September 3, 2020
by Rita Zamora
Fear stops about 20% of patients from visiting the dentist. This statistic is pre-COVID-19, according to Mark S. Wolff, DDS, PhD, Dean University of Pennsylvania, School of Dental Medicine. In a recent webinar, Dr. Wolff shared, “Whether real or perceived, fear of the unknown, not knowing what to expect – not to mention fear of needles, pain, or uncomfortable procedures – have kept American patients from dental care. COVID-19 is expected to bring a higher level of dental practice fear and requires us to be more communicative than ever.”
First and foremost, we must keep patients informed about the state of the practice. Many patients may be in a heightened state of stress – scrutinizing cleanliness, order, sanitization, etc. While dental professionals know their practice is one of the most hygienic places to visit, patients will need that reassurance. They want to know what you are doing about this. How will you keep them safe? We have to see things through the lens of patients’ heightened awareness.
Today, patients are looking to social media for updates from family, friends, neighbours, local officials and government. As Pew Research’s reporters recently noted:
“Social media is now a part of the news diet of an increasingly large share of the population.”
Consider social media your new reception room.
Dental practice reception rooms have always been the gateway to high-touch patient experiences. For years, dental practices have proudly displayed photos and video tours of their beautiful reception rooms on social media. Picture inviting, comfortable, luxurious or custom-designed upholstered seating for patients to relax in before their appointments. In some cases practices had fireplaces, lovely scenery or interesting art for patients to enjoy.
Other practices set up beverage stations for patients to sip their favorite coffee, tea or refreshing beverages. A surgical practice I once worked with offered hairspray, various scented hand creams, and fragrances for patients to spritz on before they left their appointments. Today, in COVID times, many of these options are gone. No more beverage stations, no more amenities that might invite lingering, and anything that can’t be wiped down or sterilized has likely been removed.
Imagine new patients no longer being greeted with friendly smiles at the reception desk – hopefully the masked greeter will be smiling with their eyes! And how about meeting your dentist for the first time – at least for now, it may be with a dentist covered in layers of PPE and ready to expedite patient’s treatment. Upon checkout there will be no chit chat or dilly dallying at the front desk. There will be no time to waste waiting for the correct payment amount due or perusing calendars for the next appointment.
So how can you continue to create memorable patient experiences?
We are moving from high-touch in person, to high-touch online experiences. Many practices are already taking advantage of teledentistry to get to know or connect with patients in advance of their appointments (about 50% of practices according to a recent Solutionreach survey). Now is the time to embrace technology and social media as the most powerful tools to establish and grow patient relationships.
The pandemic has forced much of the population to embrace technology – even people who refused to be on Facebook or Instagram are finally opening up to the idea. A pediatric dentist who we’ve worked with for seven years and never wanted to be on social media, finally asked us to help him open a personal account a few weeks ago. I continue to hear from more and more dentists and office managers interested in expanding their social media efforts.
In fact, Facebook usage was up almost 30% this spring. Much of the population has grown familiar with the opportunities to connect digitally (some have no choice if they are physically distancing from others) and now it’s up to dental providers to take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead of them.
Is it possible to achieve above-average interaction “meaningful connections” in this low-touch world we live in?
Absolutely! Perhaps you’re struggling with what to say in your patient communication, or wondering what the best method is to connect with patients. If so, you are not alone. With everything going on in the world, not to mention the new day-today protocols you and your team are getting used to, it’s not surprising if patient updates may have taken a backseat.
You may already know how vital patient relationships are. If not, here’s a reminder.
Excellent communication is the number one way to:
Trust and strong relationships allow patients to feel comfortable:
The good news is that you have unprecedented opportunities to communicate with patients through tools like social media. Yes, you can call, email or text, but social media is where patients are spending their time – now more than ever.
Being real and sharing your human side brings patients comfort.
In a low-touch world where human interaction is reduced, authenticity brings people comfort. It builds trusts and makes strong connections. When patients can’t see the smile behind your mask, they will remember the smiling photos you shared on Instagram. When patients can’t sit in your operatory and chit chat with you before and after treatment, they can remember what they have in common with you and your team through your posts on Facebook.
You can establish and grow relationships with patients. Take the time to communicate consistently and update patients with everything they need to know to feel safe through your social media content.
So how, exactly, are relationships grown through social media?
First of all get intentional. Start thinking about how you want to be perceived. Do you want to be known as the high tech dentist? The dentist who is obsessed with personal and professional growth? Or maybe the stylish dentist? There is no right or wrong – you just have to feel good about it, in your gut. Once you know how you want to be perceived, make sure you are personalizing your content. If you haven’t already, ditch the stock photos. Make sure you and your team are sharing who you are inside and outside of the office. Post photos and video of you living life, enjoying hobbies, and smiling with the people and pets that bring you joy.
Be thoughtful and intentional about what you post. Remember social media is your new reception area – patients can linger, get to know you and your team, and ask questions through Facebook Messenger or Instagram direct messaging if they like. Instead of offering beverages for patients to enjoy in your physical reception room, post occasional patient appreciation giveaways for a local coffee shop gift card.
Instead of chit chatting with patients after their appointment, post a video of the high quality amenities patients leave their appointments with. For example, share about the earth-friendly paper bags you use (vs. plastic). Share about the well-designed interdental brushes with recyclable handles you offer. Let patients know that you are giving away a preferred type of toothpaste, lip balm or mouth rinse sample, and why you prefer it, in your patient goody bags.
Instead of sharing practice updates with patients on a reception room flatscreen, post that information in social media content. For example, share the fact that you offer online scheduling, teledentistry and/or the ability to prepay or pay online or via text. All of these conveniences save patients time and make things easier for them. Digital convenience shows you care, and for patients wanting to experience a touchless appointment, virtual consults and options to pre-pay are greatly appreciated.
Most importantly, remember to say thank you to your patients for their referrals. Tell them how much you appreciate the opportunity to care for them – not just once; patients should be reminded consistently if you are accepting new patients and that you are grateful for their referrals.
Achieving above-average, meaningful and memorable interaction in a low-touch world is possible. Make social media your new reception room. Share your human side and be real. Authenticity grows trust and valuable patient relationships. And most importantly, embrace a high-touch social media mentality.
Now is the time to take action.
If you find yourself lacking in the social media department, here are a few challenges and how to overcome them.
Identify hurdles – Do you and your team struggle to find the time to manage social media? If so, you may want to consider outsourcing. There are programs to fully outsource or partially outsource. Perhaps you just need a one-time consultation to help give you a jump start. All of these are viable options.
Implement protocols – Just as you have systems and protocols for your practice operations, you should have protocols in place for your social media management. This means you have specific, repeatable tasks each and every month. These tasks can also be used to delegate and hold your team accountable.
Take action – New patients in particular are going to do rigorous research before they schedule an appointment. They have always judged practices based on online reviews and this will be heightened. They will scrutinize the cleanliness of your practice, and be more in tune with the energy of you and your team – because they can’t see your facial expressions behind the mask. Now is the time to take action. Put a plan in place to nurture, restore, or reinvigorate patient relationships.
With social media you can easily share effective, reassuring, and valuable updates with patients. Just as PPE protects you and your team, effective, consistent communication will help protect valuable patient relationships in our new, low-touch dental world.
About the Author
Rita Zamora is author of the book Get Found, Get Liked, Get Patients – Making the Most of Social Media. Known as “Dentistry’s Social Media Expert”, she and her team have offered highly customized “done for you”, as well as “done with you”, social media programs for dental professionals across the globe since 2008. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Colorado with a bachelor’s degree in business and marketing and has over 20 years experience in the business of dentistry. Learn more: RitaZamora.com