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Ken Blanchard wrote, “Your customers are only satisfied because their expectations are so low and because no one else is doing better. Just having satisfied customers isn’t good enough anymore. If you want a booming business, you have to create Raving Fans.”
Creating a remarkable patient experience that transforms your patients into your raving fans can help you attract the patients you want and double your new-patient growth without increasing your marketing budget.
Here are some steps we can take to elevate our patients’ experience in our practice and create our Raving Fans.
- Hire the Right People
Your team will be the first point of contact for a new patient. From the initial phone call to the first visit, your team is the face of your practice. When patients first call or visit a new dentist, they are looking for a confirmation that they’ve made the right choice. Being greeted by a warm and friendly team will assure them that they came to the right place. Hire patient-centric, positive people who love what they do and have fun doing it.
- Make Positive First Impressions
You’ve heard it a million times: “You never get a second chance to make a great first impression.” The quote might be trite but is true. A positive first impression sets the tone for the entire patient experience. Potential patients form their first impression long before they see the doctor, often when they call the practice for the first time. How well your team handles the call will influence the patient’s decision to schedule and keep an appointment with you.
Dentists often readily invest in marketing without ensuring adequate phone coverage and training their front office team the right verbal skills to ace every call. Nearly 20% of all new patient calls end up going to the voicemail because the front office team is overextended juggling multiple phone lines, patients in front of them, and paperwork. Sadly, new patients rarely leave a voicemail message. Many potential new patients hang up when they get a voicemail message and call the next dentist on the list. Often, when the front office employee does pick up the phone, she sounds rushed and robotically answers questions while juggling other things at the front desk.
Missed calls are lost opportunities, so make sure that your front office team is doing everything possible to answer all calls promptly. Evaluate your phone coverage and consider either bringing another team member or outsourcing your calls to a quality call center. Adding a caller ID software to your practice, such as YAPI’s Phone Assistant, can help your team triage phone calls and make sure that when a potential new patient calls, they are available to answer and welcome the patient the practice.
Most importantly, when your team answers that call, it’s time to shine: leave the distractions, focus on the caller, and smile. Take control of the call from the beginning. Thank the caller for choosing your practice and use every opportunity throughout the call to affirm their decision to call your dental practice.
- Get the caller’s contact information, such as name, address, phone numbers, and email address.
- Ask how they heard about the practice. It allows you to establish a personal connection with the new patient and, perhaps send a thank you note or gift to the referring patient.
- Schedule the new patient as soon as possible and send the new patient a welcome note with a link to your online new patient forms.
- Speak highly about the doctor and the practice to validate the caller’s decision to choose your practice as their new dental home.
- Prepare in Advance
Your morning huddle is the perfect time to get your team ready to welcome a new patient: inform your teammates of any concerns the patient may have voiced or share a simple detail such as who referred the patient or any patient preferences. When the entire team is on the same page, and the patient doesn’t have to repeat his or her concerns multiple times, the patient feels heard, and the appointment goes smoothly.
- Create a Welcoming Environment
Take a few minutes to look around your reception area and view it through your patients’ eyes. What do you notice? What do you see? What do you hear? If there are any areas in need of attention, take care of them as soon as possible. If you notice them, your patients will see them too. Is your reception room tastefully decorated and sparkling clean? Does it smell great? Provide ample comfortable seating and other amenities to keep patients relaxed and entertained while waiting to be seated. Appoint a small play area can keep your young patients entertained. Get a few scented wax burners diffusers and position them around the office. And, don’t forget about your bathrooms. Make sure they are fully stocked with all necessities and checked them often throughout the day.
Lastly, think about any “extras” you may offer to create the ultimate new patient experience. Disposable toothbrushes in the bathroom? Small bottles of water? Phone chargers? Lip balm to soothe dry lips? Think about all the little things that you would appreciate as a patient and add those to your patient experience. These small touches will go a long way to creating Raving Fans.
- Make the First Visit Impressive. It’s Showtime!
From the moment your new patient walks through the door, your team should focus on helping them feel at home. Greet the patient warmly and with a smile. Know and use their name. Invite them to make themselves comfortable and offer a beverage.
Ideally, your new patient would have already completed their new patient forms online and could be seated as soon as they check-in. If not, hand them an iPad to complete any needed forms quickly. Using technology, both chairside and at the front desk for digital patient intake forms, consent forms, and financial arrangements doesn’t just make the check-in process quicker as patients don’t have to sit and wait for your team to update records manually and scan paper forms, it also tells your patients that your practice is technologically advanced. Moreover, it will free up your team’s time to interact more with patients to establish a rapport and get to know them.
If you still use paper forms, make sure that your forms look great - don’t hand them a stack poorly aligned photocopies and don’t ask them to fill out the same information on every page of each document.
- Stay on Time
You know that patients don’t like to wait. Long wait times can put a damper on patient satisfaction and lead to missed appointments in the future. The more patients feel like you value their time, the more likely they are to be punctual for their future visits and the more likely they will be to recommend you to their friends and family.
Of course, dentistry is complicated, and things happen, so be sure to have some beverages and magazines available in case of a backup. More importantly, communicate with patients if a wait is anticipated or if you notice that a patient has waited too long. While decreasing waiting times has a positive effect on patient experience, communicating with patients has an even more significant impact. In a study of 5,000 patients, 80% of participants said that knowing their wait time in advance would eliminate frustration. Nothing would annoy a new patient more than rushing to get to a scheduled appointment on time and end up waiting because the doctor is behind. Sending a text message to a patient to let them know that you are running a little late is a courtesy that can help smooth things over from the beginning.
For the rare, unpredictable circumstances, consider having a stack of gift cards at the front office that you hand to patients with an apology if you end up running behind. Patients understand that there might be an occasional wait. A simple acknowledgment and a thoughtful small gift will let them know that you value them and their time.
- Take Your Patients on an Office Tour
When you have a new guest in your home, what is the first thing that you do, after you take their coat? You give them a tour and introduce to everyone else at the party, of course. When it comes to a new patient in your dental practice, the same thing should happen – you should take them on a quick tour of your office. Your team can point out the bathrooms and show off your amenities, along with any state-of-the-art equipment you may have. Your team can introduce them to other team members and share anything they might have in common.
Of course, this mini tour is another opportunity to “sell” the practice and the doctor by pointing out what makes your practice unique. It’s also an opportunity to share with the patient what will happen next. Patients, especially those who are apprehensive, will feel more comfortable once they feel more at home and know what to expect.
- Create Smooth Transitions
For a new patient, the first appointment (and all subsequent appointments, really) are a series of transitions. From the scheduling coordinator to the dental assistant, to the dentist, to the hygienist, and then back to the scheduling coordinator, your new patient encounters a whole slew of new people. It can be overwhelming and disorganized. To create a seamless experience, introduce your patients and relate any relevant information before handing them off to your teammate. Also, share any concerns or questions that the new patient has raised and any further information you’ve learned. Remember: A patient doesn’t want to have to repeat themselves multiple times throughout their visit. Make them feel valued by sharing any pertinent information with each subsequent team member they meet.
YAPI’s Dashboard and Digital CheckOut Notes can be used very effectively to make sure that no information is lost during each handoff.
- Ask the Right Questions and Listen for Understanding
As dentists, we’ve been taught to educate our patients to help them make the right decisions, and we have a wealth of information that we would love to share with them. Unfortunately, when we present very technical and complex information with different options, we often confuse our patients.
Before we can educate our patients, we have to allow our patients to educate us about themselves. Sometimes our goals for the patient are not the same as those of our patients. It’s critical that we take the time to learn about their concerns and goals, and more importantly, take the time to listen.
Stephen R. Covey said, “Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.” Share this quote with your team at your next huddle. Listening is a team sport. From the team member who answers the phone to the team member who takes care of the patient at the checkout, it is essential that everyone listen to understand. A patient may share different pieces of information with various members of your team throughout his appointment. Many patients may feel intimidated by the doctor but feel more comfortable sharing personal information with a team member. Other patients don’t clearly articulate their concerns until a thoughtful member of the team pays attention and asks the right questions. The most important job of everyone on the team should be asking the right questions, listening, and sharing relevant information with anyone involved in patient’s care.
The more you understand their needs, wants, concerns, and motivations, the better we’ll be able to tailor our recommendations to the patients, improve treatment acceptance and create a better experience for the patient.
- Be Positive
Our patients don’t want to be lectured or shamed about their dental health. As their dentist, you want to build patients up when they are with you. You want to make patients feel good about themselves. Find something they are doing right and complement on it. If you make your patients feel good about themselves, you are more likely to see them again and motivate them to improve. Your patients will forget what you said, but they will never forget the way you made them feel. So, help them feel good about themselves and validate their choice for coming to you.
- Focus on the Farewell
Checkout is the last touch in a visit. Make it positive. As you walk the patient to the front, you get another opportunity for an excellent hand-off and a second chance to solidify treatment recommendations in the patient’s mind. If there is a need to discuss financial arrangements, provide a private area where patients can address sensitive issues. Send them home with a folder filled with your practice information as well as their x-rays, intra-oral pictures, and brochures that explain treatment recommendations. These will come handy when the patient goes home and starts to explain your recommendations to his spouse. Don’t forget any preoperative and postoperative instructions as well as any other useful information they will need to prepare for the next visit.
A handwritten “thank you” note sent in the mail is another simple old-fashioned gesture that always gets noticed. The key is to mail this note quickly. The more time goes by, the less meaningful this gesture becomes.
- Ask for Feedback
Asking patients “How was your visit today?” on their way out, can shine the light on how their appointment went and let the patient know that you care and strive for patient satisfaction. It will also help catch and address any problems, perceived or real, and avoid those heart-wrenching negative online review. A patient who had less than a stellar experience will appreciate the opportunity to vent and your attempt to fix the problem. Often, when you address issues right away and resolve a conflict, a patient who would have otherwise left your practice for good or wrote a negative online review, might turn into your most loyal and appreciative patient.
- Follow Through on Follow Up
The red carpet treatment shouldn’t stop once the appointment is over.
Send a handwritten thank you note as soon as the patient leaves. Try to include something personal from the visit so that the patient knows that you enjoyed meeting them and look forward to seeing them for years to come.
Send surveys after their first visit asking patients to rate their experience with you. Keep the surveys short - just a few questions to increase conversion. Measuring the patient’s experience will give you the information needed to keep referrals and current patients coming. A survey is also an excellent opportunity to allow an unhappy patient to vent before he or she decides to take it online. Review your feedback daily, connect with patients who had less than ideal experience, and use the information to improve your practice.
Also, don’t forget to send out periodic reminders and greetings throughout the year. Stay in touch via Birthday and holiday greetings, email newsletters, and social media. Newsletters and social media are great ways to share what’s happening in your practice or bring attention to blogs and new information worth sharing.
Most people don’t want to visit the dentist. So, when a new patient enters your office why not make that experience the very best it can be? From the welcome your staff gives to the ease of paperwork to the thank you note and follow up, you want your entire team dedicated to creating the ultimate patient experience for every patient, every visit. In turn, your patients will become your Raving Fans who will not only continue to come back to your practice but will share their experience with others, helping you and your practice thrive and be successful.
Dr. Gina Dorfman is one of the Co-founders of YAPI and a practicing Dentist in Santa Clarita, CA. She opened up her first practice in 2002. She is also a published author and speaker. Dr. Dorfman loves spending every minute of her free time with her husband and their kids, Mila and Lenny.