You’re Just Like Tom Cruise

Living in Los Angeles, I meet more than my share of actors.  Not just the more famous ones, but the ones trying to make it.  And there are many of them at the “undiscovered” tom-cruise-in-mission-impossible-4-movie-hdstage of their careers who are pure artists.  By that I mean they love acting. They are passionate about the process of creating a character and performing.  And some of them are extremely talented. They consider themselves as pure artists, but they are starving, because they have not adjusted to the idea that successful actors know that they are not just artists, but are working in an industry trying to make a profit, not just art.

Tom Cruise, on the other hand, knows that he is in a business. He loves acting, and works as hard or harder than almost anyone in the industry at his performances. He has been the lead in 29 films, has won three Golden Globes and been nominated for three Oscars. But, he is also ranked #3 in all-time box office revenue ($6.5 billion so far), because he understands the business of acting, perhaps better than almost anyone.

So what does that have to do with dentistry?  In my experience, the best dentists clinically are artist/engineer personalities.  They want to do great dentistry, and train themselves constantly to get better.  But many of them are in practices that are struggling financially.  Despite being extraordinary “artists”, their careers are not paying off.  Just like the “pure” actors, they don’t like the idea of promoting themselves, or focusing on the business aspects of their practice, and don’t feel the need to understand their “audience.”

Tom Cruise has a PR team, an acting coach, a manager, an agent, a financial advisor and business partners in his production company.  Why?  Because to succeed in acting you need all of those things, as well as talent.

The successful dentists I know all have their team as well. They use a practice consultant to coach them, work with a financial advisor, use outside marketing resources, and have a deeply-engaged relationship with their distributor representative.  And they make sure that their office manager is constantly updating her skills (through organizations like AADOM).

But all that is expensive, you might say.  In response, I say, you know what’s expensive? Houses. Cars. Kids’ educations. Travel. Retirement. That’s why you need to be successful as a dentist, not just clinically excellent.  That takes investment.  Tom Cruise pays his manager 10% of his income because he earns it!  His acting coach isn’t expensive–he’s an investment in growth.  His financial advisor doesn’t cost him money–he makes him money.  And all of these people do these things so that Tom can focus on his performance.

But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand the business aspects of his career.  You can bet he’s paying close attention to it. (Just as you should.)  And his reputation is also vulnerable, just like a dentist’s is.  You may have some troubling Yelp reviews, but he’s had some issues with his involvement in Scientology.  But he doesn’t ignore them.  And you can’t afford to either. He fixes it with good reviews for a hit movie (The Edge of Tomorrow).  Just as you should have a systematic approach to generating great reviews. (This whitepaper gives you a step-by-step approach for this.)

Successful dentists–dentists who are thriving and enjoying their work–focus on the clinical and the business side of their practices.  Clients of mine use 1-800-DENTIST because they know their ROI is 4-1 on their marketing investment. They have us build their websites because they know they couldn’t possibly keep up with SEO on their own. Fortune Management clients keep using their coaches even as they get more successful, because they know they can always get better (or slip back into old, unproductive habits.)  Patterson clients know that their rep isn’t just keeping their cabinets full of sundries, but are also steering them in the right direction on new technology, office design and clinical training.

Those are just examples of the many good resources that are available to you.  I list my favorites on this blog on the right-hand side, from Gary Takacs to Spear Education to the Madow brothers, and in the resources section of this blog as well.

Long-term success in dentistry is not an impossible mission, but a noble one.  You’re helping people, and the only way you can keep doing it in the next 20 years is by running your business extremely well.  And that takes a team.

Are You Drowning in Functionality?

My smartphone makes me feel like an idiot.  It does too much.  For example, it used to frantic web woman phonetake me five steps to play my iTunes, until someone showed me that I just had to swipe up and tap “play”. Or I could just tell Siri to “open music”, if I could just remember to use it.

Our lives are packed with software, applications and technology that have so much functionality that we barely use 10% of them.  And it’s frustrating when we discover that we’ve been doing something the hard way, or wishing we had a solution, when we often had it right at our fingertips.

Why just 10%?  Partly because it’s overwhelming, but also because we don’t have a systematic way of learning and incorporating those functions that we want into our already busy lives.

The average person has more than 30 apps on their phone, and only uses five of them regularly. (Messaging, email, Facebook, CandyCrush, and the camera, if you must know–phone calls don’t even make the top five!)  They forget that they even have the other apps, and sometimes try to download ones they already have.

How does this relate to your practice?

Digital communication applications like PatientActivator, RevenueWell and DemandForce are perhaps the biggest practice time saver o appear in the past 20 years.  Practice coach Gary Takacs, who also owns a dental practice in Phoenix, says their app saves them 30% of the time on the phone, allowing them to focus on the people who do need to have a live conversation.  And that is just using the part of the software that does appointment reminders and confirmations by text and email.

The real juicy stuff, the functions that increase production, are grossly under-utilized by most of our clients precisely because they do so much.  Adapting new systems in a practice is always a challenge.

My solution is simple: make it a process where you incorporate one new function at a time into the practice behavior.  So, if you have or are just getting PatientActivator or another app, this is how I would proceed.

Stages:

The Setup. Here is where you incorporate the basic functions of appointment reminders and confirmations, as well as birthday greetings and other niceties.  You also want to make sure that all your social media is active and linked to the app.  The app is going to start surveying patients automatically.  You will put those responses to good use later.

Updating your Patient Records. Now you want to make sure that you have email addresses and cell numbers for all your patients. This is an ongoing process of updating that information with each patient visit.  Make this systematic.

Requesting Patient Reviews.  This is for Google and Yelp.  The most effective way to get reviews is to email your patients and ask them.  Within that email there needs to be a link that they can click on that takes them directly to your practice profile.  Don’t do this with all your patients at once! You want to be generating a steady stream of reviews.  So once a month, do an email blast to two groups of maybe 50-100 patents.  The first group is patients with a gmail address (those are the only people who can do Google reviews) and the second group you send a request for a Yelp review. If you average one review a week you’re doing great, so don’t expect 100% response rate or anything close to that.  For more on this read this blog post.

Choose Your Newsletter Topics. There are dozens of pre-written articles that allow you to share all the services your practice offers. You want these going out every month, or every two months.  This adheres to the most basic principle of marketing: tell people over and over what you do, so that you catch them at the moment when they care. This can be also done as an earlier step, because it really only has to be done once every six months or a year, but often the dentist wants to write an article or two herself, and this can slow things down.

Posting Reviews on Your Website.  These are the reviews that are generated automatically by the surveys being sent out.  You want to have them load automatically to a review page on your website.  Consumers will want to read them, and it’s huge for SEO. Can’t do that? Then you need a dynamic website like we build with WebDirector.  For more on this, read this blog.

Posting Reviews on Social Media. This is a smaller but very valuable step.  As the survey responses come in, you have the option to post them to Facebook and other social media with essentially a single click.  This should become part of your social media person’s role.  Which means that you need someone in the practice who is responsible for social media.

PA patientCalls_iphone_5Utilizing the Smartphone App. PatientActivator and one or two other services have a phone app as part of the service, which allows you to see your practice schedule. Each team member should download the app. This will serve two purposes.  One, if you have someone who is taking after-hour calls for emergencies, they can see the schedule and tell the person when to come in.  But of equal or greater value is that the dentists can now easily do their evening check-in calls, because the app shows the names and phone numbers of the patients you’ve seen that day.

Doing Marketing Campaigns. Because you have increased your email base, you can do occasional marketing emails such as discounts or contests, or simply letting them know what you do.  You can do a whole variety of these, from free implant exams to Invisalign discounts, to CEREC awareness, and new patient contests. You can also alert patients at the end of the year to use up their insurance eligibility before they lose it. We have templates for all of these.

Of course, your patients can individually opt in or out of newsletters, texts, emails, surveys and marketing campaigns, so you’ll be adjusting this on a regular basis. But doing these steps will tighten your recall and increase your patient awareness, along with giving you new patient flow.  It has become an essential and integral part of your practice marketing.

Do these steps at whatever pace gets them fully integrated into your practice behavior.  You can go too fast, but the real risk is not doing them at all, and missing out on all the production and efficiency that you can achieve. If you’re a client of ours, we offer unlimited customer service, so we’ll talk you through each step when your ready.

Another big plus to fully utilizing these tools is it gives your patients the impression of a modern high-tech practice, which is also a good thing.

The worst scenario is to stop at the basic functionality.  Just like learning to use Siri has kept me from trying to read a text in the car, and Google Maps is teaching me new shortcuts in my hometown, taking greater advantage of all the functionality that you have around you will make you more productive, successful, and smiling a lot more!

By the way, I think this staged approach is useful no matter what technology you’re deciding to adapt.  You may not need all the tools at your disposal, but I’ll bet there are some great functions with a lot of your tech that you don’t even know about or take advantage of.

The Myth of the “Google First Page Guarantee”

Most likely, if your website is more than two or three years old, it needs a serious refresh, if not a total redo. And there are a lot of website companies out First Page Now Poster 1there willing to build you a site and “guarantee” to get you on the first page in a Google search.

There are a number of reasons why that is not possible, and the promise is a false one.  But the primary reason is this: Google gives different results to different people based on their search history.  In other words, you could be sitting there on your laptop, and do a search for “comedy clubs in Baltimore”, and your spouse could be sitting next to you using her iPad, and do the exact same search, and you would get two different results.

That’s because Google has built a profile on you based on your previous searches, and tries to decide what your preferences might be.  Their goal is to give the best possible result for you,  and they have a number of tricks to figure that out. This is not unlike what Amazon does, offering you recommendations based on what you previously bought and viewed.

The fact is that Google gives search results based on anywhere from 400-800 bits of information, much of it variable, particularly location, but most of them Google does not tell us, as they don’t want companies “gaming” the search and stealing the clicks.  Also, different devices and browsers affect results.  For example, if you use Google Chrome, it’s looking at your Google+ page to see what you post, share and comment on relative to that search.  All in milliseconds, of course.

So what does that website designer mean when they make this “promise”? They mean that they can get you to appear on the first page of Google on one computer, one time, and they are going to take a screen shot to show you that it happened, so they can bill you for the website and keep your money.

Why do they promise this?   Because that’s what dentists tell them they want.  Of course. Who doesn’t want to be on the first page?  But when half the dentists in your area have a website, you’re not all going to get on the first page, unless the screen is the size of a movie theater screen. And even if you do appear today on the first page, it won’t mean you’ll be there tomorrow. Or an hour from now.

So what’s a dentist to do?  The operative principle is to have truly relevant, ever-changing  content on a website that is visually appealing and easy to navigate. It used to be that you just needed relevant content. (Of course what I’m talking about here is appearing organically, or naturally, in a search, not bidding on AdWords to show up there.  But even when you bid on AdWords, your site needs to be relevant to the search criteria to appear.)

What is going to happen is that, as people get more and more sophisticated in their searching, they are going to put in more detail in the search box, otherwise they will get too many results, and none of those will be precisely what they’re looking for.  So, for example, instead of searching for “dentist Spokane” they will search “dentist 99026 Saturday hours reviews CEREC”, and get a much more refined SERP. (SERP stands for “search engine results page”, which is an acronym you will start to see more and more.)

This will mean that the more relevant, precise content you have in your website, the more Google will be able to offer you as a first page result when people get this specific.  Google is also advancing to the point where you can ask detailed questions, rather than just putting in keywords, and get relevant results.

But remember where I mentioned that Google wants “ever-changing content”?  This is where your website most likely needs to change.  You need to be able to have reviews appearing automatically, and easily change various texts, images and videos on your website. This has become essential.

And be aware that it has been well-documented that people are making judgments about the quality of your dentistry based on the quality of your website. It doesn’t matter that these two things are factually unrelated–this is what they do with most businesses, and it often makes sense to do so. This is why your website needs to look fresh and modern, and be easily navigated.

I hope this gives you some insight into the escalating importance of having a high-quality website, while also making you suspect of anyone promising you magical results.  Good luck!

P.S. I’m doing a free webinar on September 10 where I go into deep detail on everything you need to be doing to satisfy Google on your website.  It’s free, and if you want to register click here.  Also, it will be recorded, so if you can’t make it at that time, register anyway and we will send you a link to the recording.

 

 

Darwin Comes to Dentistry; Are You Evolving?

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.)change-resistant cartoon

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?”

Feel free to subscribe to my blog in the box up on the right, then you’ll never miss a post. Bookmark it and you’ll end up forgetting it’s there–this is better!

 

 

Email…Dead, or Very Much Alive?

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!”shutterstock_175676759

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 (Helplama).  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.