A new perspective
Whatever our attitude to technology, we simply cannot avoid it. Today, technological developments are everywhere we look – and they affect pretty much everything we do in one way or another.
I strongly believe that a great way for you to look at technology is to think of how you can harness its potential for the benefit and growth of your dental practice.
This article will discuss profitable marketing technology and systems and suggest how to apply it to your practice. Technology can be a very useful tool when it comes to the profitable marketing of your practice.
I will give you a few aspects of your business to think about; the key thing is for you to consider if it sounds like a good idea for your practice and, if it does, simply put it in place. The great thing is you don’t even have to like technology or even understand how (or why) it works to be able to use it effectively and profitably.
That is the attitude I will advise you to adopt with technology: always ask yourself how you can make this work for your practice.
Let’s start by looking at the typical customer life cycle and use this as a framework to discuss the technology and systems that may be used to improve the profitability of each stage.
Typically, patients will start as ‘prospects’ that may or may not know of your practice. Your marketing efforts will be used to attract prospects to your practice and subsequently convert some of them to patients who will purchase treatment.
After this first purchase, the goal is to retain these patients for as long as possible for ongoing maintenance and future treatment.
Lead generation technology
At the initial stage, there will be a need for a lead generation system that helps you to attract these leads to become patients. What role does technology play in your lead generation system? The most obvious will probably be your website; most of your new patients will have their initial contact with your practice through your website. This raises a few questions for you to consider:
• What does your website say about your practice?
• How do you attract people to your website?
• How easy is it to navigate your website?
• Do you actively engage prospective patients online?
• Do you capture prospective patients’ contact details?
Attracting people to your website should be a major concern to you, especially if most of your new patients will be coming from that source. You need to make sure your website is optimised for the search engines so you show up online when patients are looking for a dentist in the local area.
Here, you need to make sure your search engine optimisation (SEO) is up to speed. You may want to explore the pay per click (PPC) route as it is a direct way to get your website right in front of a patient who is searching for a dentist in your area.
As a local business with a physical location, you may want to consider having a Google Local page as this will help to increase your exposure. It will also help you to create some effective local buzz as patients can leave comments to discuss the wonderful treatment they have had with you.
Video marketing technology
Another effective use of technology that is still underused by most dentists is video marketing. It is now relatively easy to produce interesting two- to five-minute video clips of your practice that will answer the questions you know your prospects want answered.
These may range from simple questions regarding the various type of treatments you offer to the dreaded ‘does it hurt?’ question that is at the back of most prospects’ minds.
Video marketing allows you to create a virtual relationship with many prospects simultaneously, while giving them the opportunity to get to know you from the comfort of their own environment. I can assure you that the leads that call your practice after watching a few of your videos online are much more likely to become paying patients than those who have not heard or seen you before.
Another benefit here is that you only need to create the video once, but it can help you to create rapport with prospects for many years without any further input from you.
People simply prefer to buy from people they know, and video marketing helps you to talk to many different people about your practice, thus creating these virtual relationships with many people at the same time.
If your videos help patients understand something better or educates them on an issue that matters to them, it helps you to position their minds towards you, which is a powerful influence in the decision to buy.
Once you have attracted the prospect and they have decided to contact you, you have passed the first hurdle. But how can your prospects contact you? What communication channels do you offer? Do you rely only on the telephone or do you offer email access too? What about enabling prospects to send you a message directly from your website? This is when their interest level is probably at its highest, so this could be advantageous.
It is now even possible to deploy communication technology to your website that will enable prospects to have a live discussion via text chat or audio/video with your receptionist.
How do prospects and patients book appointments with your practice? Do they have to call the practice and book with the receptionist? Or can they book directly from the website or by sending an SMS, Whatsapp, BBM or email? Ideally, you need your appointment scheduling system to be as open as possible to allow appointments to be booked via all electronic channels that your target market uses on a regular basis.
You may want to consider integrating this system with your smartphone so you can view your appointments anywhere to help you plan your time and schedule effectively.
When people call your practice and the receptionist happens to be busy, what happens? Do they get that annoying busy tone that assumes prospects will call you back and not call your competition immediately? Maybe they get soothing music that hopes prospects will hold until the receptionist can attend to them? Perhaps they get a message apologising for the delay and asking them to leave their number to be called back shortly if they are unable to hold for a short while?
Interactive voice response technology can help you take advantage of callers being on hold. For instance, you could inform the caller of an ‘offer of the week’, which gives them a discount on a simple treatment if booked immediately.
Once prospects become patients you need a system to manage them accordingly on a continual basis. This should cover all marketing communications with the patient, in addition to the reminders for their regular check-ups and maintenance treatments.
A system that uses SMS and email to facilitate communication will be ideal as this can easily be automated, helping your team to ensure that patients are reminded of their appointments on a regular basis. The same system should be used to engage patients with requests for feedback, customer satisfaction surveys etc.
Take a closer look
• Is your website optimised for search engines?
• How do you capture patients’ interest online?
• Do you engage your patients with video clips of your practice?
• How many communication channels do you offer for patients to contact your practice?
• When people call your practice and the receptionist happens to be busy, what happens?
• Do you keep patients interested through SMS and email marketing?
• How often do you ask patients to leave feedback and testimonials?
If you really want to improve the effectiveness of your marketing, you need to put systems in place to help your patients give you referrals and testimonials as a normal part of your business process.
The best time to get a testimonial is when the patient feels the happiest with your practice or treatment (usually shortly after or during a great customer experience when the patient is still on your premises). Your team needs to be trained to understand the right time to politely ask if the patient would like to give you a testimonial confirming their pleasure with your practice.
Testimonials are one of the most effective tools to convince prospects to become patients, so the more testimonials you can put on your website and other channels the better.
Referrals are another area you should seek to improve on, and there are a number of ways to do this. Simply asking patients to refer their friends, colleagues and family is a good place to start, but experience shows that people tend to actively refer others if they are actually motivated to do so.
So, how can you motivate your patients to refer others? Some dentists offer a discount on future treatments for each new patient referred, while others prefer to incentivise their patients with gifts for referrals.
You need to consider what works best for your patients, but do understand the value of a referred patient – this is someone who a satisfied patient has already sold you and your practice to based on their own experience, thereby eliminating your marketing cost to acquire the new patient.
What is that cost worth to your practice in monetary terms? Unfortunately, many dentists do not know the answer to this question, as they don’t fully understand the numbers that drive their business. However, spending the same amount of the cost of acquiring a new patient to motivate your existing patients is simple common sense!
One of the technological applications of testimonials are that the requests for them can be automated as part of your standard marketing communications. For example, patients receive an automated email with a link to an online survey after each treatment as an attempt to understand their satisfaction levels with your practice and to improve your services. Depending on their feedback, you can send selected satisfied patients another message requesting a testimonial detailing their thoughts on you, your practice or their recent treatment/experience.
Obviously, the patients that are not satisfied will need to be processed differently with a view to addressing the reason behind their dissatisfaction. Once collated, testimonials should be used everywhere – whenever a patient says something great about you, tell as many people as you can.
There are many applications of technology that can be used for the profitable marketing of your practice – it is useful to consider them all.
Toks Oyegunle is a leading business coach and an award-winning entrepreneur. The Harvard Business School alumnus is the founder of Thriving Practices: profitable marketing solutions; experience-based, technology driven.