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 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 I’ve started to build it – it’s your turn to connect.

Where do (new) patients come from?

Ah… the million dollar question. The question that gave birth to the multi-million dollar industry of sales and lead generation.

You may be operating a steady dental practice with loyal clients, great retention and satisfactory productivity and profitability. What a great achievement… kudos to you.

For all the other practices out there, increased growth through new patient acquisition is vital to the success and sustainability of their business. When TV spots, print ads and online campaigns like Google AdWords or website banners fall outside the limits of a modest advertising budget, how does a small-to-medium-sized practice effectively attract attention and draw new business?

Here are a few ideas:
Tap your existing patient database for referrals

There’s a great deal of trust that accompanies a personal recommendation. In many companies, referrals can account for one-third of all new business.

Every patient has immediate family members and friends, all consumers of dental services. But growing your business is not a top-of-mind priority for them. They require a nudge.

Happy clients refer new clients. So a) keep your patients happy; b) be assertive in asking for referrals; c) remind them frequently; and d) show your appreciation to encourage participation.

Optimize your website

Is your website helping you generate new leads? Are you taking advantage of Search Engine Optimization techniques to make sure that your business ranks as high as possible in keyword search results? I’ll dedicate a future post to this topic.

Think grassroots. Think local.

Your best pocket of potential is likely your own backyard. Direct Response initiatives and signage within your immediate neighbourhood can reinforce the convenience of your location to long-term residents and present a solution to newly arrived neighbours. You can create interest with special offers, postcards, door hangers, posters, fridge magnets, dental product samples…

These items can also attract attention when you get involved in events like school fairs and church functions or local mall and community centre gatherings. Sponsoring such events and local sports teams goes a long way in growing your word-of-mouth recognition. Or create an event for locals to drop in, meet and greet, qualify for a complimentary service or special incentive.

Fine-tune your reception process

What happens when your marketing efforts do work and a new prospect actually calls your office… huzzah! How attentive and welcoming is your staff? A harried, too-busy reception can be a huge turn-off. On the other hand, a telephone answered by a friendly, knowledgeable individual can have a dramatic impact on new client intake. Do you have an appropriate focus and process? (If not, follow this space for a future post.)

And finally, in the category of new business from not-so-new customers:

Look inside your “Million-dollar filing cabinet”

You may not think of your unscheduled recommended treatment as a marketing vehicle. But if your recommendations are growing mold in a filing cabinet, despite the best of intentions, they represent lost revenue. Follow-up and digital pokes can help you realize organic growth.

There are many telemarketing companies and online lead generation services out there… like I said, it’s big business. Some are successful in delivering qualified patients at a reasonable cost per lead; others can be not so reliable. But there’s nothing trial-and-error about patient referrals, effective SEO, local presence, treatment plan acceptance, and a welcoming, inviting reception.

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

Every organization has one: a Unique Value Proposition. It’s what differentiates you from your competition and positions you in the market to attract and retain your ideal customers. It’s the why your patients choose your dental practice over the many other options available to them.

Funny thing is… many people are unable to define or even describe their own UVP – also referred to as a Unique Selling Proposition. The most common answer to the UVP question is people. As in “Our People Make the Difference”. In fact, many an award-winning slogan is based on just that. But while it may be true, it’s not enough. Everybody has people. We need to dig a bit deeper.

This was a topic of some examination and discussion at a workshop we recently hosted. Our facilitator urged the participants to go deeper. The group arrived at the concepts of “going the extra mile” and “going above and beyond”.

The discussion leader found that a bit more concrete, but still pushed. She urged us to get as specific as possible. She helped us define expectations and standards. “Until you know what is expected, how can you define what’s extra?” Good question.

She described a very literal but precise example: I’m a female travelling alone on a bus late at night. The bus reaches the end of the line; the driver asks me how much further I need to walk. He then suggests I stay on the bus while he detours slightly to get me to my destination. Wow. I don’t realize that this is the transit company’s policy in such situations; I’m just thankful for the care.

How do you show your patients that you value their business? Does your team know, or might they benefit from a lunch-and-learn discussion on this topic?
a. What’s the basic expectation our patients have of us?
b. How can/do we exceed those expectations and to what extent?
c. What processes do we have in place to meet or exceed customer expectations?
d. What guidelines do we have in place to exceed customer expectations when needed? It is important to establish such guidelines because recent research1 has shown that magnanimously exceeding a customer expectation rarely pays off unless such an act goes viral.
e. Who is empowered to make exceptions?
f. What makes our practice stand out from the competition?
g. What little things can we do to make us memorable?
h. How do we want our patients to feel when they leave?

Our facilitator ended the session with a personal anecdote. She recalled one of her first dental appointments as a young child, terrified at the prospect. The dental assistant rolled her stool close and picked up an orange from a basket. She then picked up a big syringe and inserted it into the orange. The curious, now distracted patient asked her what she was doing. The assistant said, “I’m practising.” She then carefully pulled the needle out of the fruit and squirted a little shot of orange juice into her mouth. “Nailed it!” The little girl laughed until it hurt, opened wide and has been telling that story for more than 40 years.

What are your Wow! moments that will keep you top of mind, and get your patients talking to their friends?

1 from Effortless Experience by Matthew Dixon

Patient Retention: What’s it worth to you?

In any industry, repeat business is a fundamental game-changer. Loyalty has a price tag. In a dental practice it looks something like this:

I have a toothache and come in to your office for a first appointment. Let’s say it costs $200 to treat. You fix my immediate problem – thank you very much – and I’m on my way. I’m in a hurry so I’ll call you to book my next visit… if I think about it.

Or, I could schedule a follow-up exam, after which I receive a comprehensive treatment plan with options and an explanation of the benefits of ongoing care. I then make an appointment for my husband who has also slipped into an irregular pattern of treatment. Then appointments for my 2 children. We all follow a 6-month check-up cycle for 5 years, with a filling or two along the way and discretionary services such as teeth whitening or sports mouth guards.

I’ve gone from one-time revenue of a few hundred dollars to around $10,000, and that’s before any crowns, bridges, orthodontics, implants, and other high-value treatments that we might need.

Think of it another way – how much does it cost your practice to retain an existing patient? For most, the cost to get them into your waiting room is the time it takes to make a phone call – or better, an automated email or text message. Even less if a patient books before they leave or calls you for their regular checkups.

Now consider marketing initiatives for new patients: there is a lot of strategy-planning-execution time and expense to take into account. The ROI can make it a no-brainer, when done well, but it’s still an expense. I’ll talk more about marketing for new patients in a future post.

A team focus on patient retention is simply smart business. Now I’m not saying that we should regard every patient as if they had a dollar sign etched on their forehead, but it’s a fact: The more loyal a patient is to your practice, the more valuable they become to your business. So what’s the secret to patient retention?

If I had to boil it down to one thing, clinical expertise aside, I would paraphrase one of my favourite poets, the late Maya Angelou:

People may not remember exactly what you said; they may forget what you did. But they will always remember how you made them feel.

  • Do your patients feel welcome, respected?
  • Are they attended to promptly, and in a friendly way?
  • Are parents with babies and toddlers given TLC – and maybe a bit of a break?
  • Is your environment calm?
  • Does the team exude confidence and control?
  • Are they discreet with patient information and discussions?
  • Is the team patient when answering questions or dealing with anxiety?
  • Do you communicate with your patients off-cycle through patient portal, emails and/or social media?

On the surface, these things may seem superficial and, well, even obvious. But the busier we get, the more likely we are to bypass the small niceties. With time, patients will forget the needles and the drilling, but we will remember the little things like being recognized, perceiving VIP treatment and personal attention and being treated like a valued customer.

Beyond Improved Productivity: Maximize Long-Term Profitability

A smoothly managed, streamlined practice brings many happy returns: Patient loyalty, staff retention and business growth are just the beginning.Read on for some worthwhile insights: Beyond Improved Productivity: Maximize Long-Term Profitability