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.

“Am I Spending Too Much on Marketing?”

flushing money

Feels like this sometimes, doesn’t it?

When most dentists ask me this, they usually are asking about their advertising spending, not their marketing, which encompasses much more.  And my answer is that it’s more likely that they’re probably not spending enough, or they’re spending it in the wrong places.

Tracking your results is essential to being able to answer this question.  You need to know the source of your patients, and this can be done primarily by making sure that the source–either promotion or existing patient–that a patient came from is entered in your PMS, so that you can run a production report on your advertising results.  And, more and more, you can track results back a few steps from there.

For example, with direct mail you can use a unique phone number that forwards to your main line, so that you can track exactly how many calls you received, not just how many patients you acquired.  And with Google, Yelp! and other digital advertising you can see a lot of data, particularly how many people clicked on your ad, so you can compare that to the new patient count.

But let’s get back to the main question.  There are only two reasons why you might be spending too much overall on advertising and promotion:

1. Your schedule is full for the next three to six weeks.  If you can’t see new patients within two or three days at the most, then you will be wasting money on advertising;

2. Word of mouth is not your number one source of new patients.  This the clearest indicator that the experience of being one of your patients does not inspire people to recommend you, and you need to fix that.

As far as your marketing/advertising budget, there are two ways to look at it: as a dollar amount, or as a percentage of your annual revenue.

As a rule of thumb, 5% of your annual revenue is a reasonable amount to spend on your advertising.  I know thriving practices that spend as high as 8%, because they know that their profitability is higher once they have paid their fixed expenses, so they can afford to invest in growth.

As a dollar amount, your marketing costs should range from $20,000 to $40,000 per year. This would be higher with a startup practice–perhaps double that amount–because you need to start building a patient base.

Here is how I would break down the spending:

1. Your Website.  This is the cornerstone of your practice promotion.  Even word of mouth patients are likely to visit your website before calling the practice.  And this is important to remember–your website is a work in progress.  It’s never done, because Google is looking every day at it, seeing what has changed. So you need a dynamic website, where content changes automatically and you can add and change content easily yourself.  For more on this, read my previous blog on websites.

Cost: $3000 for a new website, $75 per month to host and maintain it.

2. Social Media. This is a marketing cost, primarily.  You should be paying someone in your office to add posts, request them from patients, monitor and respond to them, and also keep track of online reviews. This cost is part of their pay, but 12-15 hours a month should be dedicated to this.  There are outside services that can do this, but they still need someone monitoring them.

Cost: $250 per month.

3. Discounts. This is part of your marketing cost, and often people forget that.  If you’re doing a free exam, cleaning and x-rays, the cost is not high if you have digital radiography, but it’s not nothing.  You still have to pay your hygienist.

Cost: $300 per month, assuming 10 new patients attracted this way.

4. Insurance plans.  Dentists often forget that this is a marketing cost.  You are discounting your work to attract patients through the plan.  This number is impossible for me to estimate for you, but I want you to be mindful of it as a promotional expense.  And you can calculate it fairly easily, since you know what you collect versus what you would have.

5. Advertising. This could be anything from bidding on AdWords to advertising on Yelp! or Facebook, doing direct mail, local newspaper ads, or even radio or TV.  Or referral programs like 1-800-DENTIST. I believe in doing everything that works. Keep in mind that the lifetime value of a new patient to your practice is substantial, and worth investing in. If you don’t get that yet, watch this video.

Cost: $1000 to 3000 per month.

Other factors that would increase your advertising cost:

1. You don’t have storefront visibility to your practice. This could add 20% or more to your budget.

2. You have limited hours, or less convenient hours than your local competitors.

3. You don’t take any emergency patients.

Anything that limits the convenience and appeal to a new patient is going to diminish your results, making advertising more expensive. What else could you be doing wrong?  Several things.

Let’s start with your front desk.  If you have someone who is not personable, or who is over-screening the patients, or generally not skilled at converting callers into patients who show up, your advertising spend is being largely wasted.  Fix that first.

You could also be spending too much on a particular marketing approach. Every medium will have diminishing results eventually, either as you increase the budget to too high a level, or over the course of time. Direct mail, for example, will almost always over-saturating a market eventually, and you need to stop for a few months. (1-800-DENTIST would be an exception, because we’re constantly modifying our advertising approach to compensate for this.)

You could be using a promotional approach that gets lots of calls, with very little conversion into real patients, or low production on them.  The wrong type of patients means either the message is wrong, or you aimed at the wrong target audience, or the medium is wrong.  I consider Groupon a classic example of this, and though a few people made it work, I’m glad it’s faded away from the dental world.

My main suggestion is to get professional help. Advertising as an industry is changing at a dizzying pace, and it’s all any of us can do to keep up. And get someone who works in the dental industry.  People behave very differently when it comes to dentistry, ( in case you haven’t noticed!) and you want a resource that understands that.

A good practice consultant and also your product distributor rep should both be resources for you to find the best help, and to make sure you’re getting the best results.

 

Creating Your Panoramic Photo Images

A dentist asked me recently, regarding Facebook Timeline photos, “What camera takes pictures that wide? It’s crazy!”  I took out my iPhone 5 and said, “This camera. And Apple just sold another 15 million of them this week.”  I then showed him the “panoramic” option on my phone’s camera.

Of course, Facebook allows you to reframe an uploaded photo, but the picture needs look right when it is cropped deeply at the top and bottom, and you can only adjust up and down.

But then, wouldn’t you also like to add your logo, or some other message on the photo?  How the heck do you do that!?!?

Amazingly easy, even for us old folk.  First, you sign up at the website www.canva.com.  The tools on this site are FREE.  Their goal is to sell you the rights to uses images, which they provide very inexpensively.  But you can upload your own pictures and combine them, add text to them, frame them, all sorts of things, in a nearly idiot-proof environment, and not pay a dime.

The home page looks like this:

Canva front page

You can create any shape you want, and they have the templates for practically everything, from Facebook ads to Timeline photos, your Twitter heading, website images, your thumbnail photo, your business cards, whatever.  You just upload the pictures you want to work with (and it stores them for you forever as part of your media library), and then you can drag it into the template you want, stretch it, move it add another photo next to it if you want, or super-impose one onto another.

Then you’ll want to add text, and they have all different fonts and colors to choose from.  If you’re color blind, like me, get some help with your choices. Or you can drop your logo onto it. Now just save it, download it, and then upload it to whichever site you made it for.

You can also use Canva to design Facebook contests and promotions, and they have templates for those and many other things.  They also have millions of photos that you can access, and you only pay $1 for each premium element you use for your design.  That’s cheap.  Especially since the rest is free.

You can get way trickier if you take some of the tutorials–framing photos, changing background colors, drawing on the image–but for now you have a simple solution that makes great-looking images.

I did this for my Facebook book page in about three minutes,and the template made sure I knew exactly where the thumbnail photo was going to appear over it, so I could get it looking right the first time:

DENTAL MARKETING GURU.jpg

I still recommend you get team photos professionally done, do nice photos of your office, and take good thumbnail photos of yourself. But now you can dress them up and personalize them easily.

You can also use it to design printed materials, if you’re still into that sort of thing.

I haven’t found any photo tool that’s easier with such versatility. Give it a try!

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?”

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