January 2009, Volume 5, Issue 1
Published by AEGIS Communications
Get Off to a Great Start This Year
Roger P. Levin, DDS
This is one of my favorite times. It is the beginning of a new year, which means new possibilities, new challenges, and new successes. And it is playoff time in the National Football League. I find myself, like millions of others, glued to the TV, watching some of the best athletes in the world trying to get to the biggest game of them all—the Super Bowl.
Dentistry and football share some similarities. As in football, the first quarter is critical to your success. You want to get off to a good start. A good start makes it easier to reach your goals for the entire year. If you start off slow, then you are always in catch-up mode. That’s a tough way to play football, or practice dentistry.
Of course, the sluggish economy is not helping matters. Unfortunately, we can expect it to stay with us awhile longer. But even in a tough economy, you still can grow your practice and enjoy greater success.
Having the right attitude is crucial. As I travel around the country speaking to dentists, I have met a few whose practices are struggling and who want to blame it all on the economy. My advice to them, and you, is to not let yourself be a victim of the economy. Sure, the downturn has been rough, but this is no time to throw up your hands in despair and wait for the economy to magically improve. Being passive is not the answer. As the practice owner, you have to lead your team to greater success.
Are you ready for the best year you have had in years? Here are four steps to get off to a great start.
1. Have a Game Plan
What are your goals for this year and how do you plan to achieve them? Which practice areas need improvement and which areas do you need to maintain? Use Levin Group’s Key Practice Driver™ as a benchmark for setting goals in areas such as:
- Dentist production
- Hygiene production
- Cosmetic and elective production
- Average production per patient
- Average production per new patient
- Ancillary services
- Practice revenue
- New patients
- No-shows/last-minute cancellations
- Patient referrals
- Case acceptance percentage
Break your yearly goals into monthly, weekly, and daily goals. This way you can track performance and make adjustments as necessary. Levin Group recommends that practices increase overall production by at least 15% a year to achieve healthy growth.
2. Build on Your Strengths
Without question, your team is your greatest strength. Give your staff the training they need to run the office, so you can spend 95% of your time doing what you do best—staying chairside and providing optimal patient care. Hold daily morning meetings to prepare for the day, review goals, and motivate your team. Morning meetings are also good forums to answer questions, review protocols, and provide feedback. Monthly staff meetings give everyone an opportunity to work on more complex issues, such as systems implementation.
After your team, your patients are your most important asset. They fill the schedule, drive production, and refer new patients to your practice. Implementing effective patient retention strategies is critical to your shortand long-term growth, especially in the current economy. You cannot take your patients for granted—they hold the key to greater success. The following strategies will keep your current patients active, as well as bring in new patients:
- Schedule recare appointments during checkout
- Confirm appointments 48 hours in advance using cell phones
- Provide scripting to the front desk team that will reduce last-minute cancellations
- Contact recently inactive patients
- Ask current patients for referrals
- Place signs around the office saying the practice is accepting new patients
3. Shore Up Weaknesses
Every practice has room for improvement. Provide your team with in-office and outside-the-office training opportunities, so your staff can enhance their clinical, administrative, and customer service skills. If you purchase new equipment or technology, most manufacturers or distributors will come to your office and train you and your team. Take advantage of these opportunities. Use daily meetings to review protocols and reinforce proper procedures.
Look at your practice systems. Too many practices let years go by without redesigning their systems. Do not wait until a crisis occurs before retooling your systems. Levin Group recommends that practices update their systems every 3 to 5 years. Remember, the more outdated your systems are, the greater the stress on you and your team.
One system that many dentists overlook is customer service—a critical area that takes on even more importance in a down economy. Most practices have good customer service, but good is not great and great is where you want to be. The goal for great customer service is to exceed patient expectations at all times. That’s a tall order, especially considering the frantic pace at which many practices operate. But if you want your patients to rave about how wonderful their experience at your practice was, then you have to raise the bar. Just “being nice” doesn’t cut it anymore. Your team should strive to treat everyone who walks through your door as they would their own mother.
How would you rate your team’s communication skills? Most practices would have difficulty rating every team member as an excellent communicator. To enhance your staff’s verbal skills, Levin Group recommends scripting every routine patient interaction for all team members—front desk staff, financial coordinator, assistants, hygienists, and yes, the dentist. Communication is one area where everyone can get better. Team members should use their own words but incorporate the script’s relevant points. Scripts train everyone to provide patients the same message about services, policies, and protocols.
Excellent customer service also extends to your facility. Look at your office’s appearance inside and out. Is it time for a makeover? Is the exterior attractive? Does the signage look welcoming? Is the parking lot well-maintained and well-lit? How old is the furniture in the reception area? When was the last time the practice was painted? Does it shine? Levin Group recommends that practices update their décor every 3 to 5 years.
Too many practices still depend on single-tooth treatment as their main source of production. To get the best results, you have to expand your options. Offering a full range of need-based and cosmetic services will help you provide a higher level of patient care and move beyond single-tooth treatment. You must get your team fully involved in the case presentation process. If you have your entire team (five to eight employees)—instead of just one dentist—promoting comprehensive services, your chances of patients accepting treatment are far greater.
The first quarter is under way. Recognize the possibilities that this New Year brings. Be prepared for the challenges. Greater success is just around the corner, but you cannot keep going back to the same playbook unless, of course, you want the same results. Create a new game plan. Motivate and train your team. Make the necessary improvements to your systems. Offer your patients a full array of need-based and elective services. And stay focused on your goals. That’s how you’ll get off to a great start!
About the Author
Roger P. Levin, DDS
CEO, Levin Group
Owings Mills, Maryland