5 Strategies for Surviving in the New Economy
Everything you need to succeed is already in your office
Dentistry, like many professions today, is experiencing a metamorphosis. Patients are spending money more cautiously. Insurance reimbursements are falling lower and lower. Dental schools are graduating more and more dentists while many older dentists are postponing retirement, leading to increased competition. Achieving financial success has become more challenging.
However, despite the many challenges that exist in the profession today, there are ways to promote growth in production and income. Following the five key strategies outlined in this article will help doctors maximize the opportunities within their practices.
1. Convert 98% of New Patient Callers
When the phone rings at a dental office and a new patient is on the line—literally and figuratively—great effort has already gone into prompting that person to call, either through external marketing such as advertising or internal marketing in the form of a referral. Now the front desk staff members should do everything in their power to appoint the caller to capitalize on the energy already spent.
The process of converting a caller into a patient becomes much easier when the front desk staff has been trained and prepared with scripting. Telephone scripts should focus on building value for the practice and the doctor while introducing available services. When team members start developing a relationship during the very first call, they’re much more likely to retain the new patient, not only for the initial appointment, but also for years to come.
2. Encourage Patient Loyalty to the Practice
If effort went into capturing the interest of a potential patient, consider how much more has gone into caring for existing patients. Unfortunately, automatic patient loyalty is a relic of the past. Now, practices must work to keep their patients, because when a practice loses a long-term patient, it also sustains losses in the following categories:
· Loss of future production
· Loss of that patient’s family members as patients
· Loss of referrals
One effective way to avoid such losses is to keep current patients appointed. In fact, 98% of your patients should be scheduled for their next visit at all times. Offices should implement a system to ensure that this target is reached.
Any time patients come in, the front desk staff should schedule their next appointment before they leave. However, if that doesn’t happen, practices should follow the 1-Day Rule: as soon as a patient is 1 day overdue for an appointment, he or she should be contacted. This means that the front desk staff must set aside time to call patients on a regular basis. If the patients can’t be reached and scheduled immediately, then the practice should follow up for 9 weeks. Each communication should stress the practice’s concern for the patient’s oral health.
3. Acquire More Referrals Through Internal Marketing
Referrals represent another way to maximize the existing patient base. Too many practices spend inordinate sums of money on external marketing, such as brochures and ads, without sufficient or consistent results. Internal marketing, on the other hand, provides results with much less expense. The following formula demonstrates a simple way to remember how internal marketing can work: Q1 + Q2 + CS = R.
Q1 stands for the quality of marketing, Q2 equals the quantity of marketing strategies employed, and CS means customer service. R, of course, is referrals obtained. Teams that produce excellent internal marketing (quality), manage multiple strategies (quantity), and focus on providing the highest level of customer service will receive a greater number of referrals than the average dental practice.
Most patients would be happy to refer—they simply need to be reminded. The dental staff interacts with patients at every step of the appointment, and these interactions present countless opportunities to encourage patient referrals. Training the team to ask for referrals can lead to a dramatic increase in new patients.
Other internal marketing techniques include educating patients about the practice’s services, maintaining regular communications through social media, newsletters, and emails, and providing superior customer service—defined as an experience so positive that the customer develops intense loyalty and loves to refer.
4. Manage Practice Finances Well
If a doctor isn’t tracking all revenue and expenditures, the practice is likely either spending too much or using money inefficiently. Practice owners must exercise fiscal discipline through budgeting. A budget doesn’t have to be sophisticated, but it must be comprehensive, specific, and taken seriously. In simple terms, a budget makes it possible to track how much money is coming into the practice from what sources, and to set limits (or at least targets) for how much should be spent, category by category. Then it can be determined how closely actual spending corresponds to the budgetary plan. The point is to exercise control and track spending so that corrections can be made as needed. Business executives who make a budget and then ignore or override it usually fail as leaders, but those who monitor spending and rein in wastefulness increase their company’s revenue.
5. Increase the Number of Cases Accepted to 90%
When patients reach the case presentation phase, practices again must maximize the opportunity by closing as many cases as possible. Case acceptance rates rise when every team member can give knowledgeable answers to patient questions and support the dentist’s position. Patients will often seek “second opinions” from other team members as they are weighing their options.
There is one caveat related to preparing the entire staff to close cases: an educated team can easily make the same mistake made by many dentists—ie, focusing on clinical details while under-emphasizing patient benefits. This approach can lead to decreased case acceptance, especially for cosmetic dentistry, which is an area driven by patient desires for a brighter smile and a more attractive appearance. To avoid this pitfall, team members should be coached to emphasize the lifestyle benefits a patient will enjoy as a result of treatment.
To help patients afford treatment, practices must also offer flexible payment options. Every practice should accept cash, checks, and credit cards. Small discounts (such as 5%) can be given for payments of cash up front. If the treatment being accepted is too large for the patient to pay all at once, then practices should have an outside financing option available as well.
Practices need to make the most of what they have, from potential patients on the phone to existing patients considering treatment. Doctors must keep a close watch on spending to maximize income, and all team members must ask patients for referrals. In this economy, it is no longer sufficient to show up, be nice to patients, and hope that everything goes well. Implementing key strategies like the five listed above will enable practices to increase production and flourish, reaching their full potential.
About the Author
Roger P. Levin, DDS, is a third-generation general dentist and the chairman and chief executive officer of Levin Group, Inc. If you are interested in upgrading your practice’s performance as a business, an analysis of where your practice stands is the place to start. Find out about Levin Group’s Practice Performance Analysis™ at www.levingroup.com/practiceanalysis. You can also schedule a 1-Hour No-Cost Practice Diagnosis, to assess and increase practice production, by calling 888-973-0000.