How Elevating the Patient Experience can Grow Customer Loyalty
In many ways, dental patients are just like any other type of consumer. The more satisfied your patients are with their experiences at your practice, the more likely they will be to return, keep their appointments, agree to new procedures, and refer your practice to others.
All dental professionals want their patients to experience the highest level of care – in the chair as well as in the waiting room, interacting with staff, and before and after treatment. But in the day-to-day, patient-to-patient routine of dentistry, sometimes we forget to step back and look at things from the patient perspective.
Due to the nature of dental care – and perhaps also to the unfair representation of dentistry in popular culture – many patients approach their appointments with trepidation. Worries about discomfort and cost trouble their minds. Patients with busy jobs and family obligations find it challenging to squeeze in appointments, and sometimes they lack the motivation to do so.
Conscientious dental professionals do all they can do to adapt to their patients’ needs and set them at ease.
Could you be doing more? By making a few changes, you can elevate your practice from “just the dentist,” to a visit your patients value and maybe even love.
Here are some ideas:
Better Get to Know Your Patients as Individuals
Your patients – the regulars, anyway – only have one dentist. Your practice has hundreds or even thousands of patients. After you’ve been practicing for a while, they all tend to blend together. Resist it.
Writing from the beaches of Bora Bora, dental business coach Imtiaz Manji raves about the service at the Four Seasons resort where he’s staying. The staff learned how to pronounce his name, they memorized his drink order and his favorite meal, and everyone always greeted him with a smile and an eagerness to serve.
Dental practices should strive for the Four Seasons level of personalized attention, Manji writes. Your patients will remember it when you are “committed to delivering the best experience you can for that particular person.”
No one wants to feel like just another patient being processed through your practice like a car through a carwash. Try to learn a thing or two about each patient that has nothing to do with their teeth. Write it down to help you remember.
When you see your patients as individuals, it will come through in your actions and treatment plans. Patients will be more likely to trust your judgment and less likely to switch over to the next practice that mails them a coupon.
Invest in Tools That Make Treatment Faster and More Comfortable
As non-clinicians, patients may not always be able to tell the difference between a workmanlike filling and a masterpiece. They do notice, however, how long their appointments last and how much discomfort they must tolerate.
You don’t want to rush through your work, but your patients will appreciate anything your practice does to get them in and out of the chair faster. Technology is your friend here. For example, Hu-Friedy AIRFLOW® Therapy is proven to be just as effective at removing biofilm and stains as the old method of hand tools and rubber cups – but eight to 12 minutes faster. Patients report increased comfort, as well, rating AIRFLOW Therapy a 2.18 on a discomfort scale of one to 10.
Combined with an approach like Guided Biofilm Therapy that emphasizes patient education and individualized risk assessment, this can go a long way towards demonstrating tangible value to the patient and improving their experience. GBT combines AIRFLOW with hand-scaling techniques to achieve the highest standards of care in an easily replicable process that is comfortable and saves time.
Adopting treatments like Guided Biofilm Therapy are an easy way to improve the patient experience by demonstrating a new approach that positively impacts their oral health without a major additional investment on their part, leading to better overall outcomes.
Offer Online Scheduling
For decades, dental practices have scheduled appointments with patients in two ways: on their way out the door and over the phone.
Phone calls do have their advantages, not the least of which is the personal touch. But today’s busy professionals also want the option to schedule (and cancel and reschedule) their appointments online.
According to a PatientPop survey, nearly 42 percent of patients would prefer to schedule healthcare appointments online or via a mobile app. Among other reasons, they like the flexibility it provides and they like to receive appointment reminders by email or text.
And let’s face it, the younger generation isn’t known for being good on the phone. Dental appointments provoke enough anxiety without forcing your patients through an awkward phone conversation.
Explain the Why
Your practice should never justify follow-up appointments, expensive procedures, or oral hygiene recommendations with a glorified version of “because I said so.”
Patients put a lot of money, time, and (from their perspective) suffering into their dental visits. If you want them to invest even more, you need to explain clearly why they should. Demonstrating empathy and transparency are just as important to getting buy-in from a patient as explaining clinical outcomes when discussing a treatment plan.
If your treatment plan involves complicated terminology and procedures your patient may not understand, put it in writing so they can mull it over at their own speed and even do their own research. Your goal shouldn’t be to push your patients into anything. Rather, it should be to empower them to make good decisions about their oral health.
And skip the lecture. Most of your patients probably know they should floss and most still won’t do it anyway. But it can’t hurt to provide alternative options for interdental cleaning as part of a dialogue on optimal oral health.
Walking a Mile in Your Patients’ Shoes
There are plenty of other ways you can tweak your practice to improve the patient experience, from updating your waiting room with Wi-Fi and charging ports to letting patients play their own music on their smartphones.
The important thing, however, is that you never forget patients see your practice much differently from you and your colleagues. If you want patients to become loyal fans, you need to understand their perspectives too.