Everything we’ve covered to date concerns getting new patients arrived at your office. Now, we’ll take a look at what happens after they get there – i.e., “Service” and its impact on new patient acquisition (and your practice in general).
Among other things, the level service in your practice is going to determine:
1. Your “conversion rate.” By this I mean if the person actually stays on as a patient in your office for the long-haul or not.
2. Whether this patient refers other patients (leading to more new patients).
3. Whether this patient accepts comprehensive treatment plans that may be proposed (which in turn will impact collections).
Looking at 1-3 above, you can see that this “service” point is of paramount importance and immediately impacts collections, new patients (by way of referrals and goodwill) as well as your number of active charts.
As a health care practitioner, you’re in the “service” business. You sell and deliver “services” as opposed to “things” or products (cars, jewelry, boats, etc.). For the purposes of this article, we’re going to touch on the non-clinical (administrative) aspects of service in the office with a focus on how it relates to new patients.
Much has been written about the dangers of “bad service.” Why? I’ll give you an example you can relate to:
Let’s say you see 20 patients per day (between hygiene and your schedule). Nineteen are happy with their visit. Several are extremely happy with what you’ve done for them. One patient however is problematic: rude to the staff, difficult in the chair and all in all, not the type of person you’d like to see in your office. Out of these 20 people, who is it that your staff talk about at the end of the day? For that matter, when your spouse asks about your day at work, what’s the first thing you talk about? Chances are, it’s that one patient who you had problems with. No one’s talking about the 19 (95% of your day) patients who were happy. Instead you talk about the one (5%) that went wrong. Why is this you might ask? The specifics behind this phenomenon are not the subject of this article. However, I believe you can see that this phenomenon is real to some degree.
Now, let’s take this phenomenon (focusing on the negative experience) and extrapolate it to a business. It explains a few things. It explains the theory of people who are unhappy with your service talking about it to more people than those who are happy with your service.
As far as how many people a dissatisfied customer talks to, I’ve seen this number vary from 3 to 10. Run the math and you can see that enough dissatisfied customers will destroy your goodwill and tank your business.
So, with that said, creating a positive service experience for your patients becomes all the more vital. A word of caution though – don’t get all caught up worrying whether people “like you” or too “careful” about offending anyone. Provide good service and you’re in good shape.
Service from the Patient’s Point of View
Take a few minutes and imagine that you are a new patient entering your office for the first time. How would you like to be handled? What would you expect to see? Obviously, you’d expect to handle your chief complaint clinically, but what would “sell” you on becoming a “permanent” patient in your office?
There are the basic points: Is the office clean and well kept? Does your staff dress professionally or in such a way you’d expect in a dental office? Is the office actually open during posted business hours?
Assuming this all checks out, we move on to the rest of the experience.
General Service Attitude
From the moment they walk in to the moment they leave, would a new patient consider that a) they are receiving adequate attention b) that you and your staff display a genuine care/concern for them c) that both you and your staff communicated and related well with them and c) that their experience in the office was well controlled?
These are some of the “little things” that add up. Were they greeted promptly and taken care of (given forms to fill out, get their questions answered, etc.)? Did your staff relate to them well or did the patient feel like a “number”? Were they made to wait excessively – either in reception or in the dental chair? Were they politely directed as to where to go, sit, what to pay, etc.?
Thirty or more years ago, most service stations were “full-serve” (of course…I’m too young to remember this…I read about it in a book). You drove your car in, they checked the oil, tire pressure, cleaned the windshield and filled the tank. Gee, that would be nice wouldn’t it? Gradually we’ve moved over to “self-serve.” Don’t be an inattentive “self-serve” office. Make the patient important.
This has much to do with staff attitude. During business hours, patients are the only “important” people in the office. I use the word “important” loosely and this is not to say that you or you staff are not “important,” but it does mean that when the office is operating – the attention is 100% on patients. When hiring a staff member, I look to see if they are inclined or willing to provide unselfish service to the public. Someone who feels that getting a patient a cup of coffee, or taking out the trash is “beneath them” can create serious problems for a business. My viewpoint: At work I’m not very “important;” our clients are. Someone who gets so caught up in how “important “ they are immediately places attention on themselves and NOT the public and will find certain parts of a service job to be a problem. I’m not so important that if I see something that needs to be cleaned up or handled I can’t fix it. I’m here to provide service to the public.
How fast you handle patients, their requests and concerns is another factor. With relation to the schedule, this is obvious; they shouldn’t be made to wait. NEVER, EVER, EVER.
If patients are “waiting,” there are usually three reasons:
1. You had a clinical problem with the patient or two prior which threw you behind, or
2. Someone’s goofing off (talking to other employees, etc.) and not doing what they’re supposed to or
3. Your schedule is unrealistic.
#1 above will happen from time to time and there’s nothing you can do about it. If it does happen, it should be handled as EARLY as possible; don’t have the patient find out you’re an hour behind (when you knew this two hours ago) right when arriving at your office. They should be notified FAST and directed as to what their options are. This would not be: “Doctor’s running behind, what do you want to do?” Instead, you should direct them as to what options they have: reschedule, come later, see the associate, etc., etc. Meanwhile, the front and back offices should work together to get the schedule back on track.
#2 is just plain bad service and NOT OK. If you see these kinds of things, handle them – they’ll only get worse. #3 is on the doctor. If a procedure really, actually takes you two hours, you are better off scheduling more time than was needed than scheduling only 1 ½ hours. Build a little bit of EXTRA time into your scheduling policy on how long certain procedures take. It allows you to make up the time if you run behind on a procedure and also finds you time to start additional work if you’d like. The point – be real, make sure your scheduling policy at least reflects how long things actually take.
When it comes to handling patient communication, correcting billing errors and the like – apply the same concept – HANDLE IT FAST. It tells the patient, by your actions, that you truly care about them and their needs.
Relating to the Doctor
When you meet a patient for the first time, they know very little about how great you are clinically. Their first impression of both you and your office began with your staff and now is monitored by how well you communicate and relate to them.
Here’s where we enter the realm of “sales.” I know most doctors hate that word, but in fact that is what you are doing. You’re selling the patient on your office and when it comes to recommending treatment, you’ll have to sell them on your treatment plan. Now, by sales I don’t mean lying to them, holding their arm behind their back, etc. I mean communicating to them in such a way that they understand their treatment plan and thereby become willing to pursue it.
Poor sales will kill both your collections and referrals. You may also lose patients. If you were to do a multi-pin amalgam on a patient that really needed (and should have had) a crown and this restoration breaks a few months later (while they’re on vacation), how happy do you think that patient would be about coming back? How many patients do you think they’d refer?
“Patch-up” work done as the result of inability to sell costs both you and the patient. You lose the fee you would have made by doing the kind of work you felt was needed clinically. The patient loses as they didn’t get what was best for them.
My recommendation here would be to really learn how to communicate and sell.
We at MGE do quite a bit of training on this subject. For more information on our Communication and Sales Seminars, click here.
There is so much to this subject, it could fill a book (and some will accuse me of trying to write one with how long this article is…).
You could survey your new patients on what they liked most and least about their experience and work on improving things from there.
I try at least weekly to walk around our business and look at it from the viewpoint of a client or new client and correct things I see need fixed. There are a million variations on this and I’m sure you could come up with a number of ideas. If anything, you can’t go wrong by placing a strong focus on providing the best service possible to patients.
Jeffrey Blumberg provides this general dental practice management advice to furnish you with suggestions of actions that have been shown to have potential to help you improve your practice. Neither MGE nor Mr. Blumberg may be held liable for adverse actions resulting from your implementation of these suggestions, which are provided only as examples of topics covered by the MGE program.