You’ve wowed your new patient, helped them feel special and unique, and listened expertly to them. You co-developed a treatment plan which they have already completed or are in the process of doing so. You’ve welcomed them back to your office at their recare appointment each time, and they’ve completed initial necessary treatment – but not all treatment you discussed at their initial exam/consultation.
As your patient keeps returning for recare appointments, you’ve gotten a little frustrated with the fact that the patient seems to believe their dental health is in complete order. Then one day it happens: you get a call from another dentist’s office. The patient is switching to another office. What happened? How can this be avoided again?
Here are some suggestions about retaining the loyalty you worked hard to get – and then lost.
- Keep your patient’s interest level in your office high. A lot of effort (and sometimes money) was expended to attract that patient to your office. Years ago, a patient only needed 2 or 3 good impressions of your office to make a choice to use your office for their dental services. In these days, we are all exposed to THOUSANDS of marketing messages every day. It is estimated that we need 5, 6, or even 7 TIMES the number of positive impressions from years ago to make a choice these days. What’s there to do? For one, continue to market to your existing patients. That’s right … continue to market to them, but not in the same way as how they came to your office. Keep them posted on what’s happening in your office; many doctors use newsletters as a way to stay in contact between recare appointments. With more people using email and the Internet, it’s also easy to stay in touch with them (with their permission) by sending them regular emails, text messages, and e-newsletters. Additionally, keep them updated on new technology and procedures, continuing education you’ve taken, and new services you’re now offering. Above all, avoid taking for granted that they already know everything you offer, because they don’t!
- Revisit unfinished treatment each and every time they return to your office. Most patients complete only the treatment they understand they need for problems they understand they have! A patient returning for recare is a great opportunity to revisit treatment recommendations and re-establish the patient’s dental health goals. Ask questions to understand how they might have changed, what recommendations you’ve previously made that are not understood, and questions to help them understand their current dental condition. Most patients accept treatment when they understand their condition or problems, so use their time in your office to revisit unfinished treatment, as well as assessing their current condition.
- Update furnishings and wall coverings every few years. Patients won’t remain in your office just because of how you decorate it, but it matters. New artwork, pictures of staff, displaying honors and awards – even re-arranging the furniture in the reception area – will keep the area feeling fresh and new. Try new scents, fresh flowers and plants, offering different types of beverages, books, magazines, and the like. Every 5 years or so, change out the carpeting. When we work in our office everyday, we seldom see the slow degradation of our furnishings and surroundings. Keep their interest by keeping things fresh – because THEY notice the changes!
- Consider doing a complete re-evaluation with your patient every 3-5 years. Re-connect with the patient by doing, or at least offering, a complete exam just as you did the first time they came to your office. Be just as interested in them as a person as you were the first time. Keep tabs on their personal situations, such as job changes, marital status, job promotions, special celebrations and anniversaries. Review their entire dental health with them again. Too often we get lulled into believing the “periodic oral exam” is a substitute for doing a thorough exam each time – even though when your patient hears “Mrs. Jones, everything is looking OK” she thinks she is in optimal oral health, when that rarely is true.
- Develop strong relationships with your patients by getting to know them. People do business with people they know best. If they get to know a dentist better than they know you, you may get that phone call we mentioned in the beginning for no reason other than they “like” the other dentist better. You may be a great dental technician, but unless you can develop equally great communication and relationship skills, your patient could choose to work with another dentist whom they’ve recently met and developed a relationship with outside of the dental office. Patients rarely switch dental practices because they just met a dentist at their church. There’s more to it than that! Make connecting with your patient on a personal level just as important as doing excellent dentistry for them.
- Honor existing patients’ appointments at all times. Many times, dental practices will move existing patients appointments around, taking for granted their loyalty to the practice, mistakenly thinking “they wouldn’t mind”. Honor your commitment to them at all times, doing what you said you would do. Don’t get sloppy, thinking it’ll be OK just because they’ve been in your office a few years. Additionally, when a dental office is chronically running behind on the schedule, patients get frustrated and leave your practice.
- Take the time to communicate thoroughly just like you did that first meeting. Avoid complacency and thinking that just because they’re still a patient in your practice that they’ll forevermore give you a “carte blanche” to do anything to them without first helping them understand new developments in their dental health. Ask questions, probe for concerns, and only recommend treatment when they fully understand their condition needing treatment. Make sure they receive a written treatment plan just like they did when they first came to your office. Misunderstandings about money can cause a loyal patient to leave your practice.
- Reward patients for referring their friends, family, and co-workers. Whether it’s a simple thank you, a handwritten note, or a gift, show your appreciation for their support of your practice. Not acknowledging their referrals is not working in your favor! Also consider surprising them with a small token of acknowledgement for an accomplishment, birthday, or anniversary, or maybe something to brighten an otherwise stressful day they might be having.
- Make yourself available outside normal business hours. We didn’t say you need to run to the office on evenings and weekends all the time (unless you just want to.) Many dentists have lost numerous patients because they were available after hours or on weekends, at least to talk to them, get questions answered, or to get reassurance about a dental urgency. Anything they consider an urgency (there’s very few true dental EMERGENCIES) IS an urgency, so have a way for your patients to get in touch with you. With all of the options available these days, there’s no reason to not give your patients a way to get in touch with you. If you’re not available, and they have what they feel is an urgency, they’ll start asking friends, neighbors, co-workers who they see, and give that dentist a chance to become THEIR dentist by calling them to see if they respond to them outside office hours. And – snap – just like that, you’ve lost that patient.
- Go beyond their expectations without fail, each and every time. A quick call in the evening after a procedure to check on them and answer questions goes a long way in maintaining that loyalty you developed with them. Remembering special events in their life, congratulating them on accomplishments, and continuing to be a person of integrity are essential. Doing great dentistry is equally important and taking responsibility for any dentistry you’ve completed for them that’s not working out as anticipated will cement the relationship even more.