I think that it’s fair to say that it hasn’t been the rosiest economic picture for quite a while now. I am quite sure that we can all remember better times and we hope and pray for many more of these in the future. However! We won’t be sailing into a land of milk and honey anytime soon. So, what can you do to make sure that you and your practice still retains patients, gains new patients and makes money in the current circumstances?
- A positive mental attitude. Now I don’t mean by being one of these buffoons who stays positive by living in their own bubble and ignores the real events going on in the world outside. You can be positive whilst still being grounded and realistic – know that you have a healthy business and that with the right steps it can grow.
- Ensure that your recall system is spot on. Now this may seem so obvious, why would I even bring it up? I bring it up because most practices I speak to, still don’t do this properly. You need to:
- Whether paper or computerised, every patient has a recall date
- These are then pulled out on a weekly basis and letters/emails/texts are sent
We do all that, you cry. Well a lot do (not all!). Even so, then you need to:
- Follow up by telephone within 1 week of the letter/email/text landing and no appointment having been made
- Keep following up – at least twice more
Quite simply, there will be a massive increase in your recall success rate.
3.Your website must be:
- Easily found
- Impressive to potential patients
- Capturing data of visitors to enable follow up marketing
4.Your service is exemplary. At the end of the day, most patients don’t really remember the dentistry as long as you didn’t hit a nerve! They do remember if the team greeted them with a smile, offered them a drink, and looked like they gave a damn. If you do this well, they may tell the family and a couple of friends. If you do this badly, they will tell everyone.
5.Use email effectively. I’m guessing that the marketing budget you have to play with at the moment is not huge. I would make the point very strongly that in times of hardship, it is even more important to spend resources on marketing. When there are scarce resources, you have to make sure that you are working even harder to attract these.
Whatever your marketing budget, email is a fantastic resource for:
- Educating and informing existing patients
- One time offers or promotions
- Promoting to those who have left details through your website
And, up to a point, it’s free! Take advantage of it.
6.Work together. There are likely to be other, like-minded businesses with whom you could pool marketing resources. Speak to other ‘health’ orientated businesses such as gyms, beauty salons and the like, and work together. At the very least, you could place promotional cards at each other’s premises but you could offer discounts or even joint promotions.
7.Promotion of easier payment. A patient plan is a good way for them to know exactly how much they are going to be spending on the family’s dental care. It may not even be a great deal different to the amount they would part with on ‘pay-as-you-go’, but they will know what it will be and when. That’s a lot of budgetary peace of mind.
If you offer finance do you actually let patients know? It never ceases to amaze me that so many practices do, but that you’d be hard pressed to know that unless you asked! Don’t make judgements about what people can and can’t afford – that’s their business. Give them the option at least.
8.ASK for referrals. This seems to illustrate a strange quirk in human nature. As a user of a business, I am of course quite aware that I can refer and recommend to them and may do so, once in a blue moon, when asked a straight “Can you recommend a good dentist?” However, you will be shocked by the increase in the number of referrals that your practice receives if at the end of every appointment, you hand out 2 or 3 business card sized referral cards and say to the patient, “If you value the care that your receive here, please do let friends and family know. Here are some referral cards that you can keep in your purse/wallet.”
Whether you offer an incentive is up to you – there will be a great increase in referrals either way.
9.If there are free press opportunities available, take them. Mouth Cancer Awareness Day, Oral Health promotions in schools, you name it – if you can gain coverage in local and even national media, so much the better.
10.Measure, measure and measure again. How can you ever know if any of the initiatives above were successful if you didn’t appraise them? Email and website are easy enough – most of the good email systems will now offer free reporting on how many were opened, clicked on and the like; while Google Analytics can be fantastic for the website. Offline is a little trickier and requires a well trained team that are on the ball. Not beyond the wit of man though – the more figures that you get back, the easier it is to know what is working and how to change what isn’t.
Testing times for sure but most of the business challenges we face are not insurmountable with the right attitude and a good plan.