The Power of Word-of-Mouth among Patients: 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.

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.

Choosing the Right Dental Software

When it comes to dental software, there are many options on the market today. And so many features and functions to consider! The solution you ultimately select can have a dramatic impact on the success of your business – not just today but for the life of your practice. Here’s some food for thought: Choosing the Right Dental Software for Your Practice

Landline Ho? A Dental Practice needs to keep track of their patients

What’s in your future, matey? Are you considering letting go of your longstanding, faithful landline in favour of mobile? Perhaps not your dental practice landline, but what about home line? And your patients?

Each person in my home has our own mobile device; the landline rarely rings any more. When it does, nobody jumps to answer it. We’re pretty blasé about election polls and free cruises. So I’ve been asking around and learning that it’s becoming a common dilemma: a $600-a-year question.

And then I read the CRTC 2015 Communication Monitoring Report released last week. The trend is definitely budding: between 2011 and 2013, landline usage has fallen by 380,000 households.

That may not seem too dramatic… at first glance. But with an average 2.5 persons per household (2011 census), that’s close to 1 million patients whose “home phone” field in their dentist’s database is now obsolete.

Taking this one step further, I’ve been hearing reports that companies are moving in this direction as well. With matrixed teams, mobile workforces and telecommuting staff, even the desk phone is working its way off the gangplank. So much for the backup “office number” in your database.

What significance does this have for us? Most importantly, dental practices not making a point of collecting their patients’ “mobile” and “email” data may soon encounter challenges in reaching them at all. A lot can change in 6 or 9 months!

Here are a few other facts from the CRTC report:
• Canadians who own a Smartphone: 67%
• Tablet ownership: 49%
• Wireless subscribers in Canada: 28.8 million
• Average data usage per month by Canadians with smartphone or tablet: 1 gigabyte
• Canadians with access to a fourth-generation wireless network: 93%
• Households subscribing to internet services: 11.6 million

It’s clear that Canadians are active participants in the evolving digital economy. So by Hook or by crook… get their numbers in your book!

Are You Delivering Vital Information to your Patients… or Playing Whac-a-Mole?

I’ve been struggling with a marketing communication question: At what point does keeping customers informed become intrusive – even annoying? How much is enough? When can we be 100% confident that ABELDent users are reaping the maximum benefit from our dental practice management software?

We discuss this regularly with our marketing colleagues and really strive for an ideal balance… but some days I’m left shaking my head.

Like last week, in a conversation with one of our customers, a Dental Office Manager joked: “It’s Murphy’s Law: When I most need a file is when I can’t find it.”

“What… is your system down?” I was ready to conference in tech support when she told me she wished they could go paperless but didn’t know if ABELDent allowed them to do that.

I almost fell off my chair! We have been promoting our paperless solution for several years now.

And again yesterday, a customer was intrigued by a series of practice performance graphs that one of our competitors had sent him. “You mean something like this?” I asked as I showed him our ABELDent Analytics feature. He was delighted – and it felt great to help. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that our graphic reporting tool has been available for over 15 years!

I imagine that this applies to all kinds of vertical markets, both B2B and B2C. As a consumer, I know I don’t use my products – even my favourite brands – to their full potential. There are hundreds of fun, time-saving and convenient apps that I could probably make good use of on my mobile. And at least one button on my fancy oven that I’ve never pushed.

So I do get it. Comfort and routine trump change. But when product knowledge can make such a big difference in my customers’ daily lives, it matters to me.

How many times should a company try to communicate with prospects and customers before they feel the urge to unsubscribe?

Seriously… how many times? I want your opinion!

If after reading this blog you are worried that you may be missing out on valuable ABELDent functions that could be saving you time and money, click here for vital information.

Patient Communication Best Practices using ABELDent Portal

Patient appreciation and business productivity can be optimized when the following techniques are adopted:

  1. Personalize your emails
    Using a simple merge tool, the appeal of your email can be immediately doubled by replacing “Dear Patient” with “Dear Mary”.
  1. Be specific
    While brevity is key to effective use of SMS, don’t forget to identify your practice as well as the date and time of the appointment. For example:

“The team at Main Street Dental looks forward to seeing you on January 15 at 2 pm.”

“A friendly reminder of your appointment at Lakeview Dentistry on January 15 at 2 pm.”

  1. Incite action
    Offering a simple “click to confirm” option encourages positive action. It should also incite patients to contact your office if a re-book is required. While no one wants to promote re-scheduling, a re-book is always better than a no-show.
  1. Maintain a short-notice list
    Easily manage an ongoing list of patients waiting for cancellations or those with last-minute flexibility. First to respond gets the time slot…
  1. Use your data to get the best outcomes
    Different patients respond to different types of contact. Keep data on patient preferences up to date and communicate with your patient accordingly. People who don’t respond to email at all may respond instantly to a text, while some patients don’t use SMS at all. Experiment with the timing and frequency of your messages to identify what works best for your practice.
  1. Obtain permissions
    Although you have an existing business relationship with your patients, it’s always smart to ask permission to contact patients via email or SMS. Your portal and sign-in kiosk can simplify the collection of opt-in data by asking their preferred method of communication.
  1. Keep in touch
    Create legitimate opportunities to connect with your patients between appointments. Use the integration with ABELDent’s Treatment Manager to follow up with patients with unscheduled treatment and integrated On Demand messaging to communicate with individual patients in advance of or after appointments.
  1. Ask for feedback and ask for referrals
    A satisfied patient is often your best advertisement. Post-appointment follow-up communication will help personalize your patients’ experience, reinforce the best assets of your practice and even help you isolate areas for improvement. Encourage patients to refer to your practice and offer incentives for happy clients who oblige.
  1. Learn from early adopters
    Turn to experienced portal users for ongoing tips and techniques. ABELDent developers are constantly improving the software to accommodate feedback from clients. Regular webinars and newsletters contain valuable, up-to-the-minute ideas, like getting opt-in permission on patient registration forms, or asking patients to check off their preferred method of communication.

In the dental care business model where client communication can fall to six or nine-month intervals, wouldn’t you want to take advantage of every quick, convenient and welcome opportunity to build better relationships with your patients?