Most marketing and advertising activities have a cost associated to them. In terms of internal marketing, these costs are usually low as creating such things as practice brochures and education brochures are not hugely expensive and are one-off costs that can be amortised over a number of years. Advertising however can be very expensive and has little residual value other than the patients created from the advertising activity. However, there are numerous marketing activities you can implement today at virtually no cost whatsoever, and if incorporated into the psyche of the practice will create profound long-term benefits. Here are five effective marketing activities for free.
#1: The thank you card
When did you last receive a genuine hand written thank you card or note? I can guarantee that it is a highly infrequent occurrence for most of us. However when it happens, it has a massive impact and flow-on effect. Suppliers may send you and your team champagne, chocolate or movie tickets on occasions, but when someone makes the effort to hand write a few well-chosen words, it connects far deeper than any impersonal token gift. The reason a hand written card is so powerful is that it provides what most human beings live for, which is personal acknowledgement.
If you and your team agree this would be a great thing to implement then the next step is to create a system to make sure it happens. The good news here is that you don’t need much of a system at all. If you try and put file notes into your computer then sit down to write all the cards one day a week, I guarantee you that you won’t do this consistently as it will become too hard.
The best way to make sure this happens is to write the notes every day. My suggestion is that you have your own cards designed and printed, as this will work out a great deal cheaper than buying cards from a stationers, it means you have copious amounts of them on site and it’s great to help continue to build your brand. Then at every morning meeting, simply go through the list of clients from the day before and discuss what made them special. Each of you write a different card mentioning something unique about the patient and then pass them around to be signed by everyone present. Even in a busy practice, this will only take a few minutes and you can always remember patients from the previous 24 hours.
Do this one activity consistently and you will see a marked improvement in referrals and you will hear the comments as patients return. This can be one of the most impacting marketing / customer service initiatives you can implement and the best thing is that it costs you five minutes per day and a few stamps.
#2: The VIP card
How many in your team? How many transactions do you and your team do outside of the surgery on a daily basis? How many of your neighbours do you know? Handing out a VIP card is easy, every time you or your team go to the bank, buy lunch or go to the newsagency, then make sure they pass a card to everyone they meet. A really nice touch is to create a business card for every member of staff with a VIP offer on the back. The cost to print business cards is not going to break your budget and it means that your whole team is networking for the practice constantly.
In your morning meeting, (you do have a morning meeting, don’t you?) simply practice a script that everyone feels comfortable with. Let your team develop conversational phrases to make sure they are comfortable with it, but start off trying these words and let it develop from there.
“I work at Heaps of Smiles Dental a few doors along, as a neighbour of ours we would love to look after you, here’s my card, there’s a VIP Discount on the back just for you”.
Your team will soon find their own words and you will soon start to see many more of your local community in your dental chair.
#3: Chamber of Commerce
Getting involved in your local Chamber of Commerce takes a little more effort on your behalf, but it is an excellent way of meeting your local business community. I am not a big fan of formal networking clubs for dental practices, although I must say being involved in them will create more patients, however I find them a little too sales orientated for most practitioners. The Chamber of Commerce is a serious community based organisation that actually makes a difference in your local area and although not designed to be a networking club, it is inevitable that members start to interact with each other.
The great thing as a dental practitioner is that each of the other members can use your services and as you meet members, you can extend special offers to their member’s staff and family, which widens the reach of the activity. If you have not attended a Chamber meeting before you will probably find that you enjoy the experience and personally, I find it one of the best ways to get more involved in my local community. The fact that you may end up being the first to know about a new residential development in the area and therefore can organise a welcome letter to the new residents from your practice, is simply the icing.
#4: “We would love to see more patients like you”
If you are a client of mine you will be sick of hearing me say these words, however I have proven over and over again they work. As a patient is leaving your practice, simply get one of your team to hand them two of your practice brochures and with a smile in their eyes say “We would love to see more patients like you, would you mind passing these on” That’s it! Do this consistently and you will see a 30% increase in your referrals.
Referrals are the lifeblood of every great practice, however for most practices the process is left to chance. There are many reasons why patients don’t refer. They may have had to wait a few weeks to see you and therefore think you are too busy, not knowing you have a new colleague with only a half filled book or they may just not think about it. By subtly letting your patient know that you would like them to refer, many of them will. You have provided them with excellent service, your team have treated them like Royalty and they will pass your brochure on or pin it to the notice board when they go back to work. Send them a hand written card to thank them and you will be amazed what happens to your referral numbers.
It’s free, it’s wonderful and it makes everyone feel better about life. Sometimes it’s easy to forget to smile, especially if you are busy or stressed. I find little remember notes around the place can really help. It also helps if you have made sure that you and your team have great teeth. I went to a practice the other day and the doctor had the worst teeth I had ever seen, stained and pointing in every direction. The same doctor had “Cosmetic Dentist” written on his door and was asking me why not many of his patients went ahead with cosmetic treatment plans.
We all know that smiling releases endorphins into the body, making us feel great, but it is not always easy to remember, so encourage your team and praise them when you catch them doing something right. It’s good to remember to always make sure you have an audience when you praise a member of staff and that it’s always private when you berate them.
So there you have it, five ways you can improve your patient flow for free.