Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2017 06 Cheering Dental Patients 1

Why you have fewer loyal patients than you think, and what to do about it

June 30, 2017
All dentists want all of their patients to be "raving fans" of the practice. But the reality is that many patients can be wooed away by the next "shiny" dental practice. How can you get your patients to stay with you?

All dentists want all of their patients to be "raving fans" of the practice. But the reality is that many patients can be wooed away by the next "shiny" dental practice. How can you get your patients to stay with you?

Your dental practice is unique. But no matter where you’re located, what types of patients you treat, and how successful you are, you have three different categories of patients.

The first and best types of patients are the raving fans. Based on the famous title of the Ken Blanchard parable book, a raving fan is "a customer [or patient] who is so devoted to your products and services that they wouldn't dream of taking their business elsewhere, and they will sing from the rooftops about just how good you are."

The second group is attendees. They have been patients for years, but they tend to allow treatments to lapse longer than you recommend. They’ve never sent you a referral. When someone posts on Facebook that they are looking for a dentist or they overhear someone in the grocery line say they need a dentist, they probably won’t speak up.

Vulnerable patients are the third group, and theycomprise a spectrum. They range from inconsistent to indifferent. They see you when they have a problem and they don’t keep to their treatment schedules. The least loyal can be wooed away by the latest offer and lowest fees.

How loyal are your patients?

To answer this question, let’s look at a survey that a dental educational and management consultant, Sally McKenzie, took of dentists who have an average of 22 years in practice. She determined that most have far fewer loyal patients than they believe. She uncovered an average patient retention ratio of 31%. This means that for every 10 new patients who visit an office, seven will never come back.(1)

The solution to this problem is to create more raving patients. These ultra-loyal patients have a far better-than-average lifetime value. They continue to come back to your practice, and they accept your treatment recommendations. But that’s not all. They enthusiastically tell others how good you are, whether it’s one-on-one, on social media, or on dental review sites. These people play an important role in growing your practice.

How loyal is your patient base?
Your practice needs as many raving fan patients as possible, and if you’re like most practices, you would like more of these all-star patients. The good news is that you can create more loyal patients, and you can begin with your very own patient base.

To determine the loyalty of your patient base, let’s look at some numbers.

Attrition rate
The average practice will lose as much as 10% to 17% of its patients through common attrition, with patients moving, dying, and changing insurance. If you have 1,000 active patients and a 15% attrition rate and you’re not working to grow your practice, you’ll have 850 active patients by the end of a year.(2)

If your attrition rate is higher than 17%, you certainly have too few loyal patients, so keep reading

Reduce the lapses
Let’s look at treatment acceptance. Examine how often your patients follow your recommendations and complete treatment. This is an important and often overlooked factor in patient loyalty. Lapsed patients are not loyal patients. They jeopardize their dental health, and they are more vulnerable to attrition than patients who accept your treatment recommendations.

Dental referral ratio
A healthy rule of thumb for most practices is that 75% to 80% of new patients should come from patient referrals. What percentage of your patient base comes from referrals?

To calculate this, look at your number of active patients. If you have 1,000 active patients and you get an average of 10 referrals a month, that’s 120 referrals a year, and a ratio of 8.3%. Of course, not all of those will become great patients. When you consider the number of new patients and referrals you need, consider your attrition rate. For example, growth minded dental practices of 1,000 active patients could set a referral ratio goal of 15% to 20%, or 150 to 200 referrals per year.

Conversion ratio
Patients who are referred should have a higher conversion ratio and accept treatment with greater success than those who are attracted to your practice by a direct mail campaign, internet marketing, or other method. These referred patients are already on the inside track.

Your data will reveal whether you have a stable of raving patients. If you have a high volume of referrals, low attrition, and high patient treatment compliance, it’s almost certainly because you have the proper systems to create these successful results. If not, you can create more raving patients and boost loyalty by becoming more proactive.

A patient newsletter can boost loyalty
Sometimes raving patients occur organically. But you can’t grow your practice based on “sometimes.” The onus is on you to create systems and processes to foster loyalty. A regular patient newsletter sent to your entire active and lapsed patient base is an easy and cost effective way to accomplish five key objectives:

1. Remind patients that you value their referrals—Promote patient incentive programs in your newsletters to remind them that referrals are important to you, and that you reward referrals appropriately.

2. Boost treatment acceptance—We all know how easily patients can get off track in following through with treatment plans. They may change jobs, go through family transitions, face budget crunches, or just get too busy to make their oral health a priority. A monthly e-newsletter in their inboxes is a regular reminder of the importance of following through with your treatment recommendations. Newsletters discuss conditions and treatments that impact them. An article may address a specific pain or concern, or the newsletter may simply arrive as they are thinking about resuming lapsed treatments. People need reminders.

3. Give them incentives for dental site reviews—Your newsletter can provide a quick and easy way for patients to leave reviews on social media sites. Making this easy will boost the chances that they’ll leave a review, which is so important to new patient acquisition. To maximize the chance that they’ll provide a review, enter those who post one into a fun drawing. You can be creative with what you offer.

4. Stay competitive—You will always have a portion of “vulnerable patients.” They aren’t your all-stars but they also matter. Keep them coming back to your practice versus being wooed away by others by staying in front of them every month with the newsletter. This reminds them of your credibility and why you are a top dental choice.

5. Showcase your credibility—As you know, the world of dentistry is highly competitive. Your patients probably regularly receive mailers and other promotions to try a new dentist. But by regularly educating your patients with an interesting newsletter, you’ll remind them that you’re a credible and trusted professional. You don’t just deserve their loyalty. Their family deserves the best, and that’s you. Newsletters provide these valuable reminders.

For more on how newsletters build patient loyalty, download the free “Complete Guide to Building a Profitable Dental Practice through Newsletter Marketing.”

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Steve Klinghoffer is president and publisher at WPI Communications Inc, which he founded with his wife, Lori, in 1984. He has helped hundreds of dentists build their practices with newsletters. To start or improve a dental e-newsletter marketing program, contact WPI Communications for a free, no-obligation consultation at (800) 323-4995, [email protected], or visit