Q. I would like to carry out more cosmetic work but my practice is not in a particularly affluent area. What can I do to encourage my patients to have this type of treatment?
A. There are two common barriers to patients asking for cosmetic treatments – one is affordability, and the other is not knowing that you offer the treatments they would like.
The first is quite easily solved by offering an interest-free credit scheme for patients. From their perspective, being able to pay over a period of time can make a huge difference. The treatment becomes more affordable and accessible, with no need to find or save a large lump sum.
Several companies will run such schemes on behalf of dental practices for a small fee. The advantage of using them is that if your patients do not pay, the credit company deals with it and your relationship with the customer need not suffer. There are some dental practices who prefer to run budget plans themselves, but although they get to keep all the fees, there can be considerable administration costs involved when the scheme proves popular.
The second barrier – that of your patients not knowing whether you offer cosmetic treatments or not – is best overcome by communicating more with your patients. There is a widely held misconception, much propagated by the media, that for cosmetic procedures a patient needs to visit an ‘aesthetic dentist’, all of whom reside within the WC1 postcode area. Simply telling them that you can complete these procedures to the same standard is unlikely to change their perception.
From the experience of our clients, printed material such as brochures and newsletters are far more effective in educating your patients about your skills. Regular communications including before-and-after photos, patient testimonials and case studies are excellent in getting your message across.
You can also try framing the photos that you are most proud of and hanging them in your reception area, or alternatively make up a book of them for patients to look through while they wait to see you.
Q. I want to produce a practice leaflet but all the examples I have seen feature the same kind of smiling faces. Is this because this is the best type of image to use, or is it because people are reluctant to try something different?
A. A lot of dental literature features smiling faces because they show off lovely teeth. They are aspirational images, showing people the type of smiles they could have. Just as people rush out to buy new clothes or beauty products when they see them featured on models in magazines, the hope is that all those lovely smiles will make patients look after theirs better and consider enhancing it.
But there is no reason why your practice leaflet has to have smiling faces on it – in fact, an increasing number of practices are now moving away from this type of image. They recognise that because it is used so often now, something different may be required to set their practice apart from the rest.
Clients who have recently refurbished their practice have chosen instead to feature photos highlighting various aspects of their new look. For example, we recently
produced a patient welcome pack that included photographs of the various pieces of artwork which are on display in the practice.
Several of our clients whose practices have a strong community feel have opted for professional photographs of local landmarks with great success, while other dentists have chosen to have photos which reflect their personal interests. For example, a keen skier has chosen photographs of sparkling snowy-capped mountain tops.
In short, your practice literature can incorporate more or less whatever images you want it to. If you do want something a bit different, it is worth considering working with a firm that specialises in this area, and who can also engage the services of a professional photographer on your behalf. Many dentists now appreciate that the quality of their literature has a direct bearing on patients’ perception of the quality of their dentistry.
Q. I spend quite a lot on marketing – about £10,000 each year. How can I tell whether it is benefiting my practice, and if so to what extent?
A. Firstly, it depends on how you are spending your £10,000. If it is simply on a large Yellow Pages advert and very little else, the chances are that you may have a good number of new patients visiting you for emergency treatment, but not that many becoming loyal, regularly attending clients.
The acid test is the ‘life-time value’ of the new patients that you attract – one new client who attends all of their check-ups and hygiene appointments for 10 years has considerably more value than 10 people simply visiting for emergency endodontics.
Secondly, it can be difficult to establish exactly what it is that has prompted patients to take action – what made Mr Jenkins refer his work colleague to you; why did Mrs Patel enquire about veneers for her front teeth; when you suggested whitening to Miss Clarke, what made her decide to have the treatment? Quite possibly your marketing efforts!
We are all constantly exposed to marketing messages and, whether we recognise it or not, they do have an impact on our decision making. Why should BMW and Audi be more popular with dentists than Ford and Nissan? Why choose Nike trainers in preference to Hi-Tec? Largely because of your perceptions of those brands – perceptions which do not come about purely by chance, but as a result of the marketing efforts of those organisations.
So while you can ask new patients what it was that made them choose you, or why an existing patient has decided to accept your latest treatment plan, often their answers will only be half the story. Ignore the positive impact of marketing at your peril!
For more information about Blue Horizons services, visit www.bluehorizonsdental.co.uk or email [email protected].