February 28, 2018
by Dale Tucci
As you go about your day-to-day, you probably notice the multitude of dental offices, seemingly on every corner. Do you often find yourself wondering how they all survive?
Maybe, you conclude, it all comes down to fantastic marketing strategy, each office figuring out how to uniquely brand and stand apart from the competition. Would it surprise you to know that many growing dental practices rely more on building client relationship, rapport, and loyalty?
The dental practice sits in a highly competitive market or not, there is undisputable merit in building client bonds. Patients with strong personal ties to the dentist and team members are less likely to wander and more likely to refer family and friends.
The simple rules of etiquette and respect that your parents taught you, also apply to your interactions with patients. But it’s far more than displaying nice manners. The challenge lies with consistent application and being present in the moment with each patient.
And it must happen quickly! Building relationships with patients in a competitive dental market can be difficult when you only interact a few times a year. Your goal is to earn the trust and loyalty of your patients at every appointment, which will ideally lead to more referrals. You can do achieve this by focusing on the following areas.
Respect for Time
Patient customer satisfaction surveys reveal that a common service issue is the wait time in dental offices. As a team, work to improve on-time patient care and be sure to express this to your patients. Of course, it’s wise not to make guarantees due to emergencies and unexpected treatment time delays, but simply talking with patients about your efforts to see them on time, is an important start. Your discussions will identify the patients who have a time constraint and those who are less concerned, and you can flag patient service expectations in the dental software.Time is a highly prized commodity for most people. That’s what makes it an ideal level playing field for building trust! By respecting your patient’s time commitment to his or her appointment, you show them that your commitment to them is just as strong as theirs is to you.
Do What You Say You Will Do
Your promise could be as basic as checking with the lab on a shade, making a referral contact to a specialist, or investigating a new product or procedure – just make sure you keep it.
If you promised to send an estimate for treatment, follow through and follow up! Did you promise to call the patient on a specific day? Ensure the call happens.
It’s easy to make a promise, but its timely delivery builds patient trust and confidence in your team.
Ask for Permission
We trust those we respect, and a sincere please and thank you speaks volumes.
Ask patient permission before you do anything, saying please, and responding with thank you. For example, you have a patient in your chair, and you are about to put it back in a supine position. Ask, “John, I am about to recline the chair so that we can get started, is that okay with you?” This simple sentence will help the patient feel that they have some input into their care, and relieve anxious feelings.
Don’t forget your team either. Observant patients can only conclude that you sincerely respect your team and patients alike.
Quite often, “thank you” is said without much thought or meaning. Choosing an alternate expression such as, “my pleasure” will convey more emotion and feeling than a perfunctory “thank you.”
Your patients love to be heard. Rather than telling them about your vacation, your kids or what you are reading, ask these same questions of your patients. Show interest, actively listen, then respond. Patients will indeed feel heard.
Asking for Referrals
Once you have the trust and loyalty of a patient, then it’s appropriate to ask for a referral. Many team members tell us they feel uncomfortable making this request. Communication training can help team gain confidence in many areas, specifically asking for referrals. In the meantime, consider this example: A patient says thank you at the end of their hygiene appointment. The response can then be, “John, it was my pleasure, we enjoy caring for people like you. We are accepting new patients so feel free to mention our office to your friends and family.” At the very least, this kind of conversation creates a reciprocal relationship between clinicians and patient.
When you ask your new patients for their referral source and record it in your software, there are two benefits. Referral tracking reveals referral sources and indicates strategies that are successful. By assessing referral reports, the dentist can make informed decisions about marketing costs.
Everyone who refers a friend or family member should receive a written thank you note or email of appreciation. It can quite simply say, “Susan thank you for referring your neighbour Sandra to us. We truly appreciate your confidence in our care.” In organized practices, thanking patients for referrals is also expressed at their next appointments. In every case, appreciation is most effective (and memorable), when delivered with genuine warmth and emotion.
Assess Your Referral Climate
Does your practice have a climate that makes increasing patient referrals a top priority?
You can assess your office, collecting both the average number of patients treated in the practice monthly and the average number of new patients referred monthly by patients. What is the percentage of patient referrals relative to your practice goal? If it doesn’t meet your expectations, it’s time for you and your team to explore ways to improve the patient experience or process, to stimulate referrals.
None of these ideas are new or innovative, but by being mindful and intentional towards them, you can strengthen patient relationships.
The simple rules of etiquette and respect will never lose their impact, but in this technology filled world, the personal touch is easily lost. However, if your dental practice can embody the high-tech and high-touch patient approach, you’ll build client trust and loyalty, as well as increased patient referrals.
About the Author
Dale Tucci, President of Consulting at TMFD Financial
Dale and her team offer a wide variety of custom practice management services featuring transition planning, business coaching, associate recruiting, marketing and human resources. Dale has a 25 year record of success, trusted by thousands of clients for providing hands-on solutions.
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