Inside Dentistry
April 2014
Volume 10, Issue 4

Growing the Dental Practice Through Effective Communication

Turning customer service into an internal marketing strategy

Naomi Cooper

While “new patient marketing” is certainly an important component of practice growth, it’s merely the first step in the marketing marathon. It’s important to recognize that callers don’t magically transform into long-term patients of record; effective patient communication is at the heart of a both a positive new patient experience and a profitable return on your marketing investment.

Simply put, the dollars spent to attract new patients through external marketing efforts can end up going to waste if effective marketing processes and strong verbal communication skills are not in place. After all, why go to all the trouble and expense to make the phone ring if the person answering the phone doesn’t have the ability to turn a caller into a patient?

Creating a positive customer service experience for new and existing patients within the practice is crucial in developing relationships to retain patients and maximize production over the long term.

The All-Important First Phone Call

Often a new patient’s first contact with the dentist and the practice is during the initial phone call to find out about the practice, and possibly to make an appointment. The front desk team needs to be able to effectively communicate with new patients and address all questions and concerns, as well as schedule appointments in a timely manner.

The first phone call is a critical time: the prospective patient is sizing the practice up, and this interaction needs to be handled delicately. So what can the front desk team do during the call to ensure success?

Ideally, the phones should be answered consistently throughout the day, even during lunch hours, ensuring that the prospective new patient will always be able to reach a live person. Virtual front desk services are a big step up from answering services and can seamlessly handle patient interaction outside of office hours.

Answering the phone in a friendly and approachable manner may sound like an obvious step, but it’s not a given. The front desk team is often the first interaction—and first impression–that the prospective patient has of the practice, and whether it is the first phone call of the day or the hundredth, each caller has to be made to feel as though his or her phone call is the most important call of the day.

It’s easy to dismiss callers asking questions about prices or insurance and assume that they are “just shoppers.” However, by redirecting the conversation to a discussion about the practice’s focus on each patient, the quality of the care provided, and the fairness with which all patients are treated—before quoting any fees—demonstrates what makes the practice unique, and what the practice provides that won’t be found elsewhere.

The front desk team also plays an important role in tracking and determining the return on investment from each marketing effort. So the front desk team should be asking each caller how he or she heard about the practice and making note of responses on a caller tracking sheet. This shifts the conversation from a transaction to a relationship, increasing the chances that the caller will make an appointment. Plus, collecting this information from every new caller will help the dentist and marketing team determine which external marketing efforts are producing calls, and which calls are converting into appointments.

Practice Makes Perfect

A satisfied patient is a happy patient, and happy patients love to share their experiences. Dentists and their teams should leverage patients’ positive sentiments by asking them to refer their friends and family to the practice and to post positive online reviews. Asking for referrals and reviews is a low-cost yet high-impact way of sparking word of mouth marketing and increasing new patient flow. Likewise, building a history of reviews online from satisfied patients provides social proof to any prospective patient who may be researching the dentist online.

As important as asking for referrals and reviews is for any successful practice, many dentists and team members feel uncomfortable doing so. Just as dentists stay current on the latest techniques and equipment, polishing verbal skills is important for dentists and staff.

There is no way to make the act of asking for a referral (or online review) easier than by getting the team trained effectively to build the skill and building confidence over time by asking every day. Just as with clinical skills, the more a verbal skill is practiced, the more comfortable it will feel, and the more confident dentists and their staff will sound in their interactions with patients.

So much of the marketing advice given to dentists focuses on how to bring new patients into the practice. But external marketing and advertising can be expensive in terms of time and energy, so it is critical to be sure the internal processes are solidly in place before increasing the practice’s marketing budget, or judging its past performance. From a patient’s first phone call to the first consultation and beyond, efficient communication is essential in making sure they keep returning to the practice and accepting treatment for years to come.

About the Author

Naomi Cooper is president and founder of Minoa Marketing and serves as chief marketing consultant for Pride Institute. She is a respected dental marketing consultant, author, speaker, and industry opinion leader who co-teaches Pride’s groundbreaking marketing course, The New Rules of Dental Marketing. She blogs regularly at www.minoamarketing.com. Naomi can be reached via email at naomi@minoamarketing.com, on Twitter @naomi_cooper, or on Facebook at www.fb.com/minoamarketing. For information about upcoming course dates, call Pride Institute at 800-925-2600 or visit www.prideinstitute.com.

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