Part 7: Creating a Positive Patient Experience
You have something to offer your patients. You do not need to beg them to come to you nor make them feel inferior for not taking care of their dental health up to this point. What you need to focus on is your ability to give patients what they want. Rather than settling into the thought that your service is a uniform commodity that is a basic necessity of life, you need to embrace the idea that your dental practice is a unique service that patients can choose or not choose as they wish. When you treat patients like guests in your clinic, they are more likely to make that choice and be happy they did.
The positive patient experience begins before the patient even walks in the door of your clinic. You can develop this theme in your marketing. You can also make sure that office staff treat potential customers well when they call in for information or to make their first appointment. You and your team build on the guest experience in the way you talk to them and the nonverbal respect you show them. Creating a positive patient experience inspires guests of your practice (your patients) to trust you more with each visit. They become loyal customers and may even look forward to their next appointment.
First Contact – Using the Telephone to Draw Patients Into Your Clinic
If your marketing plan is working, you should be getting telephone calls asking about your services or requesting appointments. The way you and your staff handle those call makes the difference between getting a new patient and losing that opportunity. Using the phone properly might seem like a no-brainer, but the truth is that there is an art and a science to it that, when applied effectively, can increase the number of patients you see in your clinic as well as their satisfaction with your services. Here are some tips you can use and pass on to your staff:
- Smile as you answer and throughout the call.
- Introduce yourself and say the name of the practice.
- Ask for their name and contact information – and write it down.
- Find out what they would like to achieve in terms of dental health.
- Ask them when they first realized the problem.
- Ask if there is any special reason or event that prompted them to call now.
- Give them at least one option for solving the problem.
- If they ask price, break it down into any installment payment plans you offer.
- Invite them to book a consultation appointment.
- Find out where they heard of your practice.
- Request their email address.
When you follow all these tips, you will create goodwill with the prospective patient and give them the information they need. You will also collect information from them that you can use in marketing later on.
First Impressions – Welcoming Patients When They Arrive
Have you ever seen a patient who arrives at a dental clinic with an expression of fear, anxiety or distaste? Even if you have never practiced dentistry before, you have likely seen this happen when you visited the dentist on your own. The problem with them is that they are thinking of pain, time lost sitting in a dental chair and money spent just to have the healthy and attractive teeth they believe are their natural right.
However, you can help them shift to a more positive attitude about coming to the dental office. Think of the way you might be treated in an expensive spa, a luxurious hotel or an upscale restaurant. Someone greets you warmly when you walk into the building. They may ask your name, but after you tell them, they remember it and use it when they talk to you. They show you with every word, gesture and expression that your business is valuable to them. They treat you with kindness, focused attention and above all, respect. That is the kind of experience you want to create for each dental patient. To be as clear as possible, here are the things you or your staff need to be doing each time someone arrives at your clinic:
- Look up from your work often so you will know when someone arrives.
- Smile warmly.
- Respectfully ask their name.
- Request – don’t demand – that new patients fill out needed forms and briefly explain why they are needed.
- Don’t rush them.
- Offer them a seat and point them to reading material if they will have to wait.
- If they have children with them, ask the children’s names and show them the toys or children’s books you keep in the clinic.
- Don’t be too chatty, but do respond kindly if they want to talk to you.
- Assure them that they will be called back to the treatment room soon.
First Service – Interacting with Patients During Dental Exams and Treatments
Your main goal is to provide exceptional dental treatments every time patients walk through your door. Yet, dentistry may be more of a people business than you realize. You need to help patients feel comfortable and valued each step of the way. You might feel like giving a patient a stern lecture in an attempt to browbeat them into taking care of their dental health. However, if you do that the most likely outcome will be that they will never return to your clinic again.
Instead of reminding patients of what they are doing wrong or not doing at all, spend your time educating them in a more helpful way. There is no need to say “You have to brush your teeth more often.” They know that. You can address that problem in a more positive light by gently guiding them through a practice brushing session or offering them a new toothbrush. When it comes to your patient’s dental hygiene practices, assume they are doing their best, even if you have evidence to the contrary. It might seem counterintuitive, but the truth is that patients are more likely to do better if you assume the best rather than focus on their shortcomings.
First Decisions – Conducting a Respectful Consultation
Once you have treated your patient well throughout the dental exam, they will be ready to listen to you when you make suggestions about what treatments might be right for them. If you have an authoritarian attitude, your patient will eventually become dissatisfied and move to another dental care professional. Recommend the treatments that you know are best for their dental health, certainly. However, always keep in mind that it is ultimately their decision. Instead of a strict schoolteacher demanding your patients do what is best, be a gracious spa-owner offering them services they can choose if they please.
First Obligations – Collecting Payments Graciously
When you first open your doors, it might be easy to be objective and reasonable about the way you approach requesting payments. You want to leave a good impression. You want your patients to come back again for more treatments. But, later on, after you have dealt with patients who did not want to pay or felt they could not afford to pay, it is harder to be so nice.
Just remember that new patient has a different means of paying and a different attitude towards paying their bill. Be objective at all times and encourage your staff to be as well. If you have done a good job of finding employees who can stay calm in tense situations, you will be glad to have those staff members when a patient balks at paying for your services. They will keep the conversation on an even keel. They will have the presence of mind to discuss payment options and leave the patient with a positive overall attitude toward you, your dental clinic and your staff.
Repeat Customers – Following Through in the Long Term
Avoid being the dentist who treats new patients like royalty and then stops caring about their thoughts, feelings and plans. Continue the 5-star treatment every time that patient comes into your office. This requires a calm and orderly office atmosphere, which you can control to a certain extent with your hiring choices and office policies. You can also encourage the attitude that patients are valuable guests by expressing that attitude whenever you are around your staff.