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Customer Service as an Internal Marketing Strategy
Keep your patients happy, and keep your patients
Of all the business disciplines essential to success in the new dental economy, marketing may be the most challenging. Dentists are largely unschooled in the subject and, until the Great Recession, they could do quite well without any serious marketing efforts. Now, the need to market dental practices is clear, yet how to do it is not.
Fortunately, for the general practice, there is a broad marketing strategy that is relatively easy to learn, inexpensive, and highly effective: internal marketing. Unlike external marketing, which directs promotional messages to audiences outside of the practice, internal marketing focuses on what marketers call a “captive audience”—your existing patients. They represent not only current and potential production, but also a powerful network of advocates for your practice.
To maintain a productive patient base and activate it as a source of new patient referrals, practice teams must become experts at providing excellent customer service. Otherwise, current patients will not become passionate advocates for the practice.
Keep Patients Happy
The best way to retain patients is to keep them happy. This requires outstanding oral health care, of course, but patients typically judge their practices in non-technical terms. Worn upholstery or an abrupt telephone manner will often make a stronger impression on them than your ability to perform an excellent core build-up, for example. To enhance the practice-patient relationship, dentists and their teams must work to upgrade their skills in such areas as:
-Maintaining a clean, comfortable, attractive, and safe environment
-Showing respect and appreciation for patients at every opportunity
-Communicating with patients about clinical issues in terms they can easily understand
-Projecting a positive, cheerful, and helpful attitude at all times
-Coming up with “extras” that make patients feel good about the practice
The objective is to make leaving the practice inconceivable for patients. While solidifying relationships, this also facilitates acceptance of elective and multi-tooth treatment, resulting in increased production.
Keep Patients Active
Since the Great Recession, even happy patients have been more likely to lapse into inactivity if they are forced to cut back on overall spending. Inactive patients can easily become lost patients, so practices must upgrade their scheduling systems and scripting to avoid this costly problem. Even if patients feel they have no choice but to stop coming in for regular visits, the practice should develop effective ways to stay in touch and continue demonstrating concern about patients’ oral health. If necessary, this might even include brief annual exams by the dentist as a courtesy for “loyal patients.” They will still regard the practice as their practice, will still call if they have an oral care need, and will probably be willing to make referrals.
Keep Patients Talking About the Practice
Excellent customer service goes a long way toward keeping patients happy and active. Equally important, it can also give them something to talk about with family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and anyone else they encounter. In short, if the practice does something truly exceptional in the way of customer service, it will generate word-of-mouth advertising—the most potent form of marketing.
For example, if the dentist calls to see how patients are doing the evening after treatment, those patients will want to tell others about how well their practice treats them.
Now comes the crucial point: If the practice provides customer service worth talking about and encourages patients to refer new patients, the number of referrals will grow exponentially.
There are many ways to “ask” for patient referrals, including literally asking for them. In fact, according to the Levin Group Data Center™, practices using a total of 15 different internal marketing strategies report that they receive at least one new patient referral from 40% to 60% of their existing patients. Results like these are what make internal marketing such a valuable business tool, and its effectiveness can be increased dramatically by providing exceptional customer service.
In the new dental economy, practices that focus on improving customer service will reinforce their existing patient relationships and, at the same time, strengthen their internal marketing program. Patients will be more effective advocates for a practice when they can speak enthusiastically about the excellent service they have received.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Roger P. Levin, DDS, is a third-generation general dentist and the chairman and chief executive officer of Levin Group, Inc. To learn how to run a more profitable, efficient and satisfying practice, visit the Levin Group Resource Center at www.levingroup.com/gp—a free online resource with tips, videos, and other valuable information. You can also connect with Levin Group on Facebook and Twitter (@Levin_Group) to learn strategies and share ideas.