If your dental practice has found it difficult to grow to where you’d like, you’re not alone.
Since the recession of 2007-2009, many practices have found that, while their overheads continue to increase, revenue has either stagnated or reduced.
Not only that, but there’s a disconnect between the traditional way that dental care is consumed and what patients actually need from their dentist—meaning that the practice is often missing opportunities to build lasting relationships with regular clients.
If you want to grow and see your practice flourish, you need to find ways to differentiate your practice from everyone else out there. How can you create the experience that will draw patients in?
Do you have a good picture of your patients? Get our worksheet here.
What makes practices “samey?”
Do you ever get the feeling that you’re on a production line, churning through procedures and shuffling patients in and out? A bugbear of mine is that modern dentistry practices are often heading down the quick service, low-value route of a fast food joint.
Patients are often moved through as though in the drive-thru, creating an impersonal, commoditized service. Many pieces of advice you’ll find about growing a dental practice focus heavily on the productivity side of the business with little thought given to building the sorts of relationships with patients that see them coming back for more.
There are a number of things going on in dental practices that aren’t helping them out as far as differentiating from the next guy and building a sustainable business model. One of those is the trend of couponing to get new patients in the door.
Honestly, if you’ve tried this strategy, how many of those patients ended up becoming regulars for your practice?
The answer for most is “not many.” Every other practice is also offering coupon deals to get people in for hygiene appointments, and it’s only adding to the commoditization of the practice. The patients coming in are often looking for a quick fix at low cost, so they are inclined to go searching for deal after deal. It’s almost like choosing between Best Buy and Costco for that television model you’ve been wanting to buy.
Photo credit: PinkMoose via Visual Hunt
The other aspect of this is the disappointment the patient feels when he or she discovers how much more work is actually needed. The patients who take a coupon deal are often those who haven’t got to a dentist in years, typically due to costs or lack of insurance. They find there is no quick fix and that, in fact, they need more work done at considerable expense—something that may be out of reach for them.
This can often lead to mistrust on the part of the patient too. They feel like they’ve been sucked in as a potential sales opportunity. In some slimier practices, coupon deals have only covered a fraction of what the practice insists the patient should be having done at the time and they then find themselves paying extra for x-rays, fluoride, or cancer detection screens.
We end up becoming like a repair shop with patients waiting until they have an acute problem to come in. You patch up the current issue, knowing that this patient really needs to be coming in regularly for care to get back to health. But, the reality is that they probably won’t be back until there is an acute problem again.
This is no way to build a sustainable, regular patient base, so what can practices do to differentiate themselves?
How to Differentiate
Every dental practice should be able to answer the question, “Why should patients choose us?” The key here is that your answer better in some way include a reason that makes you different—something that helps you to stand out from the rest.
You know what that doesn’t include? Being a “nice person” or making “better fillings.” Those are good qualities to have, but they don’t create enough of a point of difference. The dentist down the road is nice too, and unless a practice is really in the habit of doing a poor job, the patient is unlikely to see any difference when it comes to the quality of the work done.
So, what does make you different? Being prepared to challenge traditional models of dentistry, knowing exactly who your target market is, and finding ways to meet their needs.
To give a few quick pointers, here’s how practices aren’t meeting patient needs:
- No solutions to suit the vast number of uninsured. They often can’t afford the costs of the dental care they need.
- Even the insured patients can’t afford care. Low annual maximums mean they pick and choose care and miss things they really need in order to get to health.
- Being pushy or “salesy.” Patients want to feel that they are valued and that your practice understands their needs, not that they are another revenue opportunity to be pushed into a sale.
- In conjunction with the need to work with insurance companies, there is often the perception of a lack of transparency. Patients get surprised by bills or everything seems to be governed by indecipherable codes.
You can differentiate your practice by finding practical ways to get around these issues. Create a “partnership” with your patient based on the mutual goal of maintaining or getting them to good health.
This is how you deliver patient-centric value which makes you different.
Know Your Clients
There is no “quick fix” to growing your practice, despite what you might hear from “gurus” or consultants. There is often too much emphasis placed on tools and widgets—“Buy this genius thing and you’ll grow your bottom line within a month!”
Some of these tools have merit, sure, but we should never lose site of the fact that building a successful practice takes hard work over time. This means serving our patients well and delivering great experiences for them.
What is it that your clients really value? Do you know? Your business might need to sell more procedures to grow, but those aren’t the things that your patients value. They want to look and feel good, they want to feel valued as a person and they want to trust that they’re in good hands.
When we spend less time reactively trying to get through more procedures in order to grow revenue and more time seeking to know our clients better, we can develop a more proactive practice which looks and feels different to patients.
How well do you know your clients? Get our worksheet here.
The bottom line is that dental practices are often only skimming the surface when it comes to meeting patient needs. Operating like a repair shop means that you’re only treating conditions once they’ve become acute. You’re not building partnerships with patients to get them to health and keep them there.
Short-term solutions such as coupons to get patients in the door often produce little in the way of long-term results. Dentistry becomes another commodity that the patient can shop around for, taking a coupon from another practice next time.
What can help you to differentiate? Knowing your patients and developing a deep understanding of their needs and pain-points. This will allow you to proactively address those needs through programs in your practice that will set you apart.