This article originally appeared in Dental Economics
Who would you say controls your practice? Is it you or your patients? Most dentists will say they are, but in reality, it’s really patients who are calling the shots. Don’t believe me? Take this simple quiz and answer either practice or patient:
- Who decides if a new patient calls to make an appointment?
- Who decides if that new patient actually follows through on making an appointment during the call?
- Who decides if that new patient actually shows up for the appointment?
- Who decides if that new patient accepts recommended treatment?
- Who decides if that new patient actually pays for that treatment?
As you can see, the answer for all of these questions is the patient. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just an economic reality for every business. For example, when you go to the grocery store, who decides on what you buy? You do, of course. No doubt the store, along with product manufacturers, can influence your purchasing decisions through sales, displays, and advertising. But no one can force you to buy something . . . except maybe your spouse or a screaming five-year-old. Other than those exceptions, you’re still the ultimate decider.
So, the real question is, how can you and your team more effectively influence prospects and patients to follow your practice’s recommendations for scheduling, presenting, paying for services, accepting dental treatment, etc.?
The current situation
Dentistry is in a state of flux. The old assumption that owning a dental practice was a license to print money is gone. Don’t get me wrong, you can be very successful as a practice owner, but it takes more business savvy than it did in the prerecession years. Every industry changes. That’s Economics 101. Here are the top issues most practices are dealing with.
- Fluctuating production: The number of new patients calling most practices varies month-to-month and is becoming a larger challenge.
- Bad phone skills: Prospects who call don’t necessarily schedule. I am repeatedly asked about what to say to patients who have dental insurance and call an office that isn’t participating. Simply saying “no” isn’t a solution.
- Scheduling problems: New patients have a high no-show rate. It should be under 1%, but for most practices, it’s much higher than that.
- Turning down treatment: Patients are accepting less treatment and depending more on what their dental insurance will cover. In those situations when money isn’t a factor, patients are second-guessing the dentist by going to the Internet for research.
- Low collections: Some patients don’t actually pay their bills. Practices often fool themselves into thinking they have a higher collection rate simply because they haven’t yet written off bad debt.
These seem like distinct issues, but they all have one thing in common – poor communication! If your marketing message doesn’t resonate with prospects, they won’t call. If your front desk lacks proper verbal skills, prospects won’t schedule. If sufficient value isn’t built during each interaction, patients won’t show for the appointment, accept treatment, or pay their bills.
Take back control . . . with scripting
Every interaction is an opportunity to further the relationship or diminish it. Scripting enables your practice to up its game when it comes to communicating with prospects and patients. Even marketing relies on scripting. You might not initially think so, but let’s investigate this a little further.
Attracting more patients requires a wide variety of marketing strategies consistently implemented throughout the year. However, I believe that the most effective marketing for private practices is a scientific program motivating current patients to increase referrals, and that requires scripting. Yes, you need a strong online presence and external strategies, but nothing beats word-of-mouth referrals in my book. When you can turn your current patients into your on-the-street guerilla marketing team, your phone will ring nonstop with prospects who are ready to schedule their first appointment.
Now, what happens next also depends on scripting. If your front desk team has been trained to enthusiastically engage callers, build value for the practice and the doctor, gather essential patient info, and schedule the appointment, then you’re off to a good start.
But you can’t expect callers to magically show up. You must confirm their appointment and continue to build the relationship. For the first appointment, I recommend a team member calling the new patient rather than using an automated service. It’s just more personal.
When your team knows what to say and how to say it during each patient interaction, you put your practice in the best position for success. Good verbal skills enable your team to motivate patients to show up for their appointments, accept recommended care, and pay on time for your services. When you take control of the message, you have more power to influence your prospects and patients.
Author’s note: Need a speaker for your study club? Consider booking Dr. Roger P. Levin. His speaking is highly affordable and the information he teaches is invaluable. To learn more, go to levingroup.com/roger-as-a-speaker.
Roger P. Levin, DDS, is the chairman and CEO of Levin Group Inc., a leading dental consulting firm. A nationally recognized speaker, Dr. Levin presents practice management seminars throughout the country.