Sabri Blumberg Dental ConsultantQ: I’m spending a lot on new patient marketing, but haven’t seen much in the way of results. Should I stop?

A: No results (or poor results) from marketing is normally caused by one of two things: A) your marketing is ineffective (i.e. nobody is responding to it), or B) your marketing is effective (i.e., people are calling the office) but the calls are being handled incorrectly up front resulting in no or few people scheduling. “B” is more common than you’d expect, and might very well be happening in your office without your knowledge.

The purpose of a promotion or marketing campaign (mailers, postcards, website, so on) is to create responses: prospective patients calling your office. Handled properly, these people become new patients. So you MUST track response from any marketing you do. You can do this with an “honor system” where calls are tracked by staff up front (which can potentially backfire if you have a problem with one or more staff up front), or you can have special phone numbers that track incoming calls by marketing type. If calls off your marketing are received in adequate volume, then it’s working.  How well would be based on a ratio of expense to incoming calls. Initially, I would ensure that calls are being handled properly up front. How bad can this get? I’ve seen 55 calls turned into only 5 or 6 new patients! If you have a problem here you may have to train your staff on how to handle calls to turn them into an appointment. We have a wonderful handout on this subject titled “Getting New Patients in the Door” written by one of our clients. For a copy, email me at sabri@mgeonline.com I’d also suggest the MGE New Patient Workshop for a thorough handle on the subject.

If your marketing campaign isn’t getting much of a response, it’s usually due to: 1) A design problem 2) You’re sending it to the wrong “public” (e.g. ads for extensive restorative work to college kids), or 3) You’re sending it to the right public with the wrong message.  We cover how to handle each of these problems on the MGE New Patient Workshop.

Should you quit marketing? No. Would Apple or Coca-Cola quit marketing altogether because their last campaign didn’t work? Don’t think so. They’d figure out why it didn’t work and fix it. The real answer is learning how to market your practice to get results – which is why I recommend the MGE New Patient Workshop.

Q: Should I (the doctor) discuss fees with patients or leave that for the front?MGE Management Experts

A: You (the doctor) should absolutely discuss fees. Maybe you won’t know the price to the exact penny, but you should at least tell patients the fee, their estimated co-pay or how much they will have to pay if they aren’t insured.

Why?

Whether you like it or not, patients are more apt to respect/follow the word or opinion of the doctor than anyone else in the office. If you doubt this, ask any of your staff; they’ll tell you that your word holds more weight with patients. Discussing fees also makes it easier on the front when it comes time to collect.

As it’s your business, you should know how much things cost and be able to let patients know. This is something we teach MGE clients early on.  No matter how uncomfortable it may make you feel, it doesn’t make the patient see you as unprofessional. I could give you numerous real life examples of dentists discussing fees and they all end the same—treatment acceptance improved dramatically. I remember speaking with an MGE client not too long ago who had gone from collecting $70,000 to $170,000 per month since starting the program. One month, collections dropped to $130,000. The only change was he quit discussing fees with patients for whatever the reason.  He went back to it the following month and collections reverted immediately to the $170,000 range.  While this isn’t the only component to better treatment acceptance, it’s one part of it and it’s easy to do.

(Related: BIG Cases: 10 Rules to Successfully Present Them)

Q: I often hear “I can’t afford it” from patients when discussing comprehensive treatment and we end up doing just what their insurance covers. Any ideas?

A: A patient saying they can’t afford treatment usually means 1) they honestly can’t afford the treatment or 2) they could but aren’t convinced that the treatment is important enough to take immediate action. More often than not it’s “2” rather than “1.”

In my experience, if someone honestly cannot pay for something they need, they tend to be forthcoming about why—e.g. “I’m not working right now,” “I’m in the middle of refinancing my home,” “my credit is bad,” or something of that sort. A blanket “I can’t afford it” with no explanation usually means they just don’t want to (or don’t understand the need to) do it. “I can’t afford it” (or something like it) is easily used to avoid having to buy something. In a case like this, there’s a good chance that more communication and an honest conversation as to why the treatment is important might make them see it as more of a priority and figure out a way to do it.

High quality communication between you and your patients makes all the difference. Upbeat persistence helps, too. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and find out what’s really going on. Maybe they’re afraid of needles. Of course, I’d also recommend the MGE Communication and Sales Seminars for anyone that wants the “gold standard” in case acceptance training.

Dental Staff ManagementQ: I’ve been considering beginning a bonus plan for my staff. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Bonus systems can be great. Done correctly, they can do wonders for staff motivation, morale and teamwork.

While too lengthy to print in this column, we can send you a copy of the bonus system we give clients at MGE. Email me at sabri@mgeonline.com and we’ll get it out to you.

Whatever system you decide on, there are two important issues to keep in mind:

  1. Bonuses should be based off of collections. You can only pay a bonus with real money: collections. You can’t “pay” someone with a production number. You don’t want to owe staff bonus money when you failed to meet your overhead. (Associate doctors and hygienists are often compensated based on production, which is fine – assuming that production is truly collectible.) For a general staff bonus plan, using anything other than collections often results in trouble.
  2. Crunch the numbers. Make absolutely sure the bonus plan works for you financially prior to announcing it to your staff. Finding out the numbers don’t work after the fact and changing or revoking it midstream can be messy. It’s like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. Staff (understandably) get upset when you take money away.

Only bonus when collections are above a certain level that is profitable and allows you to live comfortably. For instance, if you need to collect $40,000 to just get by and cover overhead and a basic salary for yourself, don’t set the bonus level at $41,000. I’ve seen doctors do this and end up under their break-even point by paying out bonuses – they actually lost money. In a case like this, bonus levels would start no lower than $46,000 and more likely at $50,000.  Keep in mind that this requires a real handle on your actual overhead.

(Related: Should You Share “the Numbers” with Your Staff?)

A Common Mistake in Hiring/Firing

I regularly field tons of staff-related questions (we may dedicate a future column only to these). For now, instead of choosing one in particular, I wanted to share a piece of advice:

The most common mistake I see in staff management isn’t “hiring the wrong people.” While that’s bound to happen occasionally, the bigger mistake is holding onto the wrong person for too long.

Keeping nonproductive or poorly performing employees can be more harmful to the practice than leaving the job empty. In many cases employees like this actually create extra work. After you let them go, it may increase others’ workloads temporarily while you look for someone else to fill the job, but that’s better than letting a nonperforming employee ruin staff (or your) morale or drive patients away.

This is a tough part of being a business owner, but it’s a reality. Remember it is your company, and you do not owe employment to anyone who is not contributing to its growth or helping to take it in the direction you wish it to go.

I hope these answers helped you. Feel free to contact me or send questions to sabri@mgeonline.com.  You can also contact me at (800) 640-1140 if there’s a situation with which you would like some help.

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