Transparency in pricing is a powerful trend affecting most industries today, and I’ve seen indications that it is coming for dentistry. In the car business, for example, you can go to TrueCar and see exactly what the factory invoice on any car is, as well as what the discount range is on virtually every vehicle. Countless travel sites compare hotel room prices or plane flights. And the cheapest price for any appliance can easily be found online.
There are strong forces at work to do the same thing in dentistry. Brighter, for example is a company that has negotiated significantly lower fees with participating dentists, and allows the person searching to compare the costs of procedures by dentist. They’ve raised $28 million in venture capital to launch a business specifically designed to cut your fees in half. That applies to all your fees, not just a new patient offer. This kind of win/lose proposition makes the dental insurance companies seem appealing by comparison.
This is also a problem if you are not a “Brighter dentist”, because consumers will start to believe that you are overcharging. It will also increase the number of calls that you will get asking about the cost of every procedure. In essence, this is the commodification of dentistry, and I can’t see how that’s a good thing.
It’s probably only a matter of time before someone feels the need to create a website that lists every procedure and what it costs all around the country, based on UCRs, or some other source. While we in the industry know that many things control fees, from your location, to the degree of technology in your facility, to the insurance reimbursements, the average consumer thinks you make too much money, and this will only grow as a belief.
So what are you to do in the face of this inevitability? Here’s one thing I’ve learned in many years of business and advertising: value is a perception, not a calculation. Granted, some people are just looking for the cheapest dentistry because they have no, or very limited, money to pay for it. But for people who have anxiety about dentistry, who appreciate genuine compassionate care, who want an expert to work on their body, not the cheapest provider, then cost is a secondary consideration.
Zappos is not the cheapest way to buy shoes. It’s the most convenient way, with the best service. BMWs are not the cheapest cars, but just try to get one of their owners to switch to a Kia. Whole Foods is not the cheapest grocery store (not even close!) But they have built a perception of value that is not based on being the cheapest, and they are all doing tremendous business. So maybe the exact perception you want to build is that you are not the cheapest dentist, nor do you strive to be.
I’ve also observed that many people use higher pricing as an indicator that the service or product is better than average, just as they tend to assume that the absolute cheapest price means the lowest quality. This is what we need to get them to understand about dentistry. People tend to believe that almost all dentistry is the same, and it’s just a matter of finding the cheapest way of getting it. You can only do that with effective, clear communication. It is going to be more and more important to create an overall experience in your practice that communicates higher value. (Did I mention that everything is marketing?)
That communication is often going to begin with the first phone call. Many practices ask me how to address this situation when someone is price shopping. My recommendation is language like this:
“We’re not trying to be the cheapest dentist. Our fees are very reasonable, with many financing options, but what we offer is a practice that offers a very high standard of care in a comfortable environment, and we try to provide that as affordable as possible. And we think if you come in and see for yourself, and we are happy to do an initial exam at no charge just so you can get a sense of the level of care we provide, then at least you’ll have something to compare it to when you visit the cheapest dentist’s office.”
Will this work every time? Of course not. But you don’t need everyone. You will not get some people, those for whom price determines value, and their mouth is just an appliance in need of cheap repair. But many people want a dentist that makes them feel comfortable, that they trust, that cares about them, and gives them good health advice. I’m guessing you want to attract those people. So be that kind of dentist.
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