September 2011

Education Builds Trust & Earns Big Bucks For Dentists

A recent consumer study reported that the decline in patient trust of their dentist has plummeted severely, and it’s not even close to what dentists think it is. And when I say it’s plummeted, I’m not kidding. What do you think? When we randomly polled around our office staff responded with 70%, 65, 45 … 25% … but no, while 75% of dentists feel that the public holds them in high regard, according to the study, patients don’t even rank a 10% trust level.

In a recent blog, we mentioned the fact that “of dentists who reported declining revenues, only 50% were going to do anything about it.” Just like your own fitness level, for example, it’s simply unrealistic to presume that your business situation is going to change if you don’t do anything about it, particularly when consumer confidence is at an all-time low. It’s nothing new to hear that patients want to avoid the dentist. But combine that with the fact that they do not understand the importance of dental health, don’t place a priority on it, don’t want to spend money on it and have low trust in the industry, it’s difficult to imagine why patients would reach out to your dental practice without the addition of education or any sense of urgency to seek you out – unless, of course, they are in pain.

And experts don’t expect things to change soon.

According to Dental Market Research (DMR), we shouldn’t expect recovery for dental practices until 2012. They cite that the main reason for the drop off in demand for dental services is consumer choice. Everywhere you hear recession, recession, recession, loss of jobs and insurance coverage, and decline in cosmetic services. The fact is, they state, that the majority of households most likely to visit the dentist can afford to pay for dental treatment because, what has happened, they feel, is that these patients are saving more of their income at a rate higher than at any time during the past twenty years. Even so, according to DMR, unfilled appointments, declined treatment, and unrealized billings have resulted from discretionary spending choices – consumers chose to spend less on dentistry.

This is reflective of patient activity all across the country. Many dentists are reporting sliding revenues. Some are reporting that while their new-patient numbers remain steady, their top 3-5 “big” services are down. The ones that are growing are start-ups, and those who are actively marketing.

It’s not all negative – if you take a proactive approach. Consider the lack of dental health information available in mainstream media. If your practice is the one to help patients avoid painful and costly emergency treatment, if you’re the one that’s regularly educating your community about dental health and wellbeing, you will establish yourself as the expert in your field and the one patients turn to first. But it’s not just about getting more people to walk through your door. It’s about bringing in better-quality patients as well, and the DMR report shows that those ideal patients are out there and have the money to pay.

According to Pitney Bowes/Peppers and Rogers Group, direct mail contributes most to establishing a relationship, and consumers value organizations that make an effort to communicate and build a relationship with them through the mail. However, a low-cost flyer or postcard presentation isn’t what builds confidence. Combine that with deeply discounted special offers or misleading advertising lures, and you’ve potentially got the mix that’s contributing to the drop in practitioner trust. At a time when trust is low and people are not making educated choices about discretionary spending on dental services, the importance of educational content in your marketing mix cannot be underestimated. Educated patients are more profitable patients. It’s far better to maintain a high-quality professional approach, build trust over time, and justify the dental spend through education.

Like your past Yellow Pages patients who would book an appointment until they found another practitioner that would help them faster, cheaper, or more conveniently, patients searching on the web are comparative shopping so they’ll find your competition too. They will keep their appointment until they find another provider that’s faster or more convenient. When you proactively solicit the target audience you want with high-quality educational messaging, you’ll obtain the caliber of patient you want and you’ll build deeper and more trusting relationships over time.

Dr. Suvarna in Antioch CA launched her direct mail acquisition campaign with Patient News in the summer of 2010. Her combination new-patient program incorporated a highly personalized and effectively written educational newsletter, establishing her as the expert in her community along with a large-format postcard featuring the same overall look as her newsletter, maintaining brand integrity and generating maximum awareness for her practice. She says “Use Patient News because it’s the only advertising method with concrete results. We’ve definitely had the phones ringing since we joined PNP.”

In one year, Dr. Suvarna realized a 20% increase in revenue and had a 30% increase in patient-of-record numbers.

For information on dental direct marketing, patient education, and generating more practice revenue, please call a PNP Account Executive now to reserve your free 20-minute consultation at a time that is convenient for you. 888.377.2404, or email us at info@patientnews.com. Your call will be answered live Monday to Friday between 8:30am – 6:00pm EST, or it will be returned within one business day.

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Do you “outbehave” your competition?

One of our Senior Account Managers just brought me the results of a client’s patient survey – it was a fantastic yet very interesting review. This client generated a 10% response. (The general rule of thumb for a client survey is to expect a 2-15% response, lower if there isn’t an incentive.) Overall the patients were very complimentary; they love this practice and the doctor. Top marks for front desk service and the doctor was referred to as a “genius” by many patients. There was a little dip in satisfaction over wait times for appointments, which is an easy focus. More than 85% of patients reported top marks for their mailed patient newsletter, 98% of patients were willing to refer, but “considering everything,” almost 80% did not agree that their fees were reasonable.

Uh oh! Warning bells. This result is exactly why it is so important to continually improve the way we interact with clients and continue to reinforce our value proposition. At Patient News, we love Dov Seidman’s best-selling book HOW: Why HOW we do anything means everything. Behavior, Dov says, matters more than ever, and in ways it never has before. The word “outbehave” is not in the dictionary, but he is determined to get it there. To succeed, we need to outbehave our competition. And ask better “how” questions. Not how are you, how many, and how much, rather … how am I going to engender trust in this relationship? How are we going to connect? How are we going to scale our value?

You know and I know if 10% of your engaged patients know you charge more, then all of your patients know you charge more … and that will continually tick away at your revenue unless you educate patients on the “why” and make sure you’re outbehaving your competition. Inform patients about your unique attributes, provide value-added support that other dental practices in your community do not, share what makes your practice the one patients should continue to choose. Earn the right to retain their business and you will increase patient satisfaction and engagement levels.

Companies lose 50% of customers every 5 years.

That’s a sad fact, and one that can probably be diminished by providing excellent customer service. So how do we take this information and ramp up customer service in a dental office? Marketing will not make a difference if the practice staff doesn’t provide excellent customer service. We’ve learned a lot through PNP’s Call Tracker. Based on listening to a huge variety of incoming patient calls, we know that every dental practice has the ability to evolve their skills, improve customer service, and increase patient loyalty … which equates to much more revenue.

Incorporate soft touches in your customer service approach. These are contacts with your patients that have a relationship-building goal rather than a transactional objective. Holidays are a great time to reach out with a kind message that doesn’t ask for a return. Patient News can help you with effective educational patient newsletters, insightful patient survey analysis, and more. In fact, if you don’t have a plan for your holiday cards, up the patient value with a beautiful, personalized, and educational holiday campaign from PNP. Fast and easy for you, it will allow you to approach your patient relationships in a new positive way, earning patient respect, and developing a feeling of reciprocity between them and your practice. At Patient News we strive to continually put ideas, solutions, and principles in customer service to work for our clients. In the meantime, what else can you do?

Your team must have excellent product knowledge and in addition, must also understand how to take a patient inquiry to the next level. Many people focus on features rather than benefits, so ensure that your team is trained to be present and listen, to watch for opportunities to connect with empathy and emotion, and to ask questions using emotions. “How do you feel about that?” … “What’s the most frustrating about that?” Use proactive questions to get patients more engaged in the conversation … “Knowing you want xyz right away, we’ll schedule your consultation…” … “Most of our patients don’t want to waste time so I’ve tentatively booked you for…” … “I’ve had the whitening treatment and I love it! Lisa will take great care of you, you’ll be totally comfortable, it’s fast, and the results are long-lasting. You’ll love the way your smile looks! Is Monday or Tuesday better … morning or afternoon?”

Often we’ll hear that practice staff don’t want to “sell,” but this really isn’t about selling, it’s about outbehaving. The truth is it is simply not good enough to answer questions. In order to provide excellent service you must go beyond product knowledge and into enthusiasm. Every person who works at your practice must believe in your values and mission statement, the products and services you offer, and they must convey confidence in their recommendations and support your treatment presentations. This will strengthen trust between the patient and the practice. And enthusiasm from your entire team about what you do and what you charge for what you do can be a powerful catalyst for positive two-way communication and further patient trust. At your next huddle, ask your team what they feel your practice does better than the competition … you might be surprised and it could provide you with great information for servicing improvements and more effective marketing messaging.

Follow-up touches with patients when they are out of your office can be extremely impactful. High-value patient communications are an essential component of your exceptional customer service plan. What type of effort will demonstrate that you have actually made an effort? My niece recently identified an interesting viewpoint relating to communication and effort. One grandma sends her regular emails, the other sends holiday cards in the mail. My niece indicated that the mailed piece, with a personally written message, was the one that took more effort and was appreciated most. This actually translates to people of all ages. They appreciate businesses that make an effort to communicate with them via the mail.

So just like the patient survey that started my thought for this blog, of all consumer surveys we have completed through our Patient News patient newsletter program since 1995, on average 85% of patients surveyed report enjoying receiving and reading their PNP dental patient newsletter. For an investment of less than a $1 per patient, you may want to consider the impact your own customized, personalized, and mailed patient newsletter could have with your patients – and on your practice revenue!

Here’s a few tidbits that my client service team shared on the effectiveness of their patient directed newsletters … Mills & Shannon Dentistry received 1% response to their whitening offer in the first month - 14 calls … Dr. Shockley loves the quality and reach allowing them to connect personally and educate … Dr. Yick had an overwhelming response to their story about changing lives in Ethiopia … Dr. Ostroth raised over $8000 for charity as a result of their newsletter mailing … patient referrals increase 10-20% after each newsletter mailing without fail.

How are you going to scale your value to patients? And then, how are they going to find out about it?

If you have any questions about improving the effectiveness of your patient-of-record outreach program, please call 888.377.2404 for a free consultation. Right now we have holiday greetings ready to go for Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years, and more! We’ll save you time and money, and elevate your practice reputation. Call for details!