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Like a good recipe, attracting new dental patients requires many ingredients

March 11, 2020
Dental office manager Debbie Evans works hard with her team to create happy patients in their large and successful practice. It takes many ingredients to attract new patients and then retain them. Here is her team's recipe.

My journey to dentistry is a bit unique. I was a stay-at-home mom, and during a visit to our dentist he asked if I’d be interested in joining the office team and helping out while my kids were in school. He was very flexible and to begin, I worked three days a week. Since then my kids have graduated, we’ve moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, and I work full-time in a busy four-doctor practice. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.

One of the challenges the doctors gave me was to grow the patient base through marketing. We had just purchased additional office space next door to the office and were planning to expand with additional doctors. Attracting new patients is always important, but when you’re adding doctors it becomes more of a focus, especially in a competitive environment where there’s a dentist on almost every corner. 

Now we’ve done so well attracting new patients that some of my colleagues have asked, “Debbie, what’s your ‘secret sauce’?” Well, attracting new patients is the result of doing a lot of things right. 

The most important ingredient 

Attracting and retaining patients starts and ends with great customer service—delivering an exceptional experience that creates patient retention and encourages referrals. About 65% of our new patients come directly from patient referrals, both in person and online. When you provide great customer service you get great reviews on Google, Yelp, and Facebook. 

For reviews, we use a company called Birdeye, a reputation management company. They send emails or text messages to our patients within an hour of their departure. Reviews are becoming more and more important, so we proactively ask patients for reviews and referrals. We are getting more positive reviews than we ever have. We try to make a point of asking for referrals when patients take the time to compliment us. We feel this is the most appropriate and natural time to ask. 

A healthy stream of new patients coming through our doors 

Another ingredient to our secret sauce is mailers. Yes, we send out mailers. They are bold and bright, and people just can’t miss them. And they work! We know because we track everything so we can make decisions regarding where we put our marketing dollars based on return on investment. It’s important that you constantly question the value of your marketing efforts and decide if something is worth it in terms of money and human resources, especially the time it takes you and your team to implement the marketing initiatives. 

Happy teams lead to loyal and happy patients 

Happiness is infectious. When patients see the team having fun, they tend to notice, comment, and relax and join in. So many practices experience high turnover within their team and that affects relationships within the team and with patients. When you’re comfortable and familiar with the people on your team, it’s easy to truly enjoy each other because you know each other’s idiosyncrasies. Many people on our team, like me, have been here well over 10 years. Patients notice this familiarity and continuity. They like that we, as a team, like each other and show it. We’re happy, which makes them happy. And happy patients are loyal patients. 

Healthy patients are the best patients 

Our entire purpose is to help patients receive care. Before we can deliver the exceptional customer service that leads to the great reviews and referrals, we have to enable patients to get treatment. One way we do this is by letting patients know about the CareCredit health-care credit card. If there’s an out-of-pocket investment needed for someone’s recommended dentistry, we make sure they know about CareCredit. Patients can apply on their smartphones and CareCredit is integrated into our Eaglesoft software, so it’s super easy to do. 

When you mix all of these ingredients together, it makes for a great “secret sauce.” But there’s actually nothing secret about what we’re doing. And what works for us, such as the mailers, may not work for everyone. But great customer service and tracking and measuring ROI on all marketing initiatives will work no matter the size or location of a practice. The point is to create your own secret sauce and watch the new patients line up at your door. 

Debbie Evans is the practice administrator and vice president at Wainright & Wassel DDS, in Raleigh, North Carolina. She has a business administration degree from the University of Florida and started in the dental field 27 years ago, and at Wainright & Wassel DDS in 2005. She is proud to be a founding board member and copresident of the AADOM Triangle chapter. She is a strong advocate for AADOM and believes it helped the doctors and her grow the practice tremendously. While Debbie is extremely passionate about dentistry, her four grandchildren are the lights of her life.