Giving your patients the best journey from the very start

Les Jones explores ways to attract patients and begin building trust before they even visit the practice.

Most people think of the customer journey at a dental practice as the patient arriving at reception, then the interaction with the dentist. But, of course, that journey starts a lot earlier.

It goes right back to before you even meet the customer coming through the door. It’s about how you market and position yourself, how people find out about you, and how those expectations start to grow in people before they even step into the practice.

There are multiple ways in which a person can find out about a dental practice: advertising, social media and your website. In fact, the mantra to remember is ‘all roads lead to your website’; however, a person first hears about you, they will check out your website.

How to you describe yourself

When it comes to your website, or any other communication from the practice, it would be an interesting idea for a practice team to think about the words and adjectives they would like their patients to use to describe them. Take those descriptors and ensure they are coming through in any communications from the practice, whether it be social media, adverts, website, and so on.

The words I tend to hear quite regularly when I ask practice teams about this, are ‘friendly’, ‘professional’ and ‘caring’ – which are all great words. But you could argue every dental practice should be friendly, caring and professional.

In many ways, it’s how you bring it all to life. Do you want to be friendly, caring and professional in a cool and funky kind of way, or in a fun and vibrant kind of way? Those are the things that start to define the culture of the practice and feed into how you position yourself through your marketing channels.

Consistency will bring trust

If you are consistent about your message, when a patient actually makes contact and walks through the door, there’s no disconnect between what they are expecting and starting to experience. That’s important because disconnect can lead to mistrust. Setting expectations is a serious business; you don’t want a patient to feel as if they have been seduced by fancy marketing, otherwise trust will be eroded from the start.

Getting into some specifics when it comes to the ways prospective patients are touched by your practice’s marketing and communications. A key area is referrals, potentially the lifeblood of a practice, but often not tackled in a structured way.

For me, this needs to start with the dentist. It shouldn’t be something that is offloaded to the reception team, where they hand a referral card to the patient as they are leaving. It carries much more weight if the dentist, at the end of an appointment, asks for a referral.

A simple 20-second conversation along the lines of: ‘Mrs Smith, it’s been great to see you as always. We’re always looking to grow our practice and we’d love more patients like you. Can I just give you these referral cards? If you know anyone else that could benefit from the treatment you get, it will be great if you referred us.’

It’s not over the top, and not salesy in any way. Of course, many people would argue the referral part of the customer journey is the end, which it clearly is for the existing patient. But for the one they are going to refer to, it’s the beginning. If Mrs Smith makes a referral to a friend, as I mentioned earlier, the chances are they will go online and check the practice website. So, your website really needs to be working for you in the best way possible.

Websites that appeal to patients

The vast majority of practice websites fall into the trap of being written for other dentists rather than patients. They focus too much on the technical ability and qualifications, which are important, but not from a patient’s perspective or using their language.

There’s also the issue of immediacy. We all know that when people are web surfing or looking for a particular product or service, they will land on a page and if it doesn’t grab them in the first five or six seconds, then they will just bounce off and go to the next one on the list. Therefore, the first thing a website has to do is grab people and make them feel that they’ve landed in the right place straight away.

Think about if you met someone face to face and you had five or 10 seconds to tell them the really key things that you wanted them to know about your practice. What would those things be? Once you have identified what those things are, make them very prominent on your website’s landing page.

Ultimately, practices need to see their website as an investment, such as being prepared to pay for professional photography rather than trying to do it on your iPhone. Any video testimonials on websites need to have thought and preparation. You need to give the patient the chance to understand what you would like them to convey, giving them some structure and format on the approach, just so everything is consistent.

Chat function and conversions

Another thing to consider is using a chat function. I came across one that used it, and started a chat with them and asked questions about how they used the facility, something I’ve not seen many practices doing. What came back was it was an extremely useful tool in terms of breaking down barriers before they had even met the patient.

If you imagine the situation, a prospective patient lands on your website, starts to have a little look around, then suddenly the chat function pops up and a very friendly chat says: ‘Hi. How are you today? Is there anything I can help you with? Do you have any questions?.’

If people start to interact with that, it’s a very safe environment for them. They’re still completely anonymous. They can ask questions about the practice or about certain parts of their dental health they might be concerned about.

Also, it starts to build a little bit of rapport as well. It makes them feel a lot more comfortable about actually making the next step. When I was talking to this practice, they were saying their conversion rate of people landing on their website to actually making an appointment had gone through the roof, simply because of this personalised interaction very early in the customer journey process.

Often, it comes down to breaking down the steps for the customer and making it manageable for them to take the next one. And, of course, it’s vital to remember those first steps are not the ones they take through the door of your practice – they start much earlier than that and usually with the click of a mouse.

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