The Next 5 Characteristics of a Successful Dental Practice
Here are some more ideas and observations from the Irish Dental Association's 2014 practice management seminar and particularly Gary Brown's keynote address on building relationships with your patient base.
1. Successful Dental Practices Hand Out Referral Packs and Leaflets
People always listen to their friends first – regardless of what they read on Google or in the yellow pages – so handing out referral packs to your patients is a good idea. When somebody asks your patient if they know any good dentists, your practice will be in pole position in their mind.
The endorsement of a happy patient will speak volumes for your credibility; an advert can say whatever the writer wants it to, but people trust their friends' judgement.
2. Successful Dental Practices Encourage Word-of-mouth Activity Among Patients
Some subtlety should be used when doing this, but as opposed to asking your patients to tell their friends about you, try to find a more interesting way to get people talking.
This is seen commonly on social media websites to great effect. A good example of this is when a local business holds a competition, and the only way to enter is by “liking” the page. The contestants are happy because they're in for a chance of winning. The business is also happy though, because people tell their friends about it and build publicity.
This can be done with face-to-face conversation too. I have heard of giving out a badge that says “ask me about my new smile”, but alternatively, I preferred the idea where you ask your younger patients to come to an appointment dressed as a pirate, offering a prize, and let them explain to their friends why - this remains as yet untried at my practice..
Creativity tends to be key with word-of-mouth marketing.
Two good reads on the subject:
- Word of Mouth Marketing by Andy Sernovitz
- How to Create Raving Fans by Ken Blanchard
3. Successful Dental Practices Have a Distinguishing Brochure
How does your practice stand out from the others? Would your patients know if you asked them?
To be successful, your practice should have a unique selling point, and more importantly, your customers should know about it. A big advantage of a unique selling point is that you don't necessarily have to compete with price. If your patients feel that you offer a more valuable service, then they may well choose you over a cheaper practice.
When you've identified a unique selling point, make sure that your brochures in the office make them clear. If your patient brings one home, it could spark another person's interest in your services.
I had been to many lectures, not aimed at dentists, where the speaker talked about USP, and I would spend ages racking my mind, trying to figure out where I could establish a Unique Selling Point, how could I make my practice seem different to another in the mind of a patient.
It was only when I personally worked on the matter with experts that it was specifically revealed to me – the USP of a dental practice is the dentist in the practice, that’s what you have that’s unique and sell-able.
4. Successful Dental Practices Offer Free Consultations
Paying for a consultation feels unfair to some patients, they feel ripped off and upset about the money they've spent with you, even if you thought it was money well spent. This is a strange way to think, but that’s the nature of psychology sometimes – like going to the doctor’s and being advised that there was nothing seriously wrong, and instead of feeling happy about being healthy, the patient gets grumpy that the doctor hasn’t had to do any further procedures or prescribe medicines but still charges the same fee.
The converse of this is hopefully that by offering a free consultation, you can reverse the effect completely; when the time comes for them to pay for a necessary procedure, your patient will be in a “fair enough” state of mind because you didn't charge them to find out what was wrong with them in the first place, and they won't be nearly as defensive as they would have been.
This option has been controversial among the dental community.
Firstly, there are many in the dental profession who don’t enjoy seeing dentistry becoming a consumer product. People are more used to free consultations and quotes in many other areas of goods and services now, and dentistry, particularly aimed at the mainstream public, finds itself following this trend.
Another argument is that it could be done for the wrong reasons, raising concerns that there could be a conflict of interests – for example it may be in the dentist’s interests to find work to do to pay for the time taken in the consultation. So there is a huge ethical dimension to this, because no one watches the watchmen.
5. Successful Dental Practices are In the Press / Media
The publicity of being in the press will add to your credibility (and your word-of-mouth marketing) and should see some more patients through the door. As a bonus, you can build trust with your existing patients by hanging the article on a wall in the office. Another option would be to provide interviews or information for local radio stations.
There's a good chance that your governing body has a policy concerning your appearance in the media, particularly if it looks like you’re promoting yourself in such a way that you appear to have more expertise than other dentists.
In which case it’s a good idea to run everything by a dento-legal advisor beforehand.
There's one more article in this series, which I will publish soon.