create a shared vision and encourage buy-in, all staff and stakeholders could be involved.

Your operating processes, practices and systems evolve from this foundation. They define your day-to-day activities within the dental practice, from the business stakeholders to all staff and all the way through to each patient. Inevitably, these emotional connections you create will extend to external audiences and form the basis of marketing communications that reach and attract new patients.

Build Case Acceptance from within your dental practice data. What’s sitting in your database?

I met a friend for dinner over the holidays. One of those people who go back forever and with whom, within five minutes, you’re able to pick up exactly where you left off. By the time our entrées arrived, she had grimaced in pain three times. It turned out she had an impacted wisdom tooth. It hurt “only when she chewed” and had caused a few infections.

In response to my obvious question, she didn’t really know what she was waiting for to get it extracted. She simply had not got around to it – it was on a long list of things to do. Her dentist had referred her to an oral surgeon well over a year ago and neither had ever followed up. Weeks turned into month, as they tend to do.

I was not there to judge or lecture, but I couldn’t help but wonder why both practitioners would have let this drop. Are their practices so successful that they don’t need the business? Or are their workflows simply not set up to follow through with all their treatment plans? Yes, the patient is an adult and thus responsible for her own care, but even she admitted that a simple email or phone call was all it would take to stop her procrastination.

So that’s pretty low-hanging fruit. How many such cases might you have tucked away in what we like to call your ‘million-dollar filing cabinet‘? With ABELDent’s Treatment Manager, the data is at your fingertips. Combining it with email or text alerts through the patient portal makes this kind of follow-up a breeze and can really bolster case acceptance. Maybe it’s time your team took a look, and started a New Year’s revolution against stale-dated treatment recommendations.