How to nurture your dental 'flock'
Yes, new dental patients are wonderful, but dentists don't want to lose the patients they've got. So how about taking care of the "dental" flock they already have? Here are some ways this dentist hangs on to the great patients and staff he's lucky enough to have.
A lot of time, energy, and print is spent to acquire new patients and staff. Have you ever stopped to think about the cost of these acquisitions? The cost of acquiring and training a new team member ranges from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars in lost production. In our office, new patient acquisition cost is around $100 per patient. You can determine your new patient acquisition cost by adding all of the expenditures you have to acquire new patients (direct mail, web-based communication, yellow pages, internal programs, etc.) and dividing this amount by the number of new patients you get – this is your acquisition cost.
With profitability in dentistry being squeezed on all sides, it makes good business sense to “nurture your dental flock.” Not only does it make good business sense, for me it helps answer why I’m doing dentistry – to serve others.
Acknowledgement and appreciation
In our office we constantly strive to acknowledge and appreciate our patients and team members.
• Do you track which patients refer others to your office?
• Do you acknowledge those people with a handwritten note signed by the doctor?
• Do you personally thank patients for referring their friends or family? (See Dr. Mulkey’s Referral Card)
We do all of this in our office! Yes, it takes time, but the payoff is huge. For each of these referrals, I save $100+. The lifetime value of each patient is bigger than you think. Take into consideration not only patients’ immediate production impact to your office, but add to it their production over time and the production of their referral “tree.” We hold events and raffles periodically to give back to our patients. We also do some simple things such as providing lip balm (with our practice info printed on it), handing out warm lavender scented towels after hygiene appointments, and having an upgraded patient bathroom. We continue to call patients on their cell phones in the evening or the day after their dental appointment.
If you’re like me, you don’t readily acknowledge your team members when they do something right, but you’re quick to bring it to their attention when they mess up. It’s important to hand out praise, even if it doesn’t come naturally. I have 11 employees who work two different shifts. There are days I don’t even see some of them. I make it a habit to frequently speak to them not about work, but just to say hello or to ask about their family. I also try to catch them doing something right, and to praise them for it in front of their teammates. On their birthdays, I hand select a birthday card, write a short note, and place a $50 bill in it. I try to be consistent and not show favoritism.
Communicating with today’s patients is really difficult. (Just try calling them at home. Oh wait, they don’t have home phones anymore.) You must use multiple modes of communication to reach your flock. Asking patients which method of communication they prefer will help you reach them. We use email and text blasts – be careful to not overuse these because your patients will stop reading them – along with social media to reach the masses. However, like it or not, nothing replaces the personal attention you get from someone either answering their phone or calling to discuss their appointment.
Depending on your office size, it can also be difficult to communicate with your team. Speak personally to each team member every day. Use written memos to convey general information to the entire team so that everyone hears the same message. Hold team and departmental meetings regularly, and have an agenda and stay on course. I believe the most important and underused communication tool is the morning huddle. Again, have an agenda, make the huddle short and to the point, require everyone to be on time, and make sure everyone has a role.
Patients walking through the door don’t always enter as great patients; they are developedinto great patients. Set expectations with your patients to be on time, not miss appointments, and refer their friends. When a patient’s behavior is not consistent with your expectations, gently correct them and retrain them regarding your office protocols. Be consistent, and over time you will develop a practice with the reputation of having exceptional patients.
Likewise, team members need to be developed into great team members. Your office should be in a constant state of staff training and development. Set expectations with your team and let them go, but also hold them accountable. You’ll find that most of them want to perform at a high level, and they will when nurtured and provided the proper environment. When correction is necessary, do so in private after you’ve given it some thought. Give them whatever tools they need to be successful. Hire for character and train for skills.
Key points to take away
• Acknowledge and appreciate your patients and team members often
• Communication – meet patients where they’re at, and hold morning huddles and periodic training meetings
• Develop your patients and team members into what you desire them to be
Nurture your flock, and it will nurture you!
The founder of Lost Mountain Dental, Michael H. Mulkey, DMD, has been practicing dentistry for 27 years. His practice produces in excess of $2 million annually and he has a staff of 12. Dr. Mulkey attended the University of Georgia, then received his doctorate from The Medical College of Georgia in 1988. Dr. Mulkey is an active member of the American Dental Association, Academy of General Dentistry, American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, and Georgia Dental Association. When he isn’t busy helping patients achieve beautiful, healthy smiles, he enjoys golf, tennis, music, and traveling.