Many people can teach you systems and logistics to make your practice more efficient. But the most important result of those improvements should be that they allow you to focus completely on the patient you are with at that moment. In the psychological vernacular, you can be present for that person.
Why is that so critical? Because we are all keenly aware when someone’s attention is completely on us. It’s also critical because so few people are actually present with each other these days. This cartoon is a fairly accurate indictment of our ADD behavior.
And in the practice of dentistry, where anxiety, apprehension and misinformation abound, genuine caring for the patient as an individual is even more critical. I believe it is foundational, because most patients, in order to suspend all of their irrational beliefs and behaviors regarding their oral health, have to trust you. Being present creates that trust.
So what does “being present” really mean? And how exactly do you get there? In essence, being truly present means that when you are with a patient, whether you are the dentist, hygienist, assistant, treatment coordinator or receptionist, your attention is 100% on them. You’re not thinking about the next patient. Or the next piece of equipment you’d like to buy. Or that sandwich in the refrigerator calling your name. You’re listening, talking to, and focusing on that person.
And the first step to achieving this is deciding to do it. Next, you need to eliminate distractions. This is a practice in and of itself, almost like a meditation, where you do not let other thoughts interfere. And you can only do this when you have effective systems in your office, where the flow is controlled and sequenced properly, and people know their roles and complete them. It is a team effort that creates the possibility for each of you to be fully present.
It means stripping away your internal noise, or at least ignoring it, and eliminating your external noise. Interruptions are not tolerated, (not even Facebook messages!) Is it easy? No. What life skill is? But as I said, the result is a foundation for a deep, long term relationship of trust with your patients.
Otherwise, what happens is we flit from operatory to operatory, from exam to case presentation, phone call to email, always thinking about what we have to be doing next. This is how most of us live our entire lives, not being in the moment, but thinking about the past or the future.
We live in a world of massive distraction, making it harder and harder to focus all the time. And, in my mind, all the more necessary. And when you are present, it has become so increasingly rare that people respond to it, sensing instantly that your attention is not divided. And it’s powerful.
One of the things I like most about our training for 1-800-DENTIST call center operators is that for each call, they learn to put all their focus on that caller, forgetting about what else is going on in their lives at that moment. They forget about the annoying call they may have just finished, and don’t think about the traffic on the ride home. They are truly present for that person as an individual, with individual needs and concerns. We train this because we have learned it makes a huge difference when someone is trying to choose a dentist and has no idea how to make that decision.
Sound like a bunch of New Age nonsense? Okay, from a purely business standpoint, being present is good marketing. In any service business, when a person feels someone’s focused attention, they are more receptive. In your case, being more receptive means patients accepting treatment now instead of putting it off for six months, or a year, or indefinitely, which doesn’t benefit them at all. You are helping them make a good health decision, sometimes in spite of themselves, and your being present is an integral part of that.
Of all the highly successful dentists I know, I can safely say that every single one of them has mastered this skill. Some came to it more naturally, but each one of them, once they saw the potency of it, made it an essential part of their practice behavior. And then built a team that behaved exactly the same way. And the systems and efficiencies they built into their practice all support this. And it has yielded the best kind of success: a thriving practice with healthy patients who appreciate the relationship they have with the dentist and the team.
They also use automation and software whenever possible to free themselves up from repetitive or unnecessary distractions. One of the main benefits of PatientActivator or applications like it is that it allows the front desk team to focus more on the patients who need their attention.
And good practice coaches can help your team prioritize and streamline your daily activities. On the right under “Fred’s Favorites” you can see who I recommend to help you accomplish this.
Of course, you’ll always need to be highly efficient in a dental practice–each professional only has 35 hours a week to deliver care–but what will make those hours most productive, providing the highest degree of care, is your ability to capitalize on those efficiency systems by being totally present with each patient.
And who knows, you may find that once you master this at work, you’ll be more present with your partner, your children, your friends, and everyone you meet.
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One of the key lessons that every salesperson learns is when to stop talking. The reason I bring this up in a dental blog is because, in case you hadn’t noticed, successful dentistry involves effective communication in order to facilitate treatment acceptance. (Put another way, selling.) Human nature is what it is, and human behavior is often quite predictable. If you’re trying to convince someone to do something that will benefit them, but they don’t understand the value, then they need to be sold on the idea. Dentistry is a prime example of this.
Hence the fine art of shutting up. Let me show you how this is applied. Think about this typical situation in a dental office: you have presented the case to the patient and explained the cost, and now you ask, “What do you think?” And then you wait. Silently. Most dentists (and a good many salespeople) can’t bear more than a few seconds of silence before jumping in with another thought. Very often this thought sounds like, “If this seems like too much, you don’t have to do it right now.” Or, “Maybe this is more than you can afford. We have other options.” Now the patient is off the hook, and also thinks that perhaps that you were overselling them. And you’ve done that patient a disservice, because most likely the treatment you recommended would be one of the best investments that patient will make in their life.
Truly great salespeople can do this and wait 20 minutes without uttering a word. Why? Because you don’t know what the person is going to say! One of the problems with having a good amount of experience is that we think we can figure out how people are going to respond ahead of time. But there is no upside in making that guess. Find out what the person is actually going to say, what their real objection might be, or if they even have one. Don’t fill in the blank yourself.
To give you an example in my own life, I was having a conversation with a meeting planner who was trying to book me as a speaker. It was an event I really wanted to present at, and I knew it would be fun and a great audience. The planner asked me what my honorarium was, and I told him my full fee, and then I almost said, “But for this event I’d be willing to do it for half that.” But at the last second I remembered the rule, and I shut up. I waited. And you know what he said? “That’s fine.” I would have shorted myself half my fee if I hadn’t clammed up.
I get that this is difficult. In fact, this is perhaps the hardest skill to develop in business and in sales. And the longer you’re waiting, the harder it is to stay silent. I know, I’ve been in that situation often. And if fact, most of the time the other person is waiting for you to speak, and hopefully give them another option. Don’t. Just shut up and find out what they really are thinking.
In fact, try it when you’re on the other end of a transaction. Let’s say you’re buying a new car. A good salesman is going to present you with a “final” offer. If you wait long enough, he’ll fold and say, “Let me talk to my manager and see if I can do better.” Unless he’s really good. Then he’s going to wait for you to speak. It should be fun to see who gives in first, wouldn’t you say?
Another big bonus to shutting up is you get to listen instead of thinking about what you’re going to say next. Once you’ve decided not to speak, you don’t have to think about your response, because you aren’t going to say anything until the other person does, and that will prompt you. It’s very powerful, because really listening is also a challenge for most people. (It’s even harder to teach salespeople to do than getting them to shut up after their “closing” question.)
I’ll repeat that key thought: It’s not about planning what you will say next. Your full attention is on the other person. Because listening closely, attentively, will give you the real insight that you need once they finally do speak. You will find out if they don’t understand the treatment, or the cost, or the importance of it, or if they just want to start. And not only will this inform your response to this patient, it will also give you feedback on where you might be weak in your case presentation, so you can be more effective with the next patient.
This is not a trick. This is effective communication. And this applies to many different communications that occur in a practice. It’s so easy to jump in with our own thoughts after a question, or to fill in the silence with more of our own words. But it’s not effective.
When you meet a new patient, and you sit them down and ask, “How do you feel about your smile?”, wait and see what they say. They could be perfectly happy with their mangled grille, or they could be deeply embarrassed about a minuscule diastema. Don’t offer your opinion until you hear theirs. Then tailor your response accordingly.
What you say after they finally speak is critical, and you want to be prepared for that as well. If they say, “That seems like a lot of money,” then your response would then be, “So if cost were not a factor, then you would start this treatment today?” Then shut up. If they say yes, then you say, “Let me explain what financial options we have.” If they say no, then you know that you haven’t gotten to the real objection yet. Most likely they don’t appreciate the value or the importance or the urgency of the treatment. But you won’t know unless you let them speak first.
Practice the fine art of shutting up, and I promise it will yield surprising dividends. I hear this could even work in your marriage. I may try that someday!
[For a further discussion on the idea of sales in dentistry, read this blog post: “Is It Unprofessional to Sell Dentistry?”
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Most people reduce Darwinism to “survival of the fittest,” but his theory actually states that the species that survive are the ones who most effectively adapt.
And let’s face it–humans are not the fittest species. We couldn’t outrun a housecat, we swim slower than a goldfish, we need clothing to keep from freezing to death. Half of us need glasses to even see. And yet we dominate the planet, because we are highly adaptive.
But like most species, we only adapt when we need to. We resist it, we ignore it, and sometimes we legislate against it, but change comes anyway. (Witness the battle going on over Uber in various states.)
Well, in dentistry today, we need to evolve.
Because my company deals with dental consumers all over the country, dentists ask me what I think the future of dentistry will be. The answer may vary somewhat depending on where they are, but one of the things I always tell them is that I believe that within a generation the solo practice will not be a sustainable business model. There are forces at work that never existed before, not just trends but tectonic shifts.
These are the main ones:
- Corporate dentistry is growing at 15% annually
- Convenient hours are the norm for most service businesses
- Consumers use and trust online reviews in ever-increasing numbers (translation: word of mouth has gone digital)
- Dental insurance companies are systematically decreasing reimbursements
- Dental school tuition has skyrocketed
- Discretionary income has shrunk for every segment of American society except the top 10%
Need I go on?
I meet dentists every week who are hoping to coast to the end of their practice run without upgrading their facility, refreshing their patient base, or offering any sort of convenient hours, and hope to get a nice payday when they sell their practice. Would you put your house on the market without painting it, doing some landscaping, and getting rid of that scary couch in the living room? Yet this is what dentists are doing all across the country, and what will happen is someone won’t buy the practice, they’ll just open across the street with a new facility, convenient hours, same day dentistry, and they’ll vacuum half the patients out of that practice in a year or two.
Just because you don’t see big changes coming doesn’t mean they’re not looming on the horizon. For the first time in the 30 years I’ve been working in dentistry, I’ve witnessed dentists losing their entire practice, having virtually nothing to sell at the end. Others have declined 30% in a single year (2008) and then 10% every year thereafter. Many others are still surviving, and some are thriving. But times have really changed.
What can/should you do?
1. Consider bringing in an associate or two. And maybe a specialist or two. You have a million-dollar surgical facility that you’re using 35 hours a week, if that. Get someone else in there.
2. Take a close look at your patient base. Does it merit taking some insurance plans? I know that the goal for many years was to be a completely fee-for-service practice, but I’m not seeing that as viable for most practices in the years ahead. Dr. Mike Barr, in this brilliant blog post, argues against that with a very good strategy, but it involves a determined effort to evolve and change.
3. Tech up. I’m mystified that when a dentist doesn’t get that same day dentistry like CEREC is not a consumer benefit of major proportions. What patient wants two visits instead of one? They don’t want the first one!
4. Offer more convenient hours. Test them to see what your patient base needs. Early mornings, evenings, Saturdays, see what fills up fastest in the schedule.
4. Have a comprehensive digital strategy. This starts with a rock solid, dynamic website, but doesn’t end there. You need a strategy for online reviews* and social media.
5. Network. You and your team need to interact with your community. You can’t just take another clinical course and hope patients will get all excited about your new skill level and start lining up outside.
6. Get more efficient. Use digital communications like PatientActivator. Get a practice coach. Every successful athlete has at least one coach, simply because they don’t know what they’re doing wrong and how they can get better. A good consultant can get you and your team there faster.
Dentistry can be a fantastic profession for many years, perhaps many generations to come, but it’s evolve or die, just like everything else on the planet.
*I’m doing a webinar on online reviews this week entitled “Yelp! The Dentist Survival Guide”. It happens on Thursday at 11am PST. It’s free, and you can register by clicking here.
There is also an excellent DentalTown article with opposing viewpoints on this very topic: “The End of the Solo Era?”
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I occasionally meet dentists who think their patients don’t want to get emails. Some even say that email is dead–nobody uses it anymore. It reminds me of the old Yogi Berra line about a particular restaurant, “No wonder nobody comes here–it’s too crowded!”
The fact is, people spend more time using email than every other online activity except social media, averaging 39 minutes a day. Also, 91% of consumers check email at least daily, and more than 50% check it on a smartphone (ExactTarget). Snail mail may be dead, yellow pages may be dead, but email is far from it.
I often tell practices that the best time-saving tool ever created in dentistry is automated digital communications. Applications like PatientActivator, RevenueWell and others all save time while increasing production and marketing capability. My friend Gary Takacs asserts that it saves his clients more than 20% of their time, time that allows them to talk to the patients that need a phone call. And office managers I meet confirm that over and over again.
Dentists considering PatientActivator will often ask, “How many email addresses should I have before it’s worthwhile?”
The answer is, “As few as zero.”
Why? Because the fewer you have, the more you need to start collecting this very valuable bit of information. Pair this with the fact that I will also meet dentists who say, “I’m waiting until my team has gathered enough email addresses to justify using your application.” Then I’ll meet them six months later and they have exactly the same number of email addresses, simply because they have no effective way of gathering them.
What’s the best way to get something done in business? Make it systematic, and make it easy. The solution here is a Daily Confirmation Sheet. PatientActivator–and most of the other applications–have one that you can print out. It lists every patient coming in that day, and shows whatever information may be missing or need to be updated. Use this, and before you know it you’ll have a nice fat email list, as well as everyone’s cell number.
And every person you can send an email or text to is one less person you have to call. How can that NOT save time?
“But patients don’t want to give us their email.”
It all depends on how you ask. I ran into an office manager who told me she had the email for 95% of their patients. “Wow,” I said. “That’s amazing. How did you do it?” She said, “We treat it just like their phone number and their home address. If they ask why we need it, we say email and text are the main ways we communicate with patients. If you don’t want us to email you, we won’t, but we would still like it in case of an unusual occurrence where we have to contact our patients, like a power failure or natural disaster.”
In other words, she didn’t make it optional. Make it a benefit instead: “This way we don’t have to disturb you with a phone call, and you can put it right in your calendar if you haven’t already.”
Was she an anomaly? I decided to check on our PatientActivator clients. The one with the most also has 95% of their patient emails. Sure, you say, maybe in Silicon Valley. Nope, this is Austin, Texas. Another one in Plano has 93%. A third in Fort Mill, South Carolina has 87%. So it’s possible. Everywhere.
On average, our clients have around 25%. But if you have that many emails, that’s 25% less calls you have to make. Add that to the cell numbers you have, and every one is saving a call–it’s that simple. Even if you had 10% email and 10% cell numbers it would be a huge timesaver.
And also keep in mind that you can turn email messages off or on individually for each patient, so you can tailor it to what each patient prefers. Because the truth of the matter is that many people no longer want a phone call, particularly at work. They don’t find it personal, they find it annoying. They are used to digital communication in every aspect of their lives.
And let’s not forget the other two big bonuses to email in your practice. First, it’s a great way to do promotions to your patients–whitening specials, Invisalign discounts, or free implant exams, for example–and it also gives them something they can easily share with a friend. 74% of consumers prefer email promotions over any other source, and they prefer them 5 to 1 over direct mail (Merkle). Why? Because they can view them whenever they want, delete them easily, or store them for later.
The other big bonus is you can use email to request reviews on Yelp and Google from your patients, and with one click they can go to your business on those sites. (Going back to my previous point about making it systematic and making it easy. For more detail on that, read this previous blog.) And at this point, because Google and Yelp will discard reviews that come from the same place (the i.p. address, as it’s referred to), then this is practically the only effective method of requesting reviews, short of personally asking your patients to do it.
Long live email, I say. As a matter of fact, subscribe to this blog and I’ll email my post to you the moment it’s published!
Be sure to check out my next webinar, “Yelp! The Dentist Survival Guide.” It’s free, and happens on June 19 at 11am PST.
What exactly is demand-based pricing? It is essentially variations in cost relative to the desirability of a specific day, or time
of day. For example, rental car companies charge more on weekends. Some toll roads now charge more during rush hours. Airlines charge more around holidays. Hotels do too, and sometimes you have to make a non-refundable prepayment.
This pricing principle could easily be applied to dental practices. In a previous blog, I discussed how important it has become to have convenient hours–evenings, early mornings, and weekends–as dentistry becomes more competitive. Sometimes I will meet dentists who say, “I’ve tried Saturday hours, but I get a lot of no-shows, even with longtime patients.”
My suggestion is to tell patients, “If you want to book Saturday, that is in high demand, so we require prepayment of the appointment.” People tend to show up much more if they have pre-paid, especially if they are going to lose the money. (You can always waive that if it’s a good patient or a valid reason.) And if they don’t want to pay it, then they don’t take the valuable time slot and instead schedule themselves into your regular workday.
And, if you’re finding that the evenings and early mornings are booking out months in advance, maybe you increase the fee for a prophy at that time of day. Basic economics is to see what pricing the traffic will bear.
Many dentists using CEREC charge more for those restorations, even though it takes them less time overall. Why? Because it’s more convenient to the patient.
Will this type of pricing turn some people off? Maybe. But it’s not the first place they’ve experienced it. Convenience costs more almost everywhere. But you only have 35 hours a week to deliver dentistry, so why not make the most of those hours, and make sure someone is in a chair as often as possible?
Also, sometimes team members resist working those hours, but if you have demand-based pricing, they can too. Pay them extra per hour for those time slots.
Other pricing variations:
- Prepay for two prophys and get a reduced price for both (this should also tighten your recall, as they have to use them within the year)
- Prepay for two prophys a year, get a third one at no charge (more visits mean you do more dentistry)
- Lower pricing for weak slots in your schedule that tend to sit empty
- After-hours emergency surcharge, paid by credit card over the phone or with cash before you start treatment
Will these work in every practice everywhere in the country? Of course not. But some of these ideas may be just right for you.
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What is the biggest blunder in practice marketing? Is it not answering the phone properly? Or not tracking your advertising results? Perhaps not having a good, dynamic website? Nope. Those are all up there, but the biggest marketing mistake that business owners make is thinking that everyone thinks and acts like you do.
Why is that so bad? Because it influences all your other marketing and advertising decisions, and it’s not based on statistical data. I hear these opinions all the time from dentists and, to a lesser degree, office managers. Things like, “I believe in calling all our patients rather than texting them. It’s more personal,” or “People are tired of surveys.”
What the person saying this means is that he thinks phone calls are more personal than texting, or she is tired of surveys, and therefore everyone is. The reality is that 30% of people who use texting prefer it to a phone call. So they don’t find a phone call personal, they find it annoying. And when it comes to surveys and reviews, if you get 1 out of 20 people to respond, that is an excellent result and will boost your SEO considerably. So what if some people have “survey fatigue”?
In the early years of 1-800-DENTIST I would have dentists telling me all the time what TV shows I should be advertising on. This was based on the shows that they liked to watch. Instead, I used the statistical data that told me which shows got the most response and the best quality of patient. Call me crazy. I never watched an entire episode of Oprah, but she got several million dollars from us over the years. Why? because I didn’t use my opinion as the paradigm.
I don’t mean to sound all high and mighty about this. It’s a reflex response. I recently spoke to the dental students at Harvard, and one of the students remarked, “I’m not attracted to all that personal stuff on Facebook business pages. It seems frivolous and irrelevant.” She may be right about that with regard to many other businesses, but the fact is many people are looking for exactly that on a dental practice Facebook page, because the experience of being a patient is what influences them to go, stay and accept treatment, not clinical skills. They see a video of your best crown prep and they’re gone.
I have a name for this: the ETLID Fallacy. (Everyone Thinks Like I Do). Hey, it’s not catchy, but it fits.
Some other classic ETLID assumptions :
“Facebook is kid stuff.” The fact is that the largest group of Facebook users is 25-34 and the fastest growing group of Facebook users is the over-60 population.
“People don’t care about design when it comes to spending.” Really? Look at the pricing difference between Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks, or Apple versus Dell, and tell me if that opinion passes the reality check. We spend based on packaging, and that goes for your dental office just as much as a bottle of Grey Goose.
“My patients don’t use email.” Wrong. 97% of Americans have email, and over 90% check it every day.
“No one is going to pick a dentist on Facebook.” Except that 25% of Facebook users said they would be willing to find a dentist that way.
“My patients love me.” Some do, for sure. But when we have clients using our ReActivation Pro product, where we use live operators to call dormant patients, how is it that 32% of those patients have found another dentist? That doesn’t count the 14% who have moved away.
“Website design doesn’t matter as much as content.” Just the opposite. Research has shown that consumers are making judgments about your clinical skills based on the appearance of your website. I know that those two things are unrelated. And in this example is another important point: many times those ETLID opinions are based on logic or reasonable assumptions. The truth is that consumers don’t always act rationally or logically especially when it comes to dentistry.
“People are flakes when it comes to keeping their dental appointments.” Okay, this one is true.
It isn’t just small business owners that make this mistake. I know executives as very large organizations making the same sort of “gut” decisions and putting millions of dollars behind it. With the same sad results.
Statistics tell you what most people do. I’ve been doing advertising long enough to stop trying to figure out why. I just go with the data. I accept that people act irrationally, and that most people don’t think the way I do about most things. And the numbers tell me that website design matters, social media is important, digital communication is the new norm, reviews influence consumers, and everything a patient experiences in the practice influences their acceptance of treatment.
Valuable data is easier to access than ever. Use it to balance your opinion. Hey, you may even be right sometimes!
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Video is more important than ever in marketing your dental practice. And video testimonials from your patients have two extremely valuable aspects: their credibility and their versatility. They are credible because they are real, spoken endorsements of your practice experience. They are versatile because you can use them in so many places: your website, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, your Yelp and your Google+ page, and in email marketing to new and existing patients. That’s a lot of exposure.
Videos are also quite easy to do. But there are several mistakes that people make when doing patient testimonials. Wait, you say, they’re not easy–they take time, they cost money, and people don’t want to do them. Which leads me to…
Mistake #1. Over-producing your videos
Patient testimonials should be done with a smartphone. You don’t need extensive lighting or an expensive camera. Getting fancy actually diminishes the credibility of the video. Keep it simple and un-intrusive, and people will be much more willing to do them for you. (This is in contrast to office tour or the dentist videos, which I discuss in this post, which should have higher quality.)
Mistake #2. Doing multiple “takes”
Part of keeping it simple is to do it once. Don’t make it complicated or involved. Just ask the patient if they would be willing to do a simple video testimonial. If they are reluctant, just say, “If you don’t like it, we certainly won’t use it. But just say in your own words what it’s like to be a patient here.”
You’ll be amazed at what people will say when they speak from the heart. Every time I’ve seen this done, the person does their most genuine testimonial on the first try. After that, they tend to overthink it. Of course, if they want to do it over, let them.
Mistake #3. Making the video too long
Most people can say what they think in 30-45 seconds, which is perfect. If it gets longer than a minute, people stop watching.
Mistake #4. Editing the video
Along the lines of Mistake #3, trying to do longer takes and cutting them down drastically diminishes the credibility of the testimonial. People will assume you’re cutting out the bad parts. A natural flow in a single take is the best. You can put titles on the front and back, using something like iMovie, with the patient’s name and your practice name and contact information, but that’s it. No cuts.
Mistake #5. Bad sound
This is the only part of the “production value”, as we say in Hollywood, where you do want to improve the quality. Either use a very quiet room, with little to no background noise, or use a simple boom microphone that attaches to your smartphone.
Mistake #6. Shaky cam
Hold still. You’ll make people sick with unstable camera movements. Which can be solved if you use to hands, which you need to do if you are avoiding the next mistake.
Frame your video horizontally. That’s the aspect ratio used on YouTube, so conform to it. Holding your phone horizontally with two hands will also keep the image stable.
Mistake #8. Not tagging the video
When you post the video on YouTube, be sure to add the proper notations, or “tags”, so that Google knows what the video is about. The tags should include “dentistry”, “dental patient”, your practice name, and anything specific regarding treatment that the patient may mention (like braces or veneers).
Mistake #9. Not getting a patient release
Don’t use the video if the patient won’t sign a release. This is true of all photos and video that you do with patients. And the language should include “for use in all media, including social media, in perpetuity.” Use LegalZoom or an attorney to make sure you are conforming to the rules in your state.
You don’t need to shoot a lot of these videos. Doing one every two weeks gives you 25, which is plenty in a year. If you have a dynamic website, like we make with WebDirector, you can post them easily, along with posting them on social media. And you know what else this process does? It reminds patients to talk about your practice. Even better, the dentist and the team gets to hear how much patients appreciate them. It’s a nice thing to watch in a morning huddle to get fired up about your day.
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More new patients are calling asking about fees than ever before. This is in part because of the recession, and the number of people who have moved down on the socio-economic scale. But it’s also because people can now find the price of almost anything using their cell phone.
The other reason is they don’t know what else to ask when they call a dental practice, so they ask about cost. The average person does not know how to evaluate a dental practice with regard to clinical skills, so they at least want to find out what they’re going to be paying.
So how do you answer? Most consultants will say that you shouldn’t ever quote fees over the phone. Most front desk team members have either never heard this rule or don’t follow it. Some even offer fees without being asked.
I try to discourage receptionists from getting into money over the phone. But it really depends on what type of office you operate. I will break them down into three types:
- The high-end, high-tech practice (usually all fee-for-service)
- The PPO practice with mid-range fees
- The HMO/State aid/credit dentist practice
How to respond when you are a high-end practice:
“We don’t normally quote fees over the phone. Our dentist likes to do an evaluation of the patient and then recommend the best treatment. We don’t accept insurance because we want to offer the highest standard of care possible, and most dental coverage is insufficient for that level of treatment. We do have a wonderful office, and patients love us, and we are happy to do an evaluation at no charge to you, so you can see the dentist and the practice and decide for yourself. And we also have several financing options. Would you like to come in tomorrow?” [Your state may have different rules regarding free evaluations.]
How to respond as a PPO practice:
“Our fees are very reasonable for our area, and we do accept insurance plans and have financing options. But we really think you’d like our office, so we recommend coming in to get a free evaluation. We won’t charge you for anything without your approval, so you’ll always understand the cost ahead of time, because we know that’s important. Can you come in this afternoon?”
If they keep pressing for a dollar amount, saying things like, “I just need to know how much a crown is at your office,” then respond with this:
“It sounds like you might be looking for the least expensive dentist. That isn’t us. But we recommend coming in to see they type of practice we are and the level of care that we offer, so when you do find the lowest cost dentist you have something to compare it to. And of course we won’t charge you for the evaluation.”
If they insist on the actual dollar amount, I would give them a range, explaining that it’s impossible to do an accurate diagnosis over the phone.
How to respond when you are an HMO/State Aid practice:
“Our fees are the lowest in the area, and we accept HMO plans [or state aid], and have excellent financing options for whatever is not covered by this insurance. We don’t offer free dentistry, however, so there has to be some financial arrangement made before treatment begins. Can you come in this afternoon?”
Notice that I addressed the issue of “free dental work” right up front. It’s critical to be clear about that, as very often their expectation is that you are like the emergency room and the county or the state pays for everything. (Last year ER visits for dentistry in the US cost over $1 billion…your tax dollars at work! And it usually costs ten times more at the ER than it would in your office, and seldom is treatment completed.)
I would then tell them the cost of treatment, if they are asking about something specific like an extraction. Your business model is to be the least expensive. They’re price shopping, so if they want to pay even less than you charge, you probably don’t want them as a patient.
THE THINKING BEHIND THIS
The cost of dentistry is definitely a factor for three-quarters of Americans, so don’t be dismissive of this concern. But don’t just throw a number back at them. Very often they are really trying to find out if they will be treated fairly, and don’t know what else to ask. When you say, “our fees are reasonable for the area,” this gives them a frame of reference.
You have two goals in every call:
- shift their focus off the cost of an individual procedure
- get them in the practice.
(With the low-cost practice, your third goal is to be extremely clear that your treatments are not free.)
This is important to remember: no matter what you do or say, YOU WILL NOT GET EVERYONE IN! But you improve your chances of starting the relationship right by making it about the care you offer, not the price you charge.
Most of this language I’ve learned from the masters of communication, Linda Miles and Bernie Stoltz. But getting good at effective communication is critical to any practice. So get coaching where you need it. It will profoundly effect your results.
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