Navigating The COVID-19 Pandemic
Steps your dental practice should take to keep the momentum going
Updated on August 13, 2020
Dentists and their teams have seen millions of patients across North America after reopening amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The bounce back has been so good, in fact, that it has taken many experts in the industry by surprise.
Patient volume soared to 65% of pre-COVID levels in the middle of June and rose again to 73% the week of July 27, according to data from the Health Policy Institute (HPI).
Many patients have jumped at the chance to return to their dentist’s office for non-emergency care. By the end of July, 99% of dental offices were back open.
Patient NEWS’ clients and many dental marketing experts attribute this success to two things: pent-up demand and consistent patient communication. Practices that have reassured their patients that it’s safe to return have been rewarded for it. They’ve alleviated concerns by being transparent throughout these months and by keeping patients informed about health and safety protocols as well as what to expect in the “new normal.”
This strong comeback is a promising sign for the entire industry. However, more recent Patient NEWS data shows a slump emerging among active patients. An HPI poll also found that one-third of practices are anticipating lower patient volumes in the fall. Therefore, going forward, it will be crucial to continue to foster patient relationships and, in addition, to zero in on new-patient acquisition.
To be the practice people think about first when they need a dentist, it’s essential to become and remain visible. New patients will be critical to full practice rebound and recovery. To reach them, you must invest in dental marketing. A recent industry study revealed that 62% of dental offices plan to spend the same or more on marketing in the next 6-12 months. Practices that don’t do this risk losing new patients to their competitors.
And because not everyone feels safe returning to the dentist (8% say they would go with reassurance from their dentist while 12% want to wait it out until there’s a COVID vaccine or proven treatment, according to the HPI), it’s a must to maintain a full-court press on communication with your patients of record.
Wondering how to increase your exposure to your community and get more new calls at your office? Here are 3 proven ways to make it happen:
- Identify your target audience & offer strategy. Before determining which marketing strategies to use, it’s imperative to identify your ideal dental patients and core draw area. Run an analysis of your existing patient base to find out where these areas are. You will achieve a higher ROI if you reach out to the right consumers – the ones most likely to respond. Once you know who they are, it’s easier to target your dental marketing effort and craft offers that will resonate with ideal potential patients and prompt them to call your practice for care.
- Share valuable content. To generate a response, you want to answer your target market’s most common challenges. Dental care routines have been disrupted during these ever-changing times. But because people still want to look and feel great – and many still have the discretionary funds to spend on themselves – it’s important to let them know you exist and build their trust. When potential patients know about you, come to like your practice and approach, and believe you’re serious about providing them exceptional, safe care, that’s when you’ll win them over.
A few tips for putting great content in front of new patients:
- Ensure business listings, including Google My Business and your Facebook page, are up to date.
- Get social on social media. That means not only sharing valuable dental tips and updates on your practice and procedures, but also humanizing your brand. Patients and prospective patients want to get to know who’s behind the mask and gloves.
- Send stand-out newsletters to your patients and to the homes around your practice. People have always reacted well to physical mail and during this time of social distancing, appreciate it even more. It’s what will keep your practice in their minds, strengthen your reputation as a knowledgeable dental authority, and ultimately earn their trust.
Stick with it and be consistent. Practice visibility is important because it helps both patients and your prospective patients become familiar with you, and the more often they see your name, particularly when associated with reassuring and confident information, the more likely they will be to choose and stick with your dental services.
Being visible helps people recall your practice when they are ready to hit the research and buying decision phase of their dental journey. When people recognize your dental practice, they will be more likely to select your office than a competitor who’s in your area that they might not be as familiar with.
Keep Up The Communication With Your Patients of Record
Not everyone is comfortable about returning to the dentist. That’s why ongoing communication with your patient base remains a must. It’s also important to have short- and long-term strategies in place; a marketing strategy that make it possible to pivot when necessary and adapt to a fluid situation. To curate this, it’s vital to have accurate data and use it to determine how to market within your budget.
Don’t Forget About The Dental Patient Journey
The patient journey is also a crucial element. Dentists who pay attention to it and how it impacts their business will be able to enhance their relationships with patients, making it easier to convince them it’s safe to return to the dental chair.
The patient journey is made up of the specific stages each person experiences as a potential patient and as your patient of record.
Pre-COVID-19, you likely put equal focus and effort on new-patient acquisition and on retention. However, during the shutdown period, you prioritized your patients-of-record and staying connected to them. That’s part of the fourth stage of the journey (patient experience). This is everything that happens before and after seeing patients in the office. It’s all the value-added service you provide.
But now, you want to build rapport with your community and target new patients who need your services. This is phase one of the journey – practice awareness. You want to show them that your practice has it together and can handle all their dental needs in a safe environment, that you’re available and responsive, and that you’ll always keep them in the loop – even if you have to shut your doors again. They may not be getting this level of service from their current provider. And that means they’re open to joining a new dental family … one that wants them, demonstrates generosity and compassion, and they’ll look you up online once they receive a newsletter or postcard.
Two more things you should do to keep patients informed...? Send them regular email communication and ensure timely updates are made to your website.
Other Areas Of Your Practice Not To Lose Sight Of
Be sure to make time in the schedule to look at your practice data and evaluate how your practice was performing pre-pandemic to now and make necessary operational changes to accelerate the recovery process. A practice intelligence tool like Practice ZEBRA helps to make this easy.
Check off these 2 action items to increase your success:
- Update patient records. Data from Practice ZEBRA reveals that nearly 40% of guarantor emails are missing. You want to make sure you have the correct email addresses and phone numbers to ensure meaningful communication reaches everyone. You can find out who these patients are and reach out to update their records.
When a member of your team calls them, they must ensure they’re unrushed, friendly, and express genuine concern for how the patient is doing. A personal call to check in and confirm and collect current contact information will go a long way toward cementing patient loyalty.
- Look at phone call data and provide training. Top practices answer 90% of inbound calls live and convert almost 80% to appointments. How did your practice do in the months leading up to the crisis? Since the front desk is most often the first point of interaction, whoever answers the phone needs to be genuine, answer questions effectively, and have exceptional customer service skills.
If you have new patients asking about safety protocols or what new technology your office has brought into the practice to deal with COVID-19, how your team talks to them now could determine whether they become a long-term patient or not. Listen to call recordings to get a better sense of how frontline staff are handling these inquiries. If you notice a low conversion rate (under the industry average of 60%), this is the perfect time to provide your team phone call training and scripts for booking and keeping the schedule full. (Even if your team has met the industry-average conversion rate but hasn’t exceeded it by much, extra training will help too!)
“It’s literally like taking an x-ray of your marketing campaign. You’re able to see everything.”
Dentistry is an industry that is slower to recover than others. More than ever, it’s critical you:
- communicate with patients
- get clear on your data
- invest in a strong dental marketing plan
- be mindful of the patient journey
- take a proactive approach.
These are the things that will secure your practice future and accelerate your recovery.
Feeling overwhelmed? Need support? Reach out to our team at Patient NEWS. For almost 30 years, we’ve remained committed to the success and longevity of dental practices across North America. We’re by their side through good times and bad – and we can do the same for you.
Our comprehensive list of customized solutions will help you take a leadership position in your community during and post pandemic and secure your practice’s future.