Timing, Cost, Quality, and Level of Technology
Traits dentists look for in a laboratory
Dental laboratories spend a lot of money on marketing to dentists every year. The average dental laboratory allocates 5% of their annual revenue toward sales and marketing. With this much investment, it is important to know which qualities of the laboratory are most important to highlight. Knowing dentists’ pain points can help you target your marketing efforts and fine-tune the sales message. So what traits do dentists look for when they evaluate a dental laboratory?
Not every dentist is looking for the same type of laboratory. The first step in creating an effective marketing campaign is to identify potential clients that are looking for a laboratory like yours. Honestly assess your laboratory to determine its strongest trait. Focus advertisement around that trait and gear special offers to highlight your assets even more. (For tips on how to filter prospective clients, read “Hit Your Target Market” at dentalaegis.com/idt/go/idt958.)
Dentists who value a service or feature you’re highlighting will be drawn to your advertisements. For example, some dentists have busy practices with demanding clients. Those dentists will be eager to try a new laboratory that can cut down the working days required to make a restoration. They will also appreciate guaranteed consistency that will allow them to schedule patients for seating appointments at the end of the prep appointment. If your laboratory is confident in its ability to produce fast and reliable turn times, then promoting this trait in marketing efforts will help attract clients that are a good fit for your laboratory. Cost, quality, and use of advanced technology are also important features that dentists consider when choosing their laboratory partners.
Speed and reliability are equally important to a dentist when selecting a dental laboratory. Between a prep and seating appointment, patients must wear a temporary crown. The problem with temporary crowns is that they are made of low-quality plastic which looks and feels out of place to the patient. Even worse, the temporary cement that holds these crowns in place is weak and temperamental, often coming loose before the permanent crown is ready. The longer a patient must wait between prep and seating, the more chance the dentist will be forced to accommodate adjustment appointments that use up valuable chairtime. Dentists can save time and money by working with a laboratory that guarantees faster turnaround times.
Being able to rely on a laboratory's listed turnaround times helps dentists and their front office staff maintain a positive relationship with patients and run an orderly appointment calendar. When a laboratory is not reliable with respect to case timing, the office staff will wait until the restoration is received in-house before scheduling the seating appointment. This extends the amount of time a patient must wear the temporary crown and interrupts the patient's personal schedule. Staff time is consumed with calls from patients asking if their crown is ready and playing games of “phone tag” trying to schedule seatings. If a laboratory has a precise turnaround schedule, the day and time of the seating appointment can be provided to the patient at the end of prep, simplifying things for everyone.
If your laboratory has precise turnaround speeds, make sure to let dentists know about it by offering guaranteed delivery times. One way to do this is with a case time calendar on your website where dental front office staff can schedule seating appointments. If your laboratory’s speeds are steady and reliable, be sure to let your clients know through email blasts or case stuffers. It will help to set you apart from other laboratories your clients may be using concurrently. Extra-fast turnaround times—5 working days or less—are especially attractive to dentists whose patients are very busy, traveling often, or unable to put up with the inconvenience of temporary crowns for long. These dental practices will selectively gravitate toward a laboratory that leads with quick turn times, and may be willing to pay premium for the privilege.
Costs associated with crown preparation and seating include sterilization, cord, impression, cement, burs, barriers, anesthetics, and staff time. While the “standard” laboratory fee for a restoration is generally cited as one-tenth what’s charged to the patient, in reality it depends on competition, demographics, perceived quality, and other factors. Savvy dentists know this and realize they must make every dollar count when it comes to the bottom line for a treatment plan.
In addition the 3 to 6 hours of chairtime dedicated to these procedures, dental practices must bring in adequate revenue to cover labor costs and overhead expenses like rent, utilities, IT, equipment, insurance, and student loans. Enough profit needs to remain for the dentist to maintain the lifestyle expected from a successful professional who people refer to as “doctor.” Dentists who see cash patients have no problem keeping sufficient profit margins and are less likely to see cost as a priority in choosing their dental laboratory. However, dental insurance companies often reimburse at a rate much lower than the dentist's regular fee. Insurance companies also lump all full-ceramic crowns into a single ADA code, so the dentist can not charge more for higher-quality material.
For laboratories that specialize in providing restorations at lower prices than their competitors, lead generation marketing can be extremely effective. Cold calls highlighting low prices can catch the attention of dentists looking to reduce their bottom lines. In addition, cold calls are answered by front office staff who are often tasked with managing cost and reimbursement. To further leverage the ability to offer low restoration fees, dental laboratories can offer discounts for the first few cases from new dentists, offer clients increased savings at higher case volumes, and reduce or eliminate shipping costs whenever possible.
Dentists stake their reputation on the quality of work produced by their dental laboratories. Some dentists look for good quality work at lower prices, while some demand the highest quality that money can buy. Signs of a laboratory's quality include the fit, anatomy, and shade of the restoration relative to the patient's neighboring dentition. A well-made crown will snap into place with minimal adjustment, making the seating appointment fast and smooth. This not only saves the dentist time and money, but it also makes them look good in front of their patients.
Quality applies to a laboratory's customer service culture as well. Friendly and attentive laboratory staff are willing to work with the dentist to troubleshoot issues as they arise. The laboratory should be sympathetic to the fast-paced and stressful environment of the dental office. Assigning a personal representative to each dental office to act as a liaison will help the laboratory establish trust and good communication, leading to higher-quality results and happier clients.
Dentists also look at the cleanliness of the case and packaging as well as the laboratory's adherence to oral and written instructions. Dental laboratories can signal their commitment to high quality by ensuring clean and fresh packaging materials accompany each case. If deliveries are made by the laboratory's driver, that person should take care to have a polished and professional demeanor and appearance. High-quality laboratories implement and enforce rigorous quality assurance protocols. Let dentists know their cases have passed these protocols by including a "Quality Check Passed" case stuffer with the package. Photos, case samples, and testimonials from satisfied clients should appear on the laboratory's website, social media pages, and advertisement materials to convey quality to potential clients. Sharing a checklist of the laboratory’s specific quality assurance protocols can also help build the client’s confidence.
Level of Technology
As the dental industry evolves, technology is becoming an ever more important factor for dentists selecting a laboratory. Most dentists have a set selection of materials and techniques they are comfortable using and will seek out a laboratory that matches what they are already doing in-house. For example, a dentist who is comfortable implementing treatment plans with metal will want to make sure any new laboratory they work with can properly provide metal restorations. Laboratories can ensure client retention by finding out all the materials and restoration types preferred by their doctors and developing their laboratories to offer the same level of technology.
Nonetheless, new techniques and materials can be up-sold to a treatment plan during case consultation. Laboratories must educate the dentist on how the new technology can improve that particular case outcome and coach them on preparation and impression protocols. A laboratory’s top technology and materials make great focal points for branded print and email advertisement campaigns. Highlight the benefits and use of your newest all-ceramic material, for example, to reach dentists looking to improve esthetics and durability.
Knowing your laboratory’s strengths with respect to timing, cost, quality, and level of technology will help you communicate better with your existing clients and create effective marketing to gain new dentists.
David H. Khalili is CEO of DentalLabSupport.com, Inc. in Los Angeles, California.