This will be controversial. Remember, at no time am I trying to tell you what to do, I am merely relaying an alternate way of doing things that MIGHT be relevant to your practice. So it’s important to never believe a word I say.
In this blog, I’m going to talk about the majority of practice. Although some of what I say will be applicable, I’m not really aiming it at specialist and cosmetic practice. This is about your bog standard family practice that is struggling and wondering why the wrong patients keep walking through the door.
So if you are 100% happy with the types of patients you are attracting, you can stop reading now and put your feet up. For those of you still with me…
It amazes me the way many practices are run. If you want the proof of this, just talk to any dental accountant to get an idea of how many of their clients are in trouble financially. Better still, just go on the tired old websites, websites that are promising the earth whilst forgetting what the majority of patients are looking for. You will see:
- Some will be poorly designed to the extent it would likely be better that the website didn’t exist
- Great claims about the cosmetic treatments that can be provided
- A promise of implants and adult orthodontics
- Some sort of offer regarding tooth whitening
Try it now. Go on google and type “family dental practice” and see what the first 10 hits give you. Some will be great, others not so. Yeah, so what’s your point, Steve?
Where is the USP? How is your average New Patient supposed to distinguish between practices based on a website? Now I have no doubt that some of these are bringing in customers, but that right there reflects part of the potential problem. The problem is that the banners draped over practice exteriors, the thousands spent on search engine optimisation and the radio adverts that nobody listens too are a poor way to FILTER new patients.
In my opinion, websites et al are an overused way to attract patients, and I never used one in my 16 years of practice ownership. I preferred to make things easier for myself.
The system I used was very simple.
- Take a patient base and build trust and rapport. For those that this can’t be achieved, you invite them to seek their dental care elsewhere (these patients WILL be better served by seeking their care elsewhere). This is why it can be difficult to apply this to a squat or a referral practice, although not impossible.
- Deliver the four key components to successful practice. Health, competence, customer service and cleanliness. Help keep your patients healthy (so no supervised neglect) using a high level of skill (ask your lab technician for honest feedback on the impression you send) in a clean environment with a clinical team that CARE for the patients and show it.
- Repeat that until the trust is established in your locality.
- Use your existing patients as your unpaid referral force.
How many of you, reading this, are actively asking your existing patients to refer new ones? How many of you have a system to do this so that it is effective and unobtrusive? And how many of you are seeing patients you don’t like and who don’t like you?
Now what normally happens here is either I get a load of abuse (so spare me, I’ve heard most of it) or I get excuses. Some of the excuses are valid, others not so much.
So why is this so powerful. Mr’s Miggins, who thinks you are fabulous is rarely going to jeopardise that relationship with your practice that she has established by sending someone she knows is going to cause problems. People associate with people they like. So instantly that acts as a filter.
Your website or your banner with your phone number on it doesn’t have that filter. I’m not saying don’t use those techniques, what I’m saying is the patient referral system is a qualifying technique that removes a lot of the risks associated with new patients.
I went one step further in my practice, by making it DIFFICULT to join the practice. Let me share with you the system:
- Existing patient X is asked if they know of anyone close to them who needs a dentist
- If they say yes, patient X is given a TIME LIMITED referral card for them to give to this individual. The card, which you write patient’s X name on, states that there is a limited availability for appointments and that patient X has persuaded the practice to give the new patient the chance of coming on board. At no time does it promise an appointment
- The card gives the new patient the instructions of what is required of them as well as the practice terms and conditions.
- The new patient brings the card to the practice which allows them to pick up a welcome pack. We never mailed them.
- Once the welcome pack is returned in full (MH, Diet diary, etc) then, and only then, is a new patient consultation booked.
Phew, sounds like a lot of work. And what’s the point of it all?
Well, in my diseased brain, I need rapport with my patients. By getting a personal recommendation from someone the New Patient trusts, that rapport and trust are easier to obtain. By increasing the difficulty of gaining MEMBERSHIP, we also introduced filters to sift out the time wasters and trouble makers. I don’t have the time to go into that here, but check out the research by Robert Cialdini.
Did I ever end up with white space in my day book? – Yes
Did I ever not meet my financial targets or meet my UDA targets – No
By recruiting patients in this way, you save a bucket load on marketing. You are giving the new patient the choice of choosing you based on the recommendation of someone they trust (with the perception of exclusivity), or another practice based on what their website and marketing promises.
Which do you think is more powerful? What do you think happens when you fulfil the four promises of health, cleanliness, competence and customer service on this patient? Do you think they might also be willing to recommend someone? And when you build trust and something goes wrong, you are more likely to experience a patient who will let you fix the problem instead of jumping for the lawyers or the GDC.
You can still do all the usual Instagram, Facebook and website testimonial malarkey, but if you aren’t doing this, then I would argue that you are losing out.
Oh and I never saw new patient emergencies. That was my own personal decision based on with the almost impossible task of getting rapport, trust and CONSENT on people who are in pain when you are time limited.
I discuss this more in my latest book. For those who are interested, there is still a chance for one person to win a free copy. Just follow the link in the picture (the contest ends today)
Am I right, or am I just blowing hot air?
Why not let me know on my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/GdpResources/. Just look for the post with this blog in it and comment below.