Gemma Mather examines the ways in which dentists can overcome one of the industry’s most significant pain points – patient loyalty.
We all know the saying: ‘it’s easier to sell to existing customers than it is to gain new ones’.
But in the increasingly competitive world of dentistry, the number of employed dentists is rising by 20% in just over a decade. How do you stand out from the competition and foster a loyal patient base?
From rewards and customer feedback strategies to social media platforms and attractive patient plans; here are my top tips to keep your patients coming back.
Don’t be a stranger
Pre-lockdown figures suggested that the average Brit visited the dentist at least once a year. 10% claimed they never saw a dentist.
Ensuring that all patients attend routine check-ups and appointments has always been somewhat of an elusive task for practices; Health anxieties, time pressures, communication failures and travel issues are among the common obstacles to regular attendance.
The issue of failure to attend was only compounded by the coronavirus outbreak. BDA research revealed that eight in 10 practices (79%) experienced a spike in cancelled or missed appointments during lockdown.
Building trust through familiarity and effective communication will help practices to maximise attendance and regain higher levels of client retention.
Practices should look to strike a balance between highlighting the importance – and urgency – of attending appointments and alleviating concerns around virus transmission.
Appointment confirmations and reminders should be accompanied by a clear outline of the services available. Also, what patients can expect from their visit and the measures being undertaken to protect patient safety. As well as contact information should they have any concerns about the visit.
A symptom of the pandemic is widespread ambiguity and uncertainty. Ensuring patients know exactly what to expect from their visit can help put minds at ease. This will strengthen the practice-patient relationship.
Get social with patients
Making the most of all methods of contact and media available can ensure maximum reach across all demographics. Telephone, text and email appointment confirmations and reminders can be complemented by a strong, consistent presence on social media channels.
There are 53 million active social media users in the UK. It is fair to assume that the majority of your patients will use platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Make sure that you are tapping into this captive audience.
Use social media to keep patients up-to-date with practice news and create practice-generated content, such as competitions, dentist Q&A videos and meet the team profiles, to ensure high levels of engagement. Don’t forget to promote these channels on patient communications and within the practice.
This will help patients to become familiar and comfortable with the dental team. It will also keep dental health at the forefront of patients’ minds, so they are less likely to forget about or miss appointments.
Fit in with patients’ lifestyles
Having a modern, well-designed and user-friendly dedicated website is a must. It should have contact information, an online booking platform, practice news, FAQs, dentist profiles, accreditations, payment options, and a full list of services – and offers – available. This will ensure patients can more easily access key information at their convenience, and book or rearrange appointments outside of practice hours.
Practices may also want to consider extending their standard working hours. Patients will appreciate this flexibility and show their gratitude by becoming loyal customers.
These simple measures will help establish a high level of patient-practice transparency. It will further cement the practice as a professional, credible and accommodating business, distinguishing it from more conventional and rigid competitors.
Seek feedback and reward loyalty
It is human nature to want to feel appreciated and valued. Practices can bank on returning patients by providing an elevated level of service. You can achieve this by putting the patient at the heart of operations. Listen to their views, and reward them for their loyalty.
Consider sending patient satisfaction surveys via email or text after each visit, or place a suggestions box in the waiting room. This can help practices to understand what they are doing well and identify areas in need of improvement.
By acting on this feedback, practices are not only providing a more superior service, but seeing the positive changes made can make patients feel acknowledged and that their opinion matters.
Practices can also raise retention rates by offering a loyalty scheme. This can be used to promote additional services – such as offering a free whitening treatment for every five sessions – or can simply be used as a standard perk, such as free dental products after a certain number of check-ups or a procedure.
Offer financial flexibility with payment plans
Affordability can be a common barrier to retention and fears over spiralling costs of treatments are intensified in times of economic hardship.
Practices can help overcome this hurdle by offering an attractive and affordable patient plan.
As well as securing regular attendance for routine check-ups, the use of payment plans can encourage patients to access the wider services available, as they seek added value for money, without the fear of upfront financial stress.
Socioeconomic considerations are also important. Practices should seek a provider that can offer flexibility and tailor plans to cater for the needs and limitations of the unique patient population. This will help ensure successful patient engagement and optimum uptake.
The plan can be positioned as a patient ‘perk’. Users can become ‘VIP members’ with access to added benefits, such as priority appointment times.
Plan providers should be suitably accredited and approved by the BDA. This will not only instil confidence that they are the right partner for the practice, but further underline your commitment to patient care and prospective plan users.
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