By Luc Wade, Marketing Director at Hive Business.
Look around and you’ll see there aren’t many dental practices with a really good patient journey. Nice branding abounds, but to make your brand values come through in everything your business does is a far deeper accomplishment, and it’s immediately obvious to customers. Look at any practice that’s hitting ambitious growth targets, and you’ll see serious investment in the patient journey. Serious growth doesn’t happen without it.
Take one example: Hartley Dental in Plymouth. It’s doing very well, largely because its owner has properly invested in marketing. So for our latest Hive Five, we asked business manager Edd Jones to explain five things he’s done to improve practice performance. Edd also works with other dental practices as a consultant with C&E Consult. Thanks Edd…
1. Get your vision straight.
Understand what it is you’re trying to achieve. What stage of life are you at? Charlie, who bought Hartley Dental in 2003, is 50. His vision and focus is now turning to exit planning. If you’ve just bought a practice, your vision might be different, like: in five years I want x revenue and x number of plan patients, and I want to be working x days a week. You’d need to position yourself a certain way to achieve that. If you want a certain level of personal income but only want to work three days a week, you’ll need to position your practice and design your marketing to ensure you’ve got enough quality patients paying the right fees. So this part is about finding your objectives and figuring out your approach, which leads on to sorting out your product.
2. Know your product.
This is for the whole team. Everyone must understand what you’re offering, regarding treatments, prices, and added value (like free wi-fi, coffee, and allowing a nervous patient’s friends and family into the surgery). How do you treat new and old patients? Your team needs to buy into your core values and your approach to customer service. When this happens there’ll be a palpable customer service ethos that gives your patients confidence in your competence. One mistake a lot of dentists make is to focus on the clinical side. Obviously that’s important, but this is a service industry, it’s about how you make people feel. You want to make them feel wanted, interesting, valued. Some people are better at this than others, which doesn’t have to be a problem. The ones who realise they’re not very good at it can recruit a team around them that is. If the nurses, front of house team and manager are good with people it will help alleviate that issue.
3. Get team buy-in.
If your patients are told things like: “We can sell you this electric toothbrush but if you go to Boots you can get it cheaper,” or, “I know we’re expensive, but …” they will lose faith in the value of your service. The message should be: “We’re confident this is the best service and option for you.” If you believe it, they will. We did a sales training day with Martin Crump where we learnt that belief in the product leads to the sale of it. Sales is still a dirty word in this industry, which is ridiculous. When I go to buy a TV, even if I know what I want, if the person selling it isn’t enthusiastic or doesn’t really know their stuff, I’ll begin to have doubts. It’s the same with dentistry. So I’d advise practices to look at getting the whole team appropriate training, and involve the team in making decisions. Team buy-in is about having an inclusive environment where people get listened to, not shot down. Otherwise you won’t hear about the great idea. The other day our hygienist said why don’t we put a shelf in the toilet with complimentary mouthwash and toiletries. It was a great idea, and we implemented it.
4. Focus on service.
If all you aim to do is match your competitors, that’s a slippery slope. You know how much you need to make to cover your costs, so you’ve got to make sure your services are at or above that level. That’s everything from how you talk to patients, the music in your waiting room, to how you deliver the personal touch. If you learn of important events in your patient’s lives, such as a new house, or a bereavement, make it protocol to send a card. We have a stack of cards for this purpose. It takes two minutes. The difference it makes is what counts — not what everyone else is doing. Also, a lot of dentists don’t do price increases. I was speaking to DPAS, the monthly plan administrator, and they said some haven’t changed their prices for 10 years. Premium tax on insurance went up in April, which means all insurance products went up, so everyone in the industry should have put their prices up by at least that amount to maintain the quality of their services. And that’s only one cost increase; there are many others, such as rising material costs as the weaker pound hits imports.
5. Measure it.
You need to make sure what you’re doing actually works, which is where key performance indicators (KPIs) come in. Productivity and actual income are the two basic ones. When you have plan patients, to measure the productivity you need to look at the number of appointments and what they would be worth privately. Then look at your operating costs. You need to measure your marketing to get numbers around how much enquiries are costing you. At Hartley Dental, we record new patient enquiries and then go through the diary and see how many new patient assessments we’ve done, which gives us a conversion rate. If you know how much you’ve spent on marketing, divide it by the number of assessments and you have the price per enquiry. This is an easy to understand number to share with the team, so you can tell them: “Every time you answer the phone or answer an email it costs the practice £70.” When I did this it was a bit of a revelation for them. I’m dead against free consultations; if you see 30 people in a month and five convert, imagine how much time that takes up. If you charge £100, you’re going to get a better quality of enquiry.
If you would like to discuss topics raised in this article or you would like to be featured in the Hive Five, get in touch on 01872 300232 or email us at [email protected].