Silent exodus

Experts like to list the top reasons why patients leave dental practices. These lists are then graded, based upon the number of times each reason was given per thousand respondents. Is the information they come up with representative of every dentist? It’s actually representative of no dentist. It’s a statistician’s dream, and a practice owner’s nightmare.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the surveys that have shown price isn’t a top issue at all. Furthermore, you may have heard of the ‘Kodak Study’ – given as reason enough to run home and increase all of your fees. Combined, the above information is enough to skyrocket one dental practice while annihilating another. Which one are you?

That’s why there’s danger in statistical averages. Perhaps it’s true that price is not usually a major issue. The word ‘usually’ is the problem. It takes an enormous amount of management and planning to create the atmosphere in which higher fees are accepted. Maybe a dramatic increase would negatively affect your bottom line. But what about an 8% increase across the board? Even that could cause problems, or perhaps it would go unnoticed and therefore accepted? Far more information – specific to your practice – is needed.

Watching the clock

Do convenient hours fit into the equation of why patients leave? You could look at statistics. Maybe stats tell you that the average dental patient thinks convenient hours are eighth or ninth on their list. But be careful – perhaps your hours are far less convenient than the average dentist. Maybe over the years you’ve cut back to four days a week, nine to five. Would a poll of your patients show office hours as a far more critical issue? Maybe.

It’s critical that you look at statistical averages for interest only. Vital management decisions require more than gut feelings based upon what Dr Jones and Dr Smith have done. You already use X-rays, high-resolution photographs, periodontal probing and a number of other scientific tests to make diagnoses. Why do anything less when it comes to examining the ‘pulse’ of your patient base – your life-blood?

Consider your own personal experience. How many times in your life have you experienced less than excellent customer service at your physician’s office? Ophthalmologist? Hair salon? Auto-repair shop? And how many times have you bothered to fill out one of those little comment cards? I thought so. Even for those willing to speak up, it was far fewer times than the service warranted.

So why don’t customers help us out? Simple – it’s not their job. Ever eaten at a restaurant when the food was a bit late or a little cold? Then when the hostess takes your money and asks, ‘How was everything?’ what do we typically respond? That’s right. ‘Fine thanks.’ It’s the most common response. People can’t be doing with confrontation, they just want to get out of the place.

But what if someone called you the next day, on behalf of the restaurant, and asked how best it could serve you in the future, and that all responses were strictly confidential? In my experience, customers are far more likely to give reliable responses away from the business premises in question.

Verbal surveys

One of my clients in California was once unpleasantly surprised by his patients’ reaction to one of his hygienists. Bill has a wonderful aesthetic practice, but his patients’ unwillingness to mention their concerns in the office had only enabled a serious problem to fester on. Patient feedback through verbal polls indicated folks avoided scheduling with the hygienist in question.

Another client received out-of-office feedback that revealed many of his patients thought his waiting room was a bit ordinary. An average waiting room may appear insignificant on its own, but coupled with inconvenient hours and high-end fees, the doc has all the fixings for a ‘silent exodus’.

This type of follow-up by a polling company can deliver accurate customer service intelligence. And dentists have all their customers’ telephone numbers, while our experience has shown that 99% of those called agree to do the poll. Consider hiring an independent firm to complete a verbal survey. Learn where your strengths and weaknesses lie in the eyes of those who matter the most – before they leave.

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