Internal Marketing and Customer Service
Marketing your practice in today’s tough marketplace is challenging. Many practitioners are confused about what kind of marketing (internal, external, and/or advertising) will work for them. In our experience as consultants throughout the United States, it is rare to meet a dentist who is “closed” to new patients. Even the busiest of practices still needs new patients to meet production, collection, and cash flow goals.
As we all know, the best new patients are those who have been referred to us by others. With a focus on internal marketing and customer service skills, you and your team will be able to separate yourself from other practices and ensure a healthy new patient flow every year. Our goal in this chapter is to give you techniques and communication skills to
- Increase quality internal referrals as a result of the “WOW” factor
- Implement and enhance the internal marketing program in your practice
- Implement high-level customer service skills
- “WOW” each and every patient from the initial phone call through the greeting, treatment, and dismissal
- Learn skills to make sure each patient is treated like a “guest” in your practice, not a bother in your workday
Where does marketing end and customer service begin? Marketing (internal or external) is the way we retain and attract patients to our practice. Customer service skills are part of the marketing plan. Marketing and customer service skills in dentistry are closely intertwined. Without customer service skills, the marketing plan will fail. Without a marketing plan, the customer service skills may not be a priority for all of the team.
Interestingly enough, most of us in dentistry have not received any specific training or education on marketing or customer service skills. If you worked for a high-end bank, restaurant, or retail store, you would receive extensive training in customer service skills before working directly with the public. Not so in dentistry.
As in any service industry, we distinguish our practices in how we communicate and how we deliver our services. To your patients, the best marketing you can do is internal marketing by providing a high level of customer service. It is low cost and has the biggest impact on patient retention, treatment acceptance, and referrals
It is very important to be able to deliver what you promise. If you talk “quality service,” you need to be able to back it up with your communication skills, facility, and technical skills. Inconsistency between your promises and the product you deliver can lead to low trust as well as decreased patient referrals and poor patient retention. Many practices that struggle with adequate new patient flow have not spent enough time on the internal marketing and customer service side of the practice and have many dissatisfied patients who do not refer and often leave the practice.
As we have discussed, many of the best patients in your practice have been referred by other patients. They already have a certain level of trust in you and your team. This trust is based on the recommendation of a friend or family member they trust. They have a higher level of treatment acceptance and retention because they were referred to your practice and did not pick your name from a list or from the internet.
Although you may need to belong to a reduced fee dental plan or have a direct mail campaign to help your practice grow, you will be able to reduce your costs and time spent recruiting new patients with a strong internal marketing plan in place. You want all patients, regardless of their referral source, to experience a high level of service, so they in turn will refer patients to the practice. A good internal marketing program has the following marketing ideas in place:
- Greet the patient (by name if possible) as he or she enters the office. If you have not met the patient before, shake hands and introduce yourself. You may come around the counter to collect any forms or insurance information from the patient.
- Eliminate any sign-in sheets you may have at the front desk.
- Be honest with your patients and let them know how long they may have to wait if there is a delay in getting them seated. Always check back with them after 10 minutes so they will not feel neglected. If you checked them in, you are responsible for following up if the clinical team is running late.
- Try to address patients by Mr., Mrs., Ms., or Dr. until they give you permission to do otherwise.
- To speed up the patient checkout, the paperwork should be completed prior to escorting him or her to the business area.
- If a team member is busy checking out another patient, the clinical staff member should go the next staff member for the patient dismissal; no patient should ever be standing in line for a checkout if there is a business staff member available. It does not matter what anyone’s job description is; if there is a patient who needs to be dismissed, whose payment needs to be collected, or who needs to be scheduled, any business staff member should help.
- The “90-10” rule: God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason! We should be listening to our patients and letting them talk 90% of the time, and we should only be talking about ourselves 10% of the time.
- Use the “second question technique” to keep the patient talking. The more the patient talks, the more you get to listen. The more you listen, the more trust you build. Example: “Tell me about your trip to Hawaii. What islands did you visit? Would you go there again?”
- If you have kept a patient waiting, always say, “Thank you for your patience. I know that your time is valuable.”
- Wear nametags 100% of the time. Your patients want to know your name!
- Always be on the same eye level with the person with whom you are speaking. That means not talking to patients when they are reclined or when you are behind them.
- Utilize “quality statements” about the doctors, referring doctors, and other staff members. Examples: “Jenny is an expert at dealing with insurance. Let me go get her for you.” “Dr. Hite is a perfectionist and an artist when it comes to his cosmetic dentistry.” “You will love Dr. Cleeves. He is an excellent oral surgeon and has a very warm personality.”
- Each team member should have his or her own business card and give it to a few patients each day. Each team member should also carry several business cards and give them out in the community to friends and family.
- Weekly, each team member should write a thoughtful note on the office card stationery to a patient he or she felt a connection with or felt should receive a card for an occasion (retirement, death in the family, graduation, illness, birth of a baby, etc.).
- So that everyone can give the patient his or her full attention, no cell phones should be on at work. Personal phone calls from family and friends should be limited, and internet usage should be limited to business issues.
- The doctor should write a handwritten thank you note to referring patients.
- Gift cards should be sent to patients who refer more than one new patient into the practice.
- Document all referrals in the patient charts (who has referred them and who they have referred).
- Complete a telephone information slip for each new patient.
- Send a “welcome packet” to each new patient prior to his or her first appointment
- Document personal comments on each patient chart.
- 100% postop calls for difficult cases/appointments should be made by the doctor or hygienist.
- Each team member and doctor should target a quality patient and asks him or her to refer to the practice.
- Tell each and every patient, “It was a pleasure seeing you today.”
- Have lunch with one specialist (or general dentist) per month to develop a better professional relationship and to increase referrals.
In any service industry, there are three common levels of service: minimum service, exceeding standards, and outstanding standards. For example, think of a large “box” store where you have recently shopped. You probably received (and expected) minimal service. This trip probably involved buying some basics for the office or your home, did not cost very much, and was a quick trip. You chose this store primarily because of cost and convenience and probably had low expectations for service. You were satisfied because your needs in shopping there were met. This is the level of minimum service.
In a dental practice, by providing minimum patient service and by meeting the patients’ basic needs and expectations, patients get what they expected and are not disappointed. However, it is not a “WOW” experience. This patient will return but probably will not refer friends and/or family. As a matter of fact, patients may leave at some point because of a change in insurance, location, or one “bad” appointment. They feel no loyalty to the doctor or the team because they probably chose your office based on cost or convenience.
Here are some of the basic examples of a practice that is providing minimal patient service:
- Clean facility
- Running on time
- Good telephone techniques
- Smooth-running appointments
Now think of a hotel where you have stayed that exceeded standards. It was probably a “chain” hotel at a moderate price range. They may have had chocolate on your pillow, fluffy towels, and room service. It cost more than the motel down the street, but you were comfortable paying more because you were getting more. You chose this hotel based on quality and maybe some convenience, but not solely on cost. You expected a higher level of customer service and quality and were willing to pay for it. This is an illustration of the exceeding standards level of service.
In a dental practice, the middle level of patient service is exceeding standards by anticipating the patients’ needs. The dental team starts to go beyond what is expected when caring for the patient. During the morning huddle and throughout the day, the team discusses and anticipates the patients’ needs, even those needs that are unexpressed by the patients. This involves the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This means putting yourself in the patients’ shoes and looking for ways to delight them.
Here are a few of the ways in which to exceed standards and to start building loyalty from the patients in your practice:
- Appointment availability through preblocking the schedule
- Taking the time to actively listen and build rapport with your patients
- Up-to-date with technology and continuing education
- Strong emphasis on patient education
- Cohesive team
- Complaints are handled quickly
- 100% postop calls for difficult cas/>