Zettabytes… and counting

The concept of Big Data is not big news. We’ve all by now embraced the term to describe the sheer volume of information that accumulates through electronic record-keeping. Corporate America is investing heavily in digital transformation; many organizations are already skillfully analyzing their data and applying their findings to better understand their customers, attract new ones, influence consumer behaviour, and personalize their business relationships.

There is tremendous potential in the digital records of dental practices that – to date – remains largely untapped. This fact is one of the drivers of ABELDent’s Practice Management By Objectives™: Our strategic methodology that guides dentists in turning their big data into smart data.

You may recall the invitation I extended last month in this space to attend a Digital Transformation seminar we co-hosted with Microsoft. The response was overwhelming… and so was some of the information presented.

In particular, I was very surprised to hear some of the statistics shared by Lynne Clarke-Drew, Customer Acquisition & Marketing Lead with Microsoft Canada:

  • Every 2 days, we create as much information as we did from the beginning of time until 2003
  • Over 90% of all the data in the world was created in the past 2 years
  • Every minute, we send 204 million emails, generate 1.8 million Facebook likes and send 270 thousand tweets
  • It is expected that by 2020, the amount of digital information in existence will have grown from 3.2 zettabytes today to 40 zettabytes

Jaw-dropping numbers, to be sure. (I had never even heard of zettabytes before this seminar!) Lynne went on to discuss the aspiration of the health industry to transform today’s “sick care” system by improving care outcomes, promoting population wellness and harnessing the data explosion.

I will recap additional highlights and learnings from this seminar in future posts. If in the meantime you would like to receive a recording of the full presentation, just call me at 1-800-267-ABEL (2235) Extension 350 or drop me an email at angelas@abelhealthgroup.com

Could your practice benefit from a digital makeover?

As pioneers of practice management software about to celebrate our 40th anniversary in Canada, we are very gratified to see how technology has evolved to support every aspect of the dental practice. Today, the office that is operating without digital support is the rare exception.

On the surface, this is a great achievement. Yet when I dig deeper, as I frequently do in business development initiatives, I am surprised at how few dental teams are actually utilizing their technology investment to its full potential. Some may be limited by their choice of simple software that satisfies only basic tasks like scheduling. But many others have invested in more robust software that is just waiting to be optimized.

Wherever you sit, it’s time to seriously examine the state of your technology. Increased competition; heightened consumer expectations; the quest for planet-friendly, paperless solutions; cybercrime… these are among today’s external pressures that will continue to impact your success. For a dental practice more specifically:

  • The security and privacy of your data is more important than ever, yet has never been more at risk.
  • Cloud computing presents the opportunity for huge advances in the speed, mobility, reliability, and storage capacity of data. It can be more cost effective and quicker to deploy while improving the efficiency of backup and recovery.
  • Integrated communication portals enable amazing levels of practice/patient interactivity, heightening patient engagement and loyalty.
  • From a reporting and analytical perspective, your practice data can offer a wealth of valuable insights. Awareness and measurement of your KPIs – Key Performance Indicators – is a gateway to continuous improvement.

If you are not yet tapping into the power of your software, maybe it’s time for a digital makeover… let’s talk! On Monday, June 26th, ABELDent Inc. is partnering with Microsoft Canada to present an evening of insight that has the potential to transform the success of your practice. Join us in person or online for this event by pre-registering today.

What’s in your filing cabinet?

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. Maybe it’s time your team took a look, and started a New Year’s revolution against stale-dated recommendations.

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.