Have You Really Looked at Your Practice Lately?
Rate your total performance through your patients’ perspective
Roger P. Levin, DDS
When we’re exposed to something regularly, we tend to tune it out after a while. Unless changes are major or happen quickly, they often go unnoticed. This applies to your practice. You spend a great deal of time there, but you’re focused on seeing patients, not the spots on the reception area carpet. You think about how to improve treatment presentations, rather than about your online presence.
Now is the time to take a step back and survey what kind of impression your practice makes, both in the office and in the market. Make the mental effort to see the way patients and prospective patients see. You’ll discover problems that should be resolved and opportunities you won’t want to pass up.
Start with a Critical Examination of Your Facilities
If you haven’t done so for a few years, walk through what patients typically experience in your practice. Here’s a checklist that will help:
• Parking—Are parking areas clean, well paved, clearly marked, and secure? If patients need to use paid parking, do you give them vouchers?
• Exterior and Entry—Is your office site nicely landscaped and carefully maintained? Are walkways in good repair, glass doors cleaned, and proper signage in place?
• Style and Condition of Décor—When patients step into your reception area, what do they see? An outdated look? Questionable colors? Art that’s inappropriate or boring? Does it look welcoming and comfortable? Is the lighting good? Are there signs of wear and tear on carpets, walls, upholstery, or counters?
• Amenities—Do you provide thoughtful, high-quality “extras,” such as diverse reading materials, complimentary beverages, Wi-Fi, TV, and toys and games for young visitors?
• Staff Attire—Do you and your team send the right message with your clothing and grooming?
• Treatment Areas—Are they spotless and set up to convey total professionalism? If there’s music, is it selected to please your typical patients? Are pillows and blankets on hand (and offered)?
• Bathroom—Is it kept clean throughout the day? Well-ventilated? Brightly lit? Supplied with a hand soap dispenser and sanitizer? Nicely decorated?
Review All Practice– Patient Communications
You’ll certainly get high customer service ratings if the physical aspects of the patient experience have been upgraded, but how you and your staff interact with patients is equally important. Through our extensive work with clients, we have developed a comprehensive set of systems and techniques that make practices stand out in their markets and achieve the highest levels of patient satisfaction. Following are some of the basics:
Handle all phone calls with expertise.
Many practices underestimate the importance of effective techniques for managing phone calls. What’s said during phone conversations, and what objectives you want to achieve, vary depending on who’s on the other end.
If it’s a prospective patient, the front desk coordinator must accomplish many things in a very short time: a warm, friendly greeting; building the value of the practice; gathering not only the usual information but also personal facts for relationship-building; and, of course, scheduling the patient for an appointment. This conversation must make patients believe that calling your practice was a great idea and help them look forward to the first visit. To make all this happen, scripting is indispensable. Calls from current patients, their family members, other practices, or vendors must also be handled skillfully, as should outgoing calls like appointment confirmations and collections messages. In many cases, these conversations can also benefit from scripting.
Roll out the red carpet.
The arrival of new patients at your practice is a very important event and should be treated accordingly. Your front desk staff should give them a warm, personal welcome, smiling, standing up, shaking hands, making eye contact, pointing out and offering amenities, and engaging in friendly conversation. The patient should be introduced to whoever comes out to take him or her back to the treatment area, where the enthusiastic introduction to the practice should continue.
Use every opportunity to build relationships.
Bringing in new patients remains the primary driver of practice growth, but its value declines significantly if you and your team fail to cultivate loyalty or persuade them to stay, coming in regularly over the long term. Building relationships leads directly to achieving both of these objectives.
Establishing solid connections with patients is not taught in dental school, so you probably need to learn new techniques. Relationships form when people learn things about each other, finding common ground, and enjoying the other person’s company—even in the context of a dental appointment.
The basic idea is to acquire personal information while also sharing details about yourself and the practice that help patients develop a sense of loyalty. We recommend that our clients use the Golden 10 method. This consists of the doctor, hygienist, and other team members spending time conversing with patients in order to learn at least 10 personal facts about them (line of work, hobbies, favorite movies, etc.). These become the basis for person-to-person connections that can be rekindled and expanded with every patient visit. For the new year, write scripts that will help make relationship-building conversations second nature for everyone on your staff.
Express your gratitude to patients who make referrals.
Considering the value of new patients for your practice, let referring patients know how much you appreciate their help. Call them personally to thank them. Send them a handwritten note. And when the referrers come in for their next appointment, tell them again how grateful you are. With a little bit of time and effort, you’ll strengthen the relationship with these patients and probably gain more referrals from them, too.
Call patients at home after you’ve treated them.
Initiate this thoughtful form of communication, and you’ll be amazed at its positive impact. The patients will be flattered and impressed by how much you care, and they’ll probably tell everyone they can (including through social media) about how great their dentist is. Word-of-mouth advertising like this is invaluable.
Get feedback from patients about how you’re doing.
The surest way to see what patients experience is to ask them. You can do this in different ways:
• After completing a procedure, ask, “Mr. Brown, are you completely satisfied with everything we’ve done for you?” The answer not only tells you how a patient feels about the care you’re providing but also tends to reinforce a positive impression.
• As patients are about to leave after an appointment, front desk staff should ask, “How was your visit today?” This gives patients yet another opportunity to comment on your practice’s performance.
• Ask patients to take a brief survey after their appointment by filling out a form, on paper or online. Questions should cover broad areas of patient satisfaction and can also ask about specific aspects of your practice you’re especially interested in.
Look at your practice through patients’ eyes and look for new ways to improve customer service. This will help you come up with changes that can lead to sustainable increases in production and profit for the current year and beyond.
About the Author
Roger P. Levin, DDS, is a third-generation general dentist and the chairman and chief executive officer of Levin Group, Inc. Need help with customer service and other systems? Visit levingroup.com for training and consulting options.