Competing Effectively in the New Dental Economy
A structured approach to practice building
Most dentists now recognize that they must take a more businesslike approach to running their practices. Historically, there was a low supply of dentists to meet a high demand for dental services. Today, the tables have turned, with higher supply and lower demand. According to the Levin Group Data Center™, demand for dental care has been declining for 4 years, whereas the number of dentists is projected to increase by approximately 20% over the next 5 to 7 years.
For dental practices, as with all other types of businesses, this kind of shift in supply and demand foretells an increase in the level of competition.
The author has written and lectured extensively about how the dental economy has been radically altered by the Eight Permanent Game Changers, which are:
1. The “Great Recession” and uninspiring recovery
2. Changes in consumer purchasing habits
3. Opening of new dental schools
4. Decrease in insurance reimbursements
5. Expansion of dental service organizations (DSOs)
6. Higher dental school student loan debt
7. Fewer associateship opportunities for new dentists
8. Dentists practicing 8 to 10 years longer
Each of these developments either increases the supply of dental service providers or reduces demand. Taken altogether, they account for a sudden, profound, and lasting impact on the competitive landscape for dental practices. The only recourse for dentists is to change the way they run their businesses.
“Best Practices” for Dental Practices
In the business world, the term “best practices” refers to management structures, systems, and strategies that have proven to be highly effective. By incorporating these methodologies—adapted to meeting the unique requirements of dentistry—doctors and their teams can re-engineer their practices relatively quickly.
The best framework for implementing this transformation is a four-step method, consisting of the following:
1. Business analysis—an analysis conducted by an outside expert benchmarks the status of the practice in business terms and shines a spotlight on issues that must be addressed for the practice to grow significantly and consistently.
2. Targets—based on the analysis and the owner’s goals, approximately 20 performance targets are set, assigned to staff members, and monitored regularly.
2. Systems—all management systems are assessed and modified as needed for the express purpose of hitting the performance targets.
4. Scripting—scripts drawn from the step-by-step system documentation are written to shape all interactions with patients to reach the targets. Staff training centers on scripting.
Following these steps will not only put the dental practice on a solid business footing, but also will prepare it to compete effectively. For most general practices, the strongest competitive advantages will be derived from excellent customer service.
Leveraging “Wow” Customer Service
Providing “wow” customer service depends on having the right mindset as well as systems that achieve high levels of patient satisfaction. The competitive value of superior customer service crosses price boundaries and can work for any type of service business—as evidenced by the reputations earned by companies such as Nordstrom and Southwest Airlines.
For dentists, the challenge is to treat current patients exceptionally well—so well, in fact, that they will be happy to become advocates for the practice.
Internal Marketing: Word-of-Mouth Advertising at Its Best
The most cost-effective way for dental practices to bring in new patients is internal marketing, or in other words, marketing activities aimed at the internal audience—current patients—rather than at external prospects. Current patients are what marketers refer to as a “captive” audience, meaning that relationships and communication channels already exist.
Happy patients can be easily persuaded to recommend their practice to family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and anyone else they know. They just need to be asked, one way or another. A proper internal marketing program consists of at least 15 different ways of asking current patients for referrals. Why 15? In part because it’s important to reach critical mass, and also because different patients will respond to different strategies.
The goal is for at least 40% of patients to refer one new patient every year.
By upgrading practice management with systems that increase efficiency while delivering “wow” customer service, practices can then implement an internal marketing program that brings many new patients through the door. With this overarching strategy, any practice can compete successfully, even in the most challenging times.
About the Author
Roger P. Levin, DDS, is a third-generation general dentist and the chairman and chief executive officer of Levin Group, Inc. If you are interested in upgrading your practice’s performance as a business, an analysis of where your practice stands is the place to start. For more information about Levin Group’s Practice Performance Analysis™, visit the following website: www.levingroup.com/practiceanalysis. You can also connect with Levin Group on Facebook and Twitter (@Levin_Group) to learn strategies and share ideas.