Great Customer Service

Wondering where all your patients went? How it’s possible to have good active patient numbers, good new patient growth, and still experience slow months that drain your cash flow? We have another question for you: Could it be time to re-examine your approach to customer service?

My general physician referred me to a cosmetic surgeon for a routine procedure to ensure minimal scarring. The receptionist was great in helping me book an appointment that worked with my schedule. The practice was beautiful and new and the doctor was very nice and friendly. A partner practice, they had several consult rooms and large operatories. At the initial consultation I asked the doctor about other cosmetic services that I might be a candidate for. (I’m in that almost-50-want-to-preserve phase!) The doctor didn’t have time to discuss, but briefly told me they offered all services, and suggested we could chat at another time. After the procedure I didn’t see the doctor again. I returned to have the stitches removed (by the nurse) and on my way out, I asked what type of communication I would be receiving. Their great receptionist who had been so very friendly and helpful in getting my appointments booked stared at me with a blank look. Whaaaa? “Regarding other cosmetic services?” she asked. “Oh, for that you can go to our website. There’s lots of information about each procedure.” Are you kidding?! I’m your candidate – boomer female with disposable income – but I’m super-busy with career, home, family, and personal obligations. You need to make it easy for me to learn about your services and buy them.

And guess what. It’s proven that the number-one reason clients don’t return to a business is because of perceived indifference. This is a classic example – and one we’ve all sadly experienced.

Have you ever contacted a business for information about something you’re interested in, and in retrospect thought – wow, you dropped the ball. If I’m passing by a dental practice, I’ll drop in like a new patient might, to ask for information about the practice. (and check out their marketing). At one prominent practice in Boston, the receptionist didn’t raise her face to look up at me, but extended her arm in the air over the desk with a business card (she wasn’t busy), and said, “Check our website.” When I looked at the card, it didn’t even have the website on it!

In a 2010 Customer Experience Report, 82% of consumers stopped doing business with an organization as a result of a negative experience. And a 2011 study shows that the coveted 27-43 demographic – the one with peak employment, peak insurance benefits, and disposable income – terminated relationships the most.

Voting with their wallets is not a freak reaction to a down North American economy. If we can look at the other side of that coin for a moment, customer service is also the number-one reason consumers recommend an organization – more than products or price. In fact, not only do consumers choose companies or switch to a competitor based on a great reputation, nearly all consumers in numerous international surveys say that they would be willing to pay more to ensure a superior customer experience.

That’s something even the big guys have to care about. LL Bean, originally a one-man start-up, is global today and a serial winner of the Customer’s Choice Award which asks consumers, without providing any prompts or lists, who consistently provides the best service. To paraphrase Leon Gorman, Chairman of the LL Bean Board, a lot of people have fancy things to say about customer service, but it’s just a day-in day-out compassionate kind of activity.

Put that way it seems so simple: compassion … treating customers like human beings… What a marketing concept! And it’s the exact same advice we give to our clients. Marketing doesn’t have to be overwhelming and intimidating – genuinely caring about your patients is really just marketing on a higher plane, if you will.

The cost of losing a patient because of a bad experience is the loss of actual revenue and potential revenue, especially if it becomes the buzz around the water cooler or goes live on social media. And it’s getting worse – word of mouth in person or online remains the number-one influence on consumers’ purchasing decisions and any online review of your practice, even the bad ones, will be collated by Google and show up on your map listing!

Even marketing wizards can’t rest on their laurels, though. It’s important to follow up consistently. Don’t worry – it doesn’t have to break the bank. Make care calls to patients who have had difficult procedures, reward referrals with a special gift, and make sure that you and everyone on the team thanks patients regularly for coming to the practice.

A competent staff is among the most significant factors in satisfying customer experiences, according research. Next up? Convenient communication channels, and a personalized, proactive approach. In fact, more than 83% of consumers say they would like more proactive outreach.

But how do you as a dentist achieve a successful patient outreach program? Well there are two ways. One we’ve already visited – the follow-up phone call. For consistency, create scripts for your team – it’s really important. Scripting is not synonymous with insincerity; paradoxically it frees up staff to be more human and engaging because they feel more confident and focused while enquiring after patients’ welfare, helping them stay informed, surveying dissatisfied patients, and overcoming their objections.

Another powerful way of achieving all of these things is by staying in touch with printed educational pieces, mailed on a regular basis to remind patients you care and to keep them up to date about techniques, technologies, and just as importantly, the human side of the practice. You can bond with announcements about staff marriages, births, changeovers, the excitement of upgrading or renovating your space, and claim bragging rights about your environmental efforts, volunteer work, and other contributions to your community.

Interestingly, according to the 4th annual Signs of the Times national survey, other small business owners like you are increasing their marketing efforts and relying increasingly on print. More than half are turning to traditional channels such as newsletters and direct mail. Ironically, although 91% agree that the quality of a company’s marketing materials reflect the quality of service, nearly a quarter admitted their own did not! That’s a shame because it’s every bit as important to your customer service reputation as the quality of your staff, your reception area, and your treatment rooms. Here at Patient News, we are always happy to help you with your integrated customer service communication programs and marketing solutions that will keep your cash flow … well … flowing!