This is part IV of a multi-part series on how to fix new patient related issues – specifically HOW TO GET MORE!
Without getting into a heavy rehash of my last few posts, I’ll briefly explain what we’re doing: I’ve taken what I’ve found to be the top three issues (I’ve called them “scenarios”) relating to new patient acquisition, and from there I’m covering how I would handle or “fix” each of them.
These common new patient “scenarios” are:
Scenario 1: Your practice has never consistently attracted an adequate number of new patients.
Scenario 2: Your office used to get more new patients and they’ve dropped off – suddenly or over time.
Scenario 3: You’re getting a good number of new patients, but you’re not seeing the expected results in your collections or bottom line.
In posts 1 & 2, we covered how to handle Scenario 1. In last week’s post, we started out on Scenario 2. We’ll continue with Scenario 2 in this post.
And with that, let’s begin.
Scenario 2: “Your office used to get more new patients and they’ve dropped off – suddenly or over time.” (Continued.)
In essence, what you’re looking at with Scenario 2, is how to handle a “drop-off,” “dip,” or “crash” in your new patient statistic.
This may have happened slowly (i.e. over months or years) or quickly (i.e. new patients crash from 50 to 10 in just one month).
As we also covered last week, the key with handling any drop off is to isolate the change(s) that brought about the drop.
Now, this leads us to another simple but important observation: if we notice or state that a statistic “dropped” to an unacceptable level, we are at the same time stating that at some point in the past (last year, month, whatever), it WAS at an acceptable level.
I know this is one of those “no duh” statements, but I have to state it. You’d be surprised how many people ignore the simple fact that at some point things WERE working.
Whether the new patient drop-off was sudden or longer term, there are a few things you’d want to look at first when handling it:
- Locate the exact point where the drop occurs. In other words, when does it start to drift off (or crash), never to recover?
- Pull the new patient logs for the three months prior to and after the month the drop begins. If they just dropped last month, then pull the three months prior to the drop, last month and the current month.
- Tally up new patients by source (i.e. where they came from) by month. This step shows the importance of listing/noting the source of a new patient. You MUST, MUST, MUST do this. I could go on about why you must do this some time (insuring your marketing is actually working, measuring ROI, etc.), but let’s suffice it to say that you HAVE to track new patient sources meticulously.
- Compare sources and see if there are any obvious/large variances – i.e. you were getting 20 new patients a month from your website and this dropped to 3, or your mailing was getting 25 a month and this has dropped to 10. The idea is we are trying to locate the real problem, which we will dig into further.
Now one of two things is going to happen here:
I – You’ll find one or two sources have dropped off quite a bit, resulting in the overall crash (i.e. referrals, newsletter and 1-800-Dentist new patients are about the same as before, whereas new patients from the website have crashed by 60%. Or,
II – All sources are down considerably, contributing to the overall drop.
Let’s start with “I” – one or two sources have dropped.
What you do about this depends on the source/marketing effort that stopped working. For simplicities’ sake, let’s boil our marketing sources down to:
- Online – Website
- Online – Ads (pay-per-click, banner ads, etc.)
- Other Ads – TV, Radio, Billboards, etc.
Now, what we’re looking for here is a change. So, with this in mind let’s have a look at each marketing source, along with what the more common changes (that I’ve seen) are:
Sudden drop offs in referrals are rare. When they happen, barring some catastrophic negative PR event, the culprits usually are either a drop to whatever referral program you might have been running or a sudden glut of negative reviews online. And while reviews can also affect other marketing efforts, don’t freak out about them. I don’t want to downplay their importance, but I also don’t want to OVER exaggerate their importance either. For more information on how to handle bad reviews read this post by our Marketing Director, Adam Mortimer: Dental Internet Marketing 101 – Part II
With regards to a dropped referral program, you need to figure out how to incorporate it as a regular point in your new patient acquisition strategy. This blog post from MGE Consultant, Chris Menkhaus, covers how to do this: Not Getting Enough New Patient Referrals? Here’s Why.
If you had just held some type of special event – i.e. September is friends and family month or some type of multi-month referral program/game you’ve been promoting to your patients—then you’ll need to come up with a bright idea on how to keep it fresh and new on a continuing basis.
Another factor that comes into play here is looking at what your office was DOING to get referrals in the “good months.” Quantify this. Maybe the office handed out 100 referral cards a month. Maybe it was brought up at every staff meeting. You’ll often find that these ACTIONS just stopped, for whatever reason. Maybe the PR or front desk person quit. And also don’t forget these actions may have a “time-lag.” In other words, your PR person quits at the end of March and new patients crash in May. Well the actions in March kept new patient referrals coming in through April, but without these same actions occurring in April, they crash in May. The answer here is simple: get these actions BACK IN – no matter what.
In the case of a “lag” you might have to wait a couple of weeks before you see any joy, but knowing that it will resolve should pull you through this rough patch.
Let’s say your newsletter was pulling 25 new patients a month. Now it’s dropped to 5. Everything else (referrals, etc.) are pulling fine. It’s just this newsletter or postcard. Now HOW and at what SPEED it dropped is important here – and you could say this about ALL of your advertising.
A slow drop off over time can mean that your advertising has become tired; especially if you are sending out the same exact thing over and over again (i.e. same ad, postcard, newsletter, etc.). Eventually people become “numb” to it. When I see an ad or mailing that used to pull 20 new patients a month continue to be sent over and over again, then drop off over a three year period to 5, this is usually the case. This tells us that while you don’t want to make wholesale changes to something that is working, you do want to stay on top of it and keep it “spruced up.” And note any changes you make for memory’s sake, in case they don’t work and need to be reversed.
Now, a sudden drop is entirely different. Let’s say your newsletter was getting an average of 25 new patients a month up through two months ago and this past month it dropped to 5. Now what do we do? Well:
- Look for any changes in the mailing itself: Did you change the new patient offer? Did you change the overall format?
- Verify that it was actually mailed. I’ve seen this too many times: the mailing house didn’t actually mail it. Get a postage report from them; they get this from the US Post Office.
- Did you use a special phone number on the mailing? If you’re using a tracking number to track phone calls (which is a good thing usually), then verify that this number is ACTUALLY working. I’ve seen this before as well. For example, we had a client whose promotional/tracking number got disconnected without her knowledge. The company that owned the number went bankrupt and the number was disconnected, but they never told the doctor. After she found this out she was able to get the number re-routed to her office (she bought the number) and while it didn’t work to track calls anymore, she was at least able to speak with these potential new patients!
- Who was the promotion mailed to? Check this when you speak to your mail house. I’ve seen this happen plenty of times. Example: mailing house accidentally mails a postcard for a Detroit doctor to Southern California! Yeah…didn’t do him much good. It took some digging but he had the mailing house verify and lo and behold this is what happened. And this “mis-mailing” doesn’t even have to be all that wild. It could be that they mailed to the wrong mailing list – i.e. you’re mailing list is families who make $75,000 a year or more and they mailed to a bunch of college students instead. Or you may have intentionally decided to reduce the quantity of mail sent, or change the zip codes or income level you’re targeting, and this turned out to be a bad idea.
Generally speaking, the four points above are what I find to be behind most sudden drops in mailing response.
Now, this assumes that it is ONLY the mailing that dropped off. If ALL SOURCES dried up we have a number of additional points to look into, which we’ll cover later in our next post.
And that’s all the time I have for this week’s post (…this series is really starting to become an e-book)! I hope you enjoyed it. If you have any questions or want help with any of this (or other areas of your office), please feel free to contact me at (800) 640-1440 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
In next week’s post, we’ll continue with what to do about drops in new patients coming from your Website, online ads or other ads, along with how to address a general drop in new patients from all sources.