Paradigm Shifts in Practice Production
Implement these three effective patient-marketing strategies for the new economy.
Unlike previous economic slowdowns, the recent recession has created a paradigm shift for dental practices. According to the Levin Group Data Center™, practices experienced production declines on average of 6.4% in 2010 and 6.1% in 2011.1
The post-recession economy has created new habits and behaviors on the part of consumers. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, consumers are much more cautious about spending.2 Considering how thoroughly the financial landscape has changed, dental practices essentially have to completely revamp the way they do business. In this altered environment, marketing can no longer be viewed as an option. It is now a necessity.
Marketing in the Post-Recession
In the new economy, dentists must maximize patient referral opportunities in their practices. Consequently, Levin Group created The Science of Internal Marketing™, which is a proven method for eliciting more patient referrals. To have highly effective marketing, practices need to:
1. Design and Implement an Internal Marketing Program
Some strategies are daily, continuous actions that welcome patients while others are designed to implicitly encourage referrals. More involved strategies take time and effort to organize and attract new patients. A marketing plan will ensure that all of the individual strategies are working synergistically to produce long-term results.
Increase Patient Referrals on a Continual Basis
Levin Group recommends that practices set a target of 40% to 60% of current patients referring at least one other patient per year. While this target may seem difficult to achieve, the fact is that most practices have extremely satisfied patients, but few offices leverage what are obvious opportunities to elicit referrals. Effective internal marketing makes increased patient referrals possible.
One of the simplest ways to increase referrals is to ask for them. Many patients may not realize that their dental practice is accepting new patients. Based on their excellent experience at the practice, most patients would be happy to refer a friend or neighbor. The staff can say something like “Ms. Jones, we love having you as a patient here. If any of your friends or family could use our services, we’d be very happy to see them as well.”
Keep in Touch with Patients
Patients should hear from the practice on a regular basis, the same way they might hear from a friend. Stay in contact with patients via an e-newsletter, e-mail blasts, and social media updates. For current patients, acknowledging their birthdays or other special occasions is another opportunity to stay in touch.
Track the Number of New Patient Intake Calls
A marketing plan is designed to encourage patients to contact the office. Once that contact has been initiated, everything depends on the front desk team’s verbal skills to motivate prospective patients to schedule appointments. Tracking the number of actual new patient calls and scheduled visits helps identify the effectiveness of the practice’s marketing strategies and the front desk staff members’ ability to handle those calls. This makes it possible for the dentist to identify areas of improvement to ensure successful outcomes for every potential new patient.
Use Testimonial Letters
Encourage satisfied patients to send letters or e-mails to the office. When they write a positive letter, it reinforces their positive feelings about the practice. When dentists receive correspondence from patients, the office should seek the patient’s permission to share the positive experience with others. Prospective and existing patients will always be interested in what other patients have to say about the practice.
2. Use a Part-Time Internal Marketing Coordinator (IMC) to Oversee the Program
The IMC devotes between 4 to 6 hours per week to oversee the program. This individual should be creative, articulate, and outgoing. The dentist cannot and should not attempt to implement the internal marketing program personally. He or she should be chairside providing excellent patient care.
The IMC should handle all internal marketing responsibilities—the most important of which are developing and implementing the internal marketing program, substantially increasing patient referrals, and reactivating overdue patients. In addition, the IMC should focus on improving the patient experience, which is a prerequisite for motivating patients to refer family and friends.
3. Track Your Return on Investment
Determine which strategies are working and which are not. Numbers do not lie. By careful monitoring, the IMC can determine which strategies are delivering results and which need to be reengineered or replaced. Marketing is always a work in progress. Each individual strategy will not work for every practice. For example, if the practice regularly uses external marketing strategies like direct-mail campaigns and the results have recently been found to be disappointing, it may be necessary to update the mailing list, change the advertising language, or implement a new strategy altogether.
Marketing success can also be monitored by tracking referrals from patients and the number of new patients. When a new patient calls, the individual answering the phone should inquire, “Whom may we thank for referring you to our office?” or “How did you hear about our office?” This will give the office another way to track how new patients found out about the office. Over time, this valuable information will enable the IMC to focus on the most productive strategies.
An effective marketing program requires a scientific approach. By being flexible and creative when developing new and effective strategies, IMCs can make marketing a highly productive experience for the practice. This program should be administered by a well-trained IMC who works with the dentist and the team to maximize referrals from patients and the community.
Only through proven, consistent marketing strategies can dental practices achieve the number of referrals necessary for accelerated new patient growth. The right strategies can ensure that dentists are being proactive about patient referrals at all times. Happy patients will be only too happy to refer others.
In this post-recession environment, practices that adhere to sporadic, un-proven marketing campaigns are destined to struggle. Conversely, practices that implement a scientific marketing program will grow in the new economy.
1. The Levin Group Data Center.
2. Wall Street Journal. May 12, 2011. Available at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703730804576317202215630540.html. Accessed February 27, 2012.
About the Author
Roger P. Levin, DDS | Dr. Levin is the CEO of Levin Group. To learn how to run a more profitable, efficient and satisfying practice, visit the Levin Group Resource Center at www.levingroup.com/gp—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 learning strategies and sharing ideas.