How to make your dental practice stand out from the crowd
Many dental practices have grown their treatment offerings over the past few years, to take advantage of the opportunities that this provides; not only to the business itself but also the all-important patients. This trend looks set to continue, as dental professionals strive to provide the very best care combined with making the practice a going concern.
At first glance, a patient may see no difference between two dental practices situated relatively close to each other, both offering, for example, dental implants. However, there are simple ways to make your implant practice stand out from the crowd, and there is no better place to start thinking about how than with the 5 top tips presented here.
The benefit of good branding
In a nutshell, branding is about making the practice identifiable and memorable. Put yourself in a prospective patient’s shoes and ask: ‘Why should I choose this dental practice over another?’ You want your branding to answer this question, so that it encourages patients to take that first step and make contact with the practice to find out more.
Perhaps you don’t think that branding is appropriate in a healthcare setting; you wouldn’t be the first. But American businessman Howard Schultz once said something very apropos to dentistry: ‘Great companies that build an enduring brand have an emotional relationship with customers that has no barrier. And that emotional relationship is on the most important characteristic, which is trust.’ And if you wonder if he really knows what he’s doing – he’s the executive chairman of Starbucks!
Back to the world of dentistry, the starting point with branding is to have a name, a logo and a branding statement. Together these can create recognition within your local area. You need your practice’s name to be different to any other in the vicinity. For example, if there’s another Dr Smith in the community and you are Dr Smith too, naming the practice after yourself might not be the best idea.
As for a logo, you want something that looks professionally created and is eye-catching, and for that it is best to get a graphic designer to help you find something that works.
Finally, your branding statement doesn’t want to be too long – more like a tagline really – and it should describe the practice’s unique proposition. If we can go back to Starbucks for a moment, they have a slogan that states: ‘Starbucks DoubleShot. Bring on the day.’ In our opinion, that is an extremely effective statement. Coming up with your own is not necessarily going to be easy, and its therefore strongly suggested that the whole team brainstorms the possibilities.
There is, of course, much more to branding as you build your reputation, but these three pointers offer a good starting point. For more tips on branding view Les Jones’ video and download his guide here.
The patient experience
From the moment a patient makes contact with the practice, their experience is a fundamental aspect of whether they ultimately agree an implant treatment plan with you, and your customer service must be equal to, if not better than, that of your neighbouring colleagues.
Implant dentist Sinead McEnhill calls this process of offering patients the best possible experience ‘mindfulness practice’, and she spoke on this subject at the BioHorizons ‘Magic i’ symposium, held in London in September.
She states: ‘Understanding the present from a business to consumer perspective creates opportunity to become the leading implant practice of tomorrow. Know where your practice sits in the present and what needs to be addressed to ensure survival of your practice for the years to come.’
Practically speaking, initial contact comes in all forms today, from the traditional telephone call or simply popping in to the practice, to emailing, using contact forms on websites or sending messages via social media sites. Irrespective of how a lead comes to the practice, the response needs to be prompt, answer any questions they have (but don’t fall into the trap of answering one about cost – talk about the value of treatment instead), and encourage a consultation visit.
Questions commonly asked by patients include:
What are dental implants?
Are they available on the NHS?
Am I a candidate?
Are there any other options for me?
How safe are they?
Will they last me a lifetime?
Does treatment hurt?
How long will treatment take?
It is worth sitting down as a team and discussing a uniform response for the practice, so that everyone is singing from the same song sheet. You won’t necessarily be able to answer all of their questions upon first contact, and that is where an invitation for an initial consultation – perhaps free of charge as a loss leader to stand out from the crowd – comes into its own.
It has been shown that emotion drives consumer decisions, rather than logic, so, once the patient has agreed to an initial appointment, a good patient journey is critical. Whether the first point of face-to-face contact is by a member of the front desk team, a treatment co-ordinator or the dentist, building rapport is essential to build trust.
Another very important part of the patient’s journey is to assess their expectations. If what they hope for is not clinically possible and, despite your explanations as to why, you are unable to manage those expectations, you will never be able to satisfy them. Only ever treat patients for whom you believe you can meet expectations, if not exceed them.
Effective communication throughout the process is also invaluable, and part of that is being able to tell patients what the process entails in language they can understand. This is something implant expert, Marius Steigmann, for example, knows all too well, recognised as he is for his approach to soft tissue management.
Asked for his thoughts on this issue, he commented: ‘The future doesn’t need to be complicated!’
Schedule for success
If all of this has come together seamlessly, then you probably have a patient who has agreed to treatment and booked their first appointment. Now, clearly patients are going to be looking to schedule appointments at times that are convenient for them – but it needs to be convenient for you, too.
It wouldn’t be unusual for you to wonder what is meant by that. If you are there between 9am and 5pm, for example, why wouldn’t an appointment at any point within those times be convenient for you? The truth is that different people are most alert at different times of the day, thanks to our circadian rhythms and sleep/wake homeostasis. Have you ever referred to yourself as a morning or evening person? Ever attended a lecture just after lunch and found yourself drifting off despite the speaker being interesting?
These patterns need to be taken into consideration when you arrange your appointments. If a patient needs long, possibly complicated surgery, don’t schedule is at a time that you might not be feeling at your most alert. That is what is meant by convenient scheduling for YOU.
Make sure your front desk team knows your preferences and why, and you can be sure of providing patients with the very best care at the same time as taking care of yourself.
The right tools for the job
To achieve successful implant treatment outcomes, you need the right tools for the job – those that facilitate quick and efficient results. Of course, this can in some instances be an expensive prospect. However if you do your research and choose your partner carefully you should be able to recoup the cost in a reasonable amount of time given the efficiencies that both your practice and patients should benefit from too.
Consider whether you want to buy such equipment outright or lease it from the manufacturer. Practices that have incorporated digital solutions into their practices already have found significantly improved workflow efficiency and ease of collaboration with laboratories. Patients treated with digital solutions benefit not only from the combination of these efficient processes and also savings in treatment time, but also accurate high-strength materials and beautiful aesthetics.
The bottom line is that if you skimp on the equipment, you will lose out. This is something that Detlef Hildebrand, a Specialist in Oral Implantology, Periodontology and Prosthodontics, is keen to emphasise. As part of this, he will be speaking about the digital revolution this September at the ‘magic i’ event, during which delegates will learn about software and workflow techniques designed to achieve ideal implant placement, along with the simplicity of surgical techniques performed in conjunction with the recommended guide system.
As he says: ‘Digital dentistry is the future of implant dentistry!’
Planning for payment
There’s no denying that implant dentistry is seen by the public as expensive, but any patient’s worries about the cost may be mitigated with a payment plan. Staff should also be prepped in the best way to handle queries on expense of implant treatment so you do not lose the potential business early on.
Offered by loan companies – and there are quite a few that specialise in dentistry – payment plans provide patients a variety of options to spread the cost, a number of which are even interest-free. In addition, some of the loan companies will pay the practice up-front for the treatment, so you have a cash flow injection.
Of course, all of this depends on the patient being approved for a line of credit, so it’s not a certainty. However, if a patient is accepted it offers both parties many benefits including, for the practice, greater treatment uptake and, for the patient, the possibility of receiving functional and aesthetic implants without having to save up.
Finding the right lender for your practice is something to be carefully considered, as they each tend to offer something slightly different. Read the small print and only go ahead if you feel 100% comfortable that you understand what it means for the practice.
If in doubt, seek professional advice before making your choice – and that goes for every aspect of the practice if you want to stand out from the crowd in the right way!