I have the privilege of visiting hundreds of dental practices every year, all over the country. I get to meet wonderful people who are highly skilled and passionate about their dentistry, but in most cases, it’s a secret. In 99% of cases, I can walk into a dental practice and not know what is provided. I have a strong understanding of dentistry and if I have to ask “are you providing implants?” or “Do you provide in-chair bleaching?”, then you can understand that the general public will have no idea about what is available. If I have learnt one thing in the last four years of advising dental practices, it is whatever you believe your patients know about you is probably wrong.
Just this week I visited a beautiful new practice in Sydney. Lovely fit out, glamorous and for me, screamed a cosmetically focused environment, yet the doctor had, in the last week, seen an existing patient who had just spent $20,000 with another practice, yet had come back to him for her regular checkup and clean. When the doctor asked why she had gone to another practice the answer was simple, “I did not know you did cosmetic dentistry”. I can only guess how frustrated the doctor must have felt, however I would say that this is happening within most practices at one level or another. You can be assured that if you have ‘general dentist’ on your door some of your patients will think you don’t do cosmetics. If you have ‘cosmetic dentist’ on your door, they will think you can’t help them will a routine filling. If you don’t mention implants then they presume they have to go to “The Implant Centre” that may be advertising near you and the list goes on. With this in mind, there is little point in spending thousands of dollars on fancy advertising programmes when you have an untapped market already within your practice.
Society has changed; we are all a lot more sophisticated and educated than ever before. No longer will all your patients say, “You’re the doctor, you know best”. No, we want evidence and research. Take six monthly check-ups for example. Why do we have to visit the dentist every six months? In most cases, it is simply because since we were young, we have been told we have to.
Have you noticed that your 20 to 30 something patients are not compliant? I think if you check your records you will find you are lucky to see them once a year. This is because they need more reasons to justify this belief, if you explain that not staying in great dental heath can lead to periodontal disease, which in turn has been linked to heart disease, they now have a real reason to schedule an appointment, other than their teeth feeling nice for a few days. This same approach needs to be taken with all aspects of what you provide, it’s simply called education.
Patient education is the key to all successful dental marketing activities, and it’s easy. Forget full-page ads; make sure that every patient gets a practice brochure explaining all your services. Make sure that your website is not a glossy brochure on-line but a comprehensive research tool and that your team refer to it constantly. Send informative newsletters as part of your recall system, which gives patients all the motivation they need to be compliant for their regular checkup.
Gently ask for referrals by giving every patient a couple of copies of your practice brochure and saying words to the effect of “we would love to see some more patients like you, would you mind passing these on” and then when you receive a referral, send a hand written thank you card to the person who sent them along. These activities cost only a few cents and a little thought to implement, yet will get you infinitely better results at a fraction of the cost of the sort of advertising activities we are starting to see creep into the profession.
As with the doctor I met this week, just one lost case would cover the cost of these types of marketing activities for over a year and for every case you know you have lost, I would surmise there are twenty that you are not aware of. So my advice for you to make 2007 an even more successful year than this year was, before you get your cheque book out to pay for a large external ad somewhere, make sure you have a great internal marketing system and your team are well trained in communicating every aspect of your practice.
Carl Burroughs is the Managing Director of Australia’s only dedicated dental marketing company and can help and advise you on how to successfully build your practice. He can be contacted on 02 9211 1477 or via the website www.idm.com.au.