In the previous two newsletters, we have covered phase 1 and 2, “Creating Awareness” and “Building Trust.” Phase 3, “Retaining Patients,” is the most important phase in the customer experience. It is the payoff from your efforts in the first two phases, the catalyst for phase 4, and ultimately the determining factor in the financial health and growth capacity of your practice. You have probably heard the statistic that 9 out of 10 small business fail within the first 5 years. One reason for this is because of a failure to properly retain patients, or in other words, build adequate loyalty.
Why is patient loyalty so important? There are several reasons, but for this newsletter I want to focus on a few primary reasons.
First, and most obvious, is that loyal patients provide the easiest and also most profitable source of income to the dentist. Every dollar earned from a loyal patient will cost less to bring in than a dollar earned from any other type of patient. In other words, you have to put less effort into servicing a loyal patient.
Second, loyal patients are easier to keep satisfied. The longer a patient has been seeing you, the more room for error you have with them. Generally one bad experience won’t turn away a patient you have been seeing for years. Whereas during the first few visits, a single bad experience can quickly end a relationship with your practice. In all businesses, things are bound to go wrong. It’s nice to have a buffer when they do.
Finally, your loyal patients are your single greatest resource in attracting new patients. In talking about the other two phases I mentioned that patient referrals are the best and cheapest ways to bring in new patients. This is true and the key to bringing in referrals is to understand their connection to your loyal patients. A referral will only come from a happy patient. If a patient is not happy, not only will they not want to send a friend or loved one to your office they will more likely tell anyone that will listen that they were not happy with your practice. So the question becomes; how do I make sure my patients are happy? Our satisfaction with any given product or service is directly related to our expectations prior to the experience we have with that product or service. If my experience in your office does not live up to my expectations, I will not be happy. If they do, I will be happy. Understanding this, we can look back at phase 1 and 2 and realize that it is how we communicate to potential patients in these phases that will set the expectations. So we need to make sure that our marketing efforts intended to attract new patients set a realistic picture of what the patient will experience. This is why defining you brand properly is so critical. At this point you could say, “well lets just set low expectations and we will have a lot of happy patients.” That would be true if setting low expectations could attract new patients. The problem, obviously, is that the higher you set expectations, the more likely you are to attract new patients. So it is important to set high expectations and then ensure that you, your staff, and everything else that influences your patients perceptions meets the expectations you set. Or better yet exceed those expectations. Now when you ask patients for referrals they will most likely be happy to give them.
One other thought on happy patients, never assume your patients are happy with you. Most people won’t tell you or your staff if they are unhappy face to face. Give them an anonymous forum that allows them to reveal their true feelings about your practice and pinpoint where both good experiences and bad experiences originate. This can be accomplished through an on-line survey, a mail in survey or hire a third party company to follow up with your patients on a regular basis. (The great thing about a survey on your web site, is that not only does it give you valuable feedback but by driving patients to your site, you help boost its popularity and increase the likelihood of attracting more patients through web searches.) The more correct understanding you have with your patients, the more likely you are to make them happy.
In phase 4, we will talk about how to turn these happy patients into patients willing to give you referrals. For more information on Dental Branding and how to effectively market your practice, call us at 1-866-375-5511, or visit us at www.dentalbranding.com.