Business Foundations on Which to Boost Practice Momentum
To have healthy stability and growth, a dental practice needs dozens of systems, processes, and core competencies to be properly executed. These systems all work together like a well-oiled machine on a daily basis to achieve the practice's goals and vision. But what happens when the practice plateaus or feels stuck in a rut and is no longer growing but declining in growth, profitability, and overall professional achievement? This article outlines several foundational business areas that can be built upon to boost the number of new patients, treatment acceptance, and overall practice growth.
If practice owners are not actively promoting the practice and building it with both internal and external efforts, the proverbial "well" will eventually run dry no matter how "full" the schedule appears or which way the economy turns. Practices should be diligent in their promotional efforts and should keep measuring their goals month over month.
The author's firm suggests that at least 60% of a practice's new patients should come by way of referral, whether this is word of mouth, reviews, or otherwise. The best new patient is almost always a referred patient, as these patients generally have a higher level of trust and value in the practice and the services it provides. It is, therefore, important that the practice establishes efforts, processes, and communication channels with its existing patient family to help grow these numbers every month.
Good internal marketing entails excellent verbal and communication skills along with effective emails, texts, signage, social media, and monthly campaigns. Maintaining these internal efforts helps ensure that the practice is continually asking for referrals and reviews, keeping patients active, and educating patients about the practice's services-all functions that the practice cannot afford to let fall by the wayside.
Once the practice is consistently meeting goals in bringing in new patients internally, it can then invest in and concentrate on building its external efforts. These include but are not limited to monitoring the performance and appearance of the practice's website and maintaining the practice's efforts in its digital channels, such as social media, content marketing, and organic reach. These efforts are critical to keep the practice at the top of search lists when potential patients are looking for their next dental home.
It is much easier to build from within through patient retention than it is from maintaining a continuous funnel of new patients coming through the door. Practices do not want patients coming in only to see them leave and never return. It is imperative that a practice builds value and relationship with its patients so that they come, become ideal patients that the practice desires, and stay for the long term.
The author's firm teaches skills and processes that help dental practices build the "four pillars" of a healthy patient-practice partnership: trust, need, urgency, and value. If patients are not accepting needed or recommended treatment or are not staying active in the practice, it probably means that the practice is missing the mark on one or more of these pillars. That is, either the patients don't trust the practice or its recommendations, don't see the need for staying active or for the care being presented to them, don't sense any urgency or hurry to have the treatment, and/or, finally, don't see the value of the practice in their life or in the care the practice provides.
To strengthen these four pillars, the practice must continuously improve the overall patient experience and the communication skills within that experience, as outlined in the following paragraphs:
Utilization and maximization of visual aids. Intraoral cameras, scanners, and pre- and post-treatment photographs are some examples of visual aids that help to educate, motivate, and activate patients to accept and proceed with treatment and care.
Mastery of verbal skills. The verbal skills that the dentist and each member of the team uses in interactions with patients, especially in the presentation and support of diagnosed treatment, can be the determining factor in whether a patient says "yes" or "no" to a treatment and stays in the practice. From the way the telephone is answered to how a patient is scheduled, every interaction should have an ideal process, which needs to be made clear to each team member. Team members should practice conversations such that their verbal skills will build value in the minds of patients.
The patient experience. Besides visual aids and communication skills, there are many other aspects of a dental practice that can help maximize the patient experience, such as: the ease of scheduling of the appointment, the manner in which the patient is handed off during each transition of a visit, the condition of the facility itself, the branding of the practice, the follow-up process, and the ease with which patients are able to get what they want or need. When a practice emphasizes the continuous improvement of the patient experience, from technology to facility to services provided, it raises the level of value perceived by existing and potential patients. Communication skills training should be a priority. As the founder of the author's firm, Cathy Jameson, PhD, says, there is no such thing as status quo; you are either going up or going down. Be on a continuous path of improvement.
As dentistry continues to evolve, patients' understanding and expectations of what is available are also evolving. If a practice is not continuing to add to its service mix, patients are likely to move on to seek those services elsewhere. In addition, many practices are probably referring a great deal of clinical care elsewhere that they could provide right in their practice as an added value to their patients and which would provide an added production boost to the practice. Practices should consider what additional clinical care might fit into their portfolio that they could incorporate and promote to both their patients and community. Such a service could be both a boom to the practice and a valuable resource to its patients.
Time is one of the main reasons why patients forego treatment. If a practice is able to offer added convenience to patients by providing additional services, enabling patients to get the care they need in fewer appointments all in the comfort of their trusted dental practice, think of the value of that. Practices must continue to elevate their patient care in order to stay relevant and competitive.
As a dental practice assesses its needs and opportunities, it should identify where it can improve in the areas of patient attraction, patient retention, and elevated services. Effective and professional communication skills are essential to improvement. Every little bit of effort put forth in these areas will reflect in practice growth both presently and in the future.
About the Author
Owner and Chief Communications Officer, The Jameson Group (jmsn.com), a dental management, marketing, and hygiene coaching firm