4 Tips to Turn New Patients into Forever Patients:
Improve Patient Retention Rates with Emotional Involvement Marketing
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How often do your new patients go from being a one-time transaction to engaged, connected, active members of your patient base? If you’re retaining more than 90 percent of your patients, you’re a star, according to many experts, but if you aren’t keeping at least 70 percent, you may be missing the mark. Let’s face it: retention and loyalty are the only factors that help your practice grow and build residual income. Yet surprisingly few dental offices across the country have formal, robust retention programs.
If you Google “dental patient retention” you will see dozens (maybe hundreds!) of articles from the industry, academia and marketing professionals with ideas. It’s not rocket science, though: virtually every idea can be boiled down into one of four categories below.
1. New Patient Experience
EVERY patient encounter is important, no matter how brief or simple. Converting new patients involves engaging them even before they walk through your door. It starts when a new patient calls to make an appointment or books one online. Although a Levin Group survey indicated that more than two-thirds of those responding do schedule an appointment at that time, the other 33 percent are missing the chance to convert callers into an appointment. It’s vital to set up appointments as quickly as possible while the prospective patient is motivated.
When the new patient comes to the office, give a brief orientation, beginning with introductions to staff members, a brief review of the practice’s services, billing practices, and other information all new patients need to know. Once the patient is ‘in the chair,’ you can learn about his or her concerns and needs and communicate the practice’s role in overall health and well-being.
From the front desk to the back office, treat every patient with respect and dignity; something as simple as learning to pronounce a patient’s name conveys a caring attitude. Carefully explain treatment plans, pricing, and insurance reimbursements. Be sure your staff knows how to handle difficult or disgruntled patients; using “I” statements and beginning sentences with “Help me understand…” can help diffuse these situations.
2. Ongoing Marketing
Once you have converted a new patient, keeping them happy requires communication, communication, and more communication. We’re not talking about flooding their email or mailbox with junk. Instead, nurture and engage your patients with clear, meaningful contact in a variety of channels, including in your office, via direct mail, email or social media. For example:
- Contact patients who are overdue for their appointments
- Survey patients after each visit and at intervals in between appointments or at least twice a year. Make it easy for them to give you feedback, with in-office or mail-in surveys, online survey links, emails, and social media.
- Communicate with patients regularly to let them know about new services, new staff members, new technology, insurance changes, and educational information about current dental topics that affect their health.
- Ask patients to review/rate you on Yelp (be sure to have a Yelp profile page and connect it to your web site). Ratings and review websites like Yelp are one of the best ways to spread the word about your practice, yet fewer than half of dentists and dental practices have pages on Yelp, according to Dentistry IQ.
- Use social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to communicate with patients and build or expand your sphere of influence—but do it right. Practices with two GPs that utilize online marketing strategies and services have 17.3 percent higher practice revenue than those that don’t, according to survey by the Levin Group Data Center. Be active on the accounts you already have. Don’t create a Twitter account if you’re never going to post on it. Whatever platform you choose, be prepared to commit to updating the information regularly—preferably every day.
Dental practice owners often underestimate the role their office operations play in patient engagement and retention, starting with knowing your attrition rate. If you’re retaining less than 70 percent, you’re not doing enough to keep your patients. Measure your inactive patient count regularly (patients who have been to your office during the past 12 months). Review this information and strive to reactivate these patients where possible and appropriate. In addition, here are some areas you should focus on to ensure that once patients find you, they will be steady customers for the long-term:
- Hire the best staff and professional talent and invest in training them on product and service knowledge and on delivering excellent customer service
- Manage scheduling to reduce patient wait times, cancelled or missed appointments
- Promote your practice’s financing programs to ensure that patients have payment options
- Talk up your investments in technology and be sure to communicate how these investments improve operations and patient care
4. Office Culture
In general business, more than 70 percent of people who take their business somewhere else do so because they perceive an attitude of indifference, according to the Healthcare Success Marketing Blog.
Every business, every office has its own unique culture or personality, and it starts at the top. How are you building your business culture?
The bottom line
Since it costs 6-10 times more to acquire a new patient than to keep an existing one, your practice’s profitability depends directly on holding on to the patients you already have. From the new patient experience to your ongoing office culture, are you doing whatever it takes to make patients want to come back?
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