Evolving your business systems into 2023 and beyond—Part 3

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As attracting new patients can be difficult and expensive, dental professionals should seek to provide them with an all-round positive experience. (Image: Ratana21/Shutterstock)

Wed. 12. July 2023


In previous articles of this series, I have referenced the seminal work The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. I looked at financial systems in Part 1 and at practice marketing in Part 2. In this third article, I would like to address the patient experience with reference to the things you need to deliver that will make your patients advocates and ambassadors for what you do.

I am going to take it as a given that every dentist strives to achieve the very best in clinical care, so my scope in this article is to share with you what I consider to be moments of truth in the modern patient experience. Let me define a “moment of truth” in this context: a moment of delight or disappointment that has a disproportionate effect on the patient.

For an example outside of dentistry, imagine arriving at a local five-star restaurant for an anniversary dinner with your loved one to be told by a disinterested maître d’ that your reservation is not on the system and there are no tables available. This would be a moment of disappointment with a disproportionate effect as said dining partner stares at you in disbelief!

Now, imagine arriving unannounced at a favourite hotel asking for a short-notice reservation and being informed that, even though the hotel has no rooms, the reception team will call similar hotels in the city, reserve a room, guarantee the hotel’s rack rate and order a complimentary cab to take you there. This would be a moment of delight with a disproportionate effect, since it would make you a lifetime fan and customer of that hotel.

These two stories are of special relevance because they happened to me, so I have first-hand experience of the emotional reaction in both instances. I never visited the restaurant again, and I have regularly used the hotel group since—and perhaps most importantly, I never miss an opportunity to share my experience with family, friends and colleagues.

Online reviews have turbocharged the speed and distance that this bad or good news can travel, placing unparalleled power in the hands of the consumer—your patient. One cannot avoid the reality that both reading and writing reviews have become embedded in society and applicable to all demographics. In the world of dentistry, the Google review has become a dominant weapon for the patient and a force for good if practices recognise their influence and seek to deliver a patient experience that generates positive feedback.

Let me now share with you my six moments of truth in the patient experience and comment on each. They are:

  • first digital contact;
  • first human contact;
  • first assessment or consultation;
  • treatment plan presentation;
  • treatment coordination and delivery; and
  • end-of-treatment review.

Regarding each of these moments, I am going to share with you a quick checklist of things to do or features to offer. You will then be able to compare what you currently do with what I suggest.

First digital contact

Most new patients, irrespective of background or need, are going to check you out online before they make human contact. This means that you must be easy to find and you must answer in just a few seconds the most important question that any new patient has.

What is that question? I rarely get the correct answer when I ask this at workshops. Most people will respond with references to price, location, access and experience. In fact, most patients want to know whether people like them visit your practice, because undergoing dental treatment can be stressful and they want to be reassured that they will be among like-minded patients. If your website home page features photographs of the practice or stock photographs of bright young things, do not be surprised if implant patients rarely show up.

Regarding the first digital contact, consider the following areas and suggestions:

  1. Organic search. If a friend refers a prospective patient to your practice over dinner, when the prospective patient subsequently searches for you online are you easy to find?
  2. Does your website reassure prospective patients that people like them visit your practice? Bonus points for 2023: does your website include a chatbot feature so that patients can communicate outside of practice hours, and do you have an online booking system?
  3. Social media. Do you use multiple platforms in a responsible way to deliver my golden rule on marketing—80% patient stories, 15% team stories and 5% oral health education (see my previous article)?
  4. Do you write a regular practice blog that provides oral health education, answers FAQs and establishes you as the local expert, thus driving patients through inbound marketing to your door?
  5. Practice newsletter. Before the prospective patient visits, can the patient sign up to your monthly patient newsletter and read stories about similar patients?
  6. Google reviews. Do you have more than 100 reviews (so that Google’s algorithms can see you) and growing, the majority of which have five-star ratings (because everyone eventually gets a one-star review) and are full of praise for what you do?

“We all must be on our game.”

First human contact

It has been said that first impressions last a lifetime. Recognising the value of this, a client of mine once gave the head of her front-of-house team the official title of managing director of first impressions. Another client recently shared a story of a front-of-house team member arriving late for work and thus missing a new business enquiry that resulted in £25,000 of work going to a nearby competitor. You may think the patient in this case a bit flaky, but we live in a post-COVID world of diminishing patience, and we all must be on our game.

Regarding the first human contact, consider the following areas and suggestions:

  1. Do you have a front-of-house training manual that covers all FAQs and agreed answers?
  2. Front desk. Have you separated your front desk from telephony so that patients arriving in the premises can have the undivided attention they deserve?
  3. Patient lounge—not waiting room, since nobody likes waiting. Is your patient lounge an area in which patients can detox from the outside world, relax and prepare for their appointment while watching videos (with subtitles) of patient testimonials?
  4. An untidy or ill-maintained toilet puts concerns of unhygienic treatment and thus risk of treatment failure into patients’ minds I cannot stress how important this is.
  5. If a patient arrives late or a clinician is running late, do you have efficient protocols in place to deal with the consequences calmly?
  6. Journey to the surgery. Are patients left to make their way to the surgery room or are they escorted by a nurse or a clinician who works on building the relationship during the few moments spent together?

First assessment or consultation

Whether it is with a treatment coordinator or a clinician, this is the first in-depth communication about the patient’s problems or needs. At the conclusion of that first conversation, does the patient feel understood and appreciated? To quote an adage, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”.

Regarding the first assessment or consultation, consider the following areas and suggestions:

  1. Did the patient feel that the person performing the assessment or consultation introduced himself or herself properly and understood the patient?
  2. Did the patient feel that, as well as undergoing a thorough clinical examination, the patient was consulted on needs, problems, challenges, fears—and desired outcome?
  3. Smile check. Besides collecting data, did the person performing the assessment or consultation connect with the patient’s feelings?
  4. Dental health review. Were the benefits of long-term preventive care explained to the patient as well as the solution to the patient’s immediate problem?
  5. Could the patient and person performing the assessment or consultation agree on targets for the desired outcome?
  6. Next steps. Was there a call to action at the end of the conversation and clearly defined next steps?

Treatment plan presentation

A treatment plan is a purchasing decision for the patient and, other than for pain relief, may sit alongside comparable decisions financed from a limited budget. Compare a £3,000 investment in a new computer, white goods, home improvements, a holiday or a business-class flight—with a dental treatment plan—and you will soon realise what I mean.

On visiting a new client, I always ask for an example of a treatment plan for a mid-sized financial investment—say a few thousand pounds. Even now, I am regularly horrified at the archaic nature of treatment plan presentation—printouts from practice management software that are impossible for laypeople to understand or lengthy word-processed documents that focus more on risk than reward, as they are driven by compliance and litigation considerations. My most innovative clients see the treatment plan as an audiovisual experience for the patient and not just another document to plough though in the endless pile of work to be done.

Regarding treatment plan presentation, consider the following areas and suggestions:

  1. Executive summary. Given that we are all short of time, do you provide a one-page summary of the problem, the diagnosis, the recommended solution, the benefit of the solution and the investment?
  2. Have you embraced video technology (e.g. Loom) to provide a narrative recorded on camera so that the patient can review your recommendations and share them with any other significant decision maker?
  3. Do you use intra-oral photography, radiography and, most important of all, intra-oral scanning as an integral part of your presentation?
  4. Do you give the patient options for treatment and options for payment?
  5. Financial conversation. Do you always link the financial investment to the desired outcome—and not to the treatment modality?
  6. Small print. For compliance purposes, do you keep the small print where it belongs—as an appendix?

Treatment coordination and delivery

We reminded ourselves earlier that undergoing dental treatment is a stressful experience for many patients—not a choice they would make to spoil themselves. The practice team is duty bound to make it as pleasant as it can be, even thinking about delivering nice surprises along the way to sugar the pill.

Regarding treatment coordination and delivery, consider the following areas and suggestions:

  1. Free assessment. Do you allow prospective new patients to have a no-charge, no-obligation assessment with a treatment coordinator (on video or face to face) before they pay to see a clinician? A good treatment coordinator can triage the patient—either out of the practice if not a good fit or to the correct clinician depending on the treatment requirement.
  2. Consultation room. Whether it is a treatment coordinator or clinician meeting, are the physical surroundings comfortable and is there access to audiovisual equipment and data that will help the patient to understand the treatment options and outcomes?
  3. Options meeting. Do you present options to patients at a meeting designated for that purpose and with the aforementioned audiovisual aids?
  4. Supporting technology. Do you embrace digital workflows as well as digital communication?
  5. Smile design. Do you embrace the latest treatment planning technology to show patients before and after artistic impressions before they commence treatment?
  6. Third-party evidence. Do you reassure patients by regularly sharing with them case studies of successful delivery to patients in their demographic?

“My most innovative clients see the treatment plan as an audiovisual experience for the patient.”

End-of-treatment review

The following is some repetition from my second article (but necessary) in that a patient reaching the end of a course of treatment that improves self-confidence provides a golden opportunity to capture the patient’s happiness.

Regarding the end-of-treatment review, consider the following areas and suggestions:

  1. Do you reference your end-of-treatment review at the point of sale (when the patient agrees to proceed) and again close to the end of the treatment pathway? Do you book the end-of-treatment review as a set appointment with your treatment coordinator or clinician?
  2. Referral cards. Do you give patients at least three practice business cards with a QR code to your website landing page for new patients?
  3. Do you ask patients who are regular users of social media to follow your business platforms?
  4. Google reviews. Do you give patients a Google review card (again with a QR code) and ask them to scan it and write reviews for you?
  5. Do you ask patients whether they will consent to short video testimonials in which they describe their experience of working with you?
  6. If you offer a dental membership plan, do you ask patients to join at their end-of-treatment review?

These six moments of truth offer multiple opportunities to deliver an experience that will enrol the patient as another unpaid member of your sales force. New patients are sometimes tough and expensive to attract. It is thus prudent for dental practices to seek to deliver continuous moments of delight that have a disproportionate effect. I cannot think of a better way to ensure job satisfaction for all your team—or a better way to grow your business.

Editorial note:

This article has been published in Dental Tribune UK 02/23.

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