The importance of keeping those new dental patients
Great customer service is what sets your dental practice apart from so many others. People who remember their great experience with your dental team will tell their friends, and this will lead to the all-important new patients your practice needs.
New patients in a dental practice mean growth, and growth is exciting. When new patients receive impeccable customer service in our offices, they leave happy. Creating an atmosphere in our practices that fosters great customer service, a friendly team, and communication where patients feel comfortable and welcome is a tall order, but is absolutely necessary to set ourselves apart from the other offices in your area.
How many new patients does the average dental practice see in a month? I looked back at seven years of data points that Sikka Software has collected from close to 13,000 practices across the United States.
Average numbers of new patients, per month, per dentist
2010 – 19.25
2011 – 19.25
2012 – 19.75
2013 – 19.58
2014 – 20.08
2015 – 21.17
2016 – 21.75
2017 – 22.88
As you can see, not a lot has changed in seven years. How have the numbers changed in your practice? It’s important for practices to know what percentage of new patients make up total patient visits per month.
A look at Sikka Software data tells the average percentage of new patients in a practice per month
2010 – 17.85%
2011 – 18.15%
2012 – 18.91%
2013 – 18.83%
2014 – 19.25%
2015 – 19.94%
2016 – 20.00%
2017 – 20.17%
While the number of new patients per month may not be changing much, the percentage of new patients to overall patient base is slowly climbing. This means dental practices aren’t doing as good of a job as they could be of keeping their existing patients. That’s what I want to talk about here.
Excitement is crucial
People often become complacent. We get stuck in our routines, and excitement in our jobs wane. Existing patients love us, but they become complacent about sharing their love for our practices. But new patients are different. When they leave excited, they spread the cheer and tell their friends and family about the amazing dental office they visited, much like they tell their friends about the great restaurant they found or the doggy day care their dog enjoyed. In this day and age of social media where we can ask for recommendations or post our dislike of poor customer service, spreading the message has never been more true.
So how can dentists create that atmosphere, one that encourages patients to come back and bring their friends with them? It all starts with the people. I believe an investment in your team is one of the best investments you can make in your practice.
Invest in the right dental team
Let’s start with the front desk. Answering the phone is easy, and anyone can do it, right? However, great phone skills are necessary for growth and for creating that great first impression when a new patient calls. A friendly person who is willing to help by asking the right questions instills confidence in new patients. That first phone call is all about them and how we can help them with their needs. It should not be rushed because you have someone standing there waiting to be checked out. Each of our patients deserve our time and undivided attention.
The dental office atmosphere should be clear of turmoil and negative vibes. It should be a place where the team comes together to provide the best dental care possible. The “negative Nellies” in the office can do actual harm, and the opposite is also true. A happy team that works well together creates an environment of confidence. Every dental office in your area provides dentistry. The only thing that can set your office apart is your customer service.
It is also important to be consistent in what your office does. Do you have more than one hygienist? If so, do they all say the same thing, and are they on the same page? Are your dental assistants properly trained to answer questions? Does your clinical team provide an atmosphere of consistency?
I believe in the power of a properly trained treatment plan coordinator. This person takes up where the clinical team leaves off by spending time with patients and educating them about their planned treatment, going over financial arrangements, and setting an expectation of treatment time. The hygienist, doctor, and treatment plan coordinator must all be on the same page and support each other so that patients see consistency. This gives them the confidence that they’re in the right dental practice.
When new patients leave your office happy, they will tell their friends and family. They are new to your practice for a reason—they need a new dental home, a place that treats them well and understands their needs. As patients stop coming in for various reasons, the importance of filling that hole with new patients is vital to growth. If you treat every patient like he or she is a new patient—with enthusiasm, confidence, and smiles—even existing patients will send their friends and family.
Treating people right doesn’t cost a dime, yet it’s the best investment your practice can make. Treat your team with respect and watch them build your practice for you.
Author’s note: Now is a great time to examine your fees and prepare for the second quarter of your business year. Get a head start with a free 10-procedure fee survey for your zip code from the app Practice Mobilizer at practicemobilizer.com. Or, if you want more in-depth information, you can purchase a full fee survey with more than 600 procedure codes for three zip codes at store.sikkasoft.com/FeeSurveyforDentistry.
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Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA, CDIA, MADAA, is the office manager and chairside assistant to Dr. Eric Hurtte of O’Fallon, Missouri. She is a member of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA), where she holds the honor of Master and sits on three national counsels. She is also the Illinois Dental Assistants Association vice president. She is founder of the Dental Assistants Study Club of St. Louis and St. Louis Dental Office Managers Study Club. She is the director of the Dental Careers Institute, with five locations in the US. Tija is also the author of six CE study courses. She is a national speaker and a certified trainer in nitrous oxide in several states. She can be reached at email@example.com.