Building Better Relationships Will Grow Your Practice
Interpersonal relations are a critical component of internal marketing, the entire referral process and, of course, practice success.
By Roger P. Levin, DDS
For years, many dental practices conducted their internal marketing efforts sporadically. When all was said and done, they usually failed to find many new patients or retain existing ones through their marketing efforts. But it did not matter. Practices were so productive that they did not have to rely heavily on internal marketing.
That was then. This is now.
The new economy has changed everything. Given the production declines that have been experienced in the last 3 years, most practices have found achieving practice growth to be a significant challenge. Now more than ever, internal marketing is integral to practice success.
The Team Should “Own” Internal Marketing
An effective internal marketing program helps practices attract and retain patients. Levin Group recommends using a minimum of 15 customized strategies for each practice and implementing those strategies over a 3- to 4-month period, which produces results within 6 months. Between 6 and 12 months, the target is to have 40% to 60% of patients referring at least one additional patient for the year (and every year after).
To meet such challenging goals, practices should reassess the training necessary for staff members to carry out the internal marketing program. We developed an interpersonal relations training program that we recommend be taught to all staff members. The purpose is simple—to generate more patient referrals.
Interpersonal Relations Matter
There is an enormous difference between saying, “Can you come in Tuesday?” and “It was so great to see you today. We really look forward to your next visit and I know you want to get this completed as soon as possible. Would next Tuesday be convenient for you?” While this second statement goes to the heart of what I refer to as Value Creation Scripting™, it also focuses on interpersonal relationship skills. Did the person delivering the message smile, make eye contact, lean forward to create energy, and advance the relationship?
Are the words “please” and “thank you” used repeatedly throughout conversations to demonstrate a high level of appreciation for patients? Is the patient’s name used three times in the conversation to create a level of personalization? Is the word “convenience” used 2 to 3 times whenever scheduling to demonstrate a desire to make the appointment as convenient as possible for the patient (even while controlling the schedule)? Only training will ensure all of this happens.
These examples illustrate how internal marketing begins with good customer service. When practices provide superior customer service, patients are happier. Happier patients refer more patients. We determined that interpersonal training for the team enables this whole process to happen.
Understanding Interpersonal Relations
Interpersonal relationship building is a skill no different from learning to ski, play tennis, speaking in public, or cooking. Levin Group has discovered that with proper training, team members become more effective at delivering the type of customer service that will truly have a positive impact on your bottom line.
Interpersonal skills training begins with verbal and nonverbal skills. The staff member with appropriate training will ensure an excellent experience for every patient. For example, every patient gets a compliment at every visit. In the rush of a busy day, it is easy to forget something as basic as saying something nice. To patients, it matters. Most people are not anxious to visit a dental office. By being made to feel more at home with a compliment, their reluctance to present to the practice is greatly reduced.
Every new patient undergoes a new patient orientation. This orientation includes Levin Group’s The Golden 10, which consists of learning 10 personal items about each patient documented during the initial patient process. The 10 answers cannot be collected in typical interview style, but rather as part of an interesting “conversation.” Once the staff member or clinician has learned 10 personal things about the patient, the relationship begins to move into the realm of friendship. This goes to the heart of my advice to every clinician—make your patients your friends.
During each patient visit, learn one new thing about the patient. If you ask the question, “What’s new?” you will typically get the answer, “Nothing.” If you change the question, you will get a more spontaneous response. As taught by Michael Ovitz (once the most powerful agent in Hollywood), the new question to ask is, “What’s new in your life?” This demonstrates a strong level of interest and builds the ongoing relationship with the patient.
Body language is critical. Leaning forward creates energy—a critical component of interpersonal relations. This goes hand in hand with using what Levin Group terms Power Words, which include great, wonderful, terrific, fantastic, excellent, delightful, etc. These words energize patient interactions. Why is it important to create energy in interpersonal relations? Energy creates trust. Just think about listening to a speaker with high energy versus listening to a speaker with no energy. You are much more likely to trust the speaker with energy because it appears that that speaker passionately believes what he or she is saying.
Engage the patient. Whenever greeting a patient, stand up, shake hands, make eye contact, smile, and ask a question. When asking the question, “How are you?” retain eye contact while the patient answers. Many people look away and move on to their next question or task, which sends a message of not caring.
The list goes on. We developed 24 key factors in creating interpersonal relationship skills for the dental team. While each factor is easy to learn, only by practicing them will they become habits. Once the habits are developed, they become a system of interpersonal relations that supports the internal marketing program. Bear in mind that the target is to have 40% to 60% of patients referring at least one new patient per year. This is a challenging target. However, it can be achieved via a highly focused systematic approach such as the program we designed that creates the best patient experience possible.
Interpersonal relations are a critical component of internal marketing, the entire referral process and, of course, practice success. Building an internal marketing program is extremely difficult without effective interpersonal relationships. Conversely, when effective interpersonal relationship building is infused with a successful internal marketing program, the results are extraordinary.
About the Author
Roger P. Levin, DDS | Dr. Levin is the chairman and CEO of Levin Group Inc., in Owings Mills, Maryland.
To learn how to run a more profitable, efficient and satisfying practice, visit the Levin Group Resource Center at www.levingroup.com—a free online resource with tips, videos and other valuable information. You can also connect with Levin Group on Facebook and Twitter (@Levin_Group) for tips, news, and sharing ideas.