Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2017 04 Patient Advocate 1

What are dental practice advocates, and why do you need them?

April 26, 2017
Dental patient advocates will save your practice from having to find dozens of new patients each month. How can they do that? And how do you create these advocates?

Dental patient advocates will save your practice from having to find dozens of new patients each month. How can they do that? And how do you create these advocates?

Dentists are inundated with ads, articles, seminars, and products about how to attract new patients. With only about 11% of dentists reporting that their practices are operating at maximum capacity, most of them believe they need more new patients to walk through their door.(1) Unfortunately, the emphasis is usually on how many new patients are attracted to the practice and not on how many patients are converted into dedicated, loyal, lifetime patients, or what I call “practice advocates."

Why is all the focus and hype on attracting 50, 80, and 100 new patients per month to practices? It is because entities outside your practice can do it for you. You can pay others to encourage potential new patients to contact your office. Understandably, to prove their worth in your eyes (their client), these entities must focus on the number of new patients they attract for you and not on how many of those new patients they converted into long-term, valuable patients. The problem is that dentists tend to adopt this same focus. Unfortunately, it is a faulty business focus because the value of a new patient comes from their regularity, longevity, and trust.

During the first 10 to 20 seconds a new patient interacts with your office, the responsibility of creating a valuable patient shifts. Your operating systems and your communication skills must convert this person into a dedicated patient. No one else can do that for you. The new patient’s total experience when interacting with your practice is the determining factor in converting this “new person” into a valuable, loyal, practice advocate.

Why create practice advocates?
Creating practice advocates takes intent, patient-focused systems, highly trained employees, and teamwork. That is a lot of effort, so why should you go to the trouble? I’ll let the evidence answer that question. According to a Harvard Business Review article entitled, “The New Science of Customer Emotions,” practice advocates will have double the lifetime value, be less price-sensitive, have a low attrition rate, result in a high ROI, comply with your recommendations, regimens, and instructions, passionately refer others, remain loyal to your practice, give you rave reviews, defend you and your reputation, rarely question your recommendations, forgive mistakes, and give you the benefit of the doubt.(2)

How to create practice advocates
Converting patients into practice advocates is 100% dependent on their experience interacting with you, your team, and your business. According to research from the same Harvard Business Review article, you, your team, and your practice must satisfy patients’ emotional needs to transform them into practice advocates. There is an “emotional connection pathway” patients must follow. It starts with the new patient being totally unconnected, untrusting, and skeptical.(2) After high-quality experiences with your practice they feel connected, trusting, and less skeptical. The final and desired levels are when they feel like part of your practice family, trust your recommendations and fees, and recommend your practice. They become practice advocates.

Specific emotional needs must be satisfied along this pathway. You must make your patients (1) feel as if they stand out from the crowd and feel they’re part of something special, (2) feel a sense of freedom and feel like they have choices, (3) experience a sense of thrill and have fun, (4) feel a sense of belonging, (5) have confidence in the future and good image of their health, and (6) enjoy a sense of well-being.(2) It’s important to note that these emotional connections start to form during the first interaction with your office.

How to make it happen in your practice

Of course, these are only a few of the ways to move patients toward practice advocacy. You and your team’s imagination are the only limits to the possibilities. To begin creating practice advocates in your practice follow these six steps:
1. Distribute copies of ideas at your next team meeting.
2. Discuss practice advocates and their value to the practice.
3. Encourage your team to brainstorm about other actions that could trigger these emotions in your patients.
4. Fill the actions into the chart and connect them appropriately.
5. Decide as a team how to integrate these emotional satisfiers into your daily operational systems to ensure they happen consistently.
6. Evaluate your efforts by using your patient survey system regularly.

Just think, if you were able to succeed in moving only five patients a month down this pathway to advocacy, your practice would thrive! You would never have to worry about paying to attract new patients ever again because your practice advocates would bring them right to your door.

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Sandy Baird, MBA, is a practice management consultant and the founder of Baird Dental Business Concepts based in Sewanee, Tennessee. She's also a member of the Academy of Dental Management Consultants.

1. What Marketing Strategies Are Working? The McGill Advisory. August 2016; Volume 31, Issue 8: page 1.
2. Scott Magids, Alan Zorfas, and Daniel Leemon. The New Science of Customer Emotions. Harvard Business Review. November 2015: 65-76.