Personal Bests by Casey Bull

Categories: Marketing;
Personal Bests 

Humanize your practice e-communications to better connect with patients

by Casey Bull

Every day, we’re bombarded with thousands of messages: texts, push notifications, emails, voicemails, direct messages, advertisements and more. We simply can’t thoroughly process all the messages we receive, so subconsciously or consciously we ignore the vast majority of them … and we tend to forget a lot of the messages that do manage to get through.

Meanwhile, dental practices are implementing changes aimed at increasing efficiency, many of which ultimately result in an increase in digital communication in an environment where patients are already receiving more digital communication than they can possibly manage.

Doctors must acknowledge that the success of a dental practice relies as much on emotional connections as it does clinical excellence. This puts doctors in a situation where they need to figure out how to strengthen the practice’s emotional connection with its patients while communicating less in person and more via digital communication channels.

Coupling these facts with the continuous increase in competition in the dental industry, the way dental teams serve patients has to evolve. To remain successful, doctors will need to adopt a new mindset that focuses on emotions as much as technology and innovation—and in this case, entangling the two together.

Match the message to the need
Technology and digital communication channels can help practices create patient experiences around four fundamental human needs:

  • “Understand me.” It’s human nature to want to be understood, and not just by close friends and family. It’s important for patients to feel like their doctor understands their needs! This need presents itself in various forms throughout the patient journey, including the new-patient consultation and patient complaints.
  • “Take care of me.” Patients seek dental care because they have an issue that needs correcting. They’re expecting to be properly taken care of.
  • “Let me contribute.” Even though patients are seeking help from a specialist, many new patients will come into the consultation with their own opinions or desired approaches to their treatment. Giving the patient some room for collaboration will help build the emotional connection you want.
  • “Help me belong.” Patients want to feel more than just another appointment slot in an assembly line. People who work at your practice need to make patients feel like they’re remembered as people. This includes knowing their likes and dislikes. You should be building a sense of community within the practice.
The use of technology can help practices create patient experiences around supporting these four fundamental human needs. Technology empowers the practice to do this in a way that’s far more sustainable than relying on your team’s memory and initiative.

Caveat: When a practice implements technology and lets it run automatically, this can have a detrimental impact to patient experience and practice reputation. The practice team can’t rely on the technology to communicate for them; they must leverage the technology and communicate as humans.

6 ways to humanize messaging tools
The first step to humanizing the practice’s patient communication is to build a list of the various communication channels currently in use—text messages, emails, WhatsApp, social media, etc. Once the list has been built, use the following tips to build a communication strategy for each channel.

  1. Be where your patients are. To meet patient expectations, practices should make it easy for patients to reach them across multiple channels, including websites, text, social media, phone and in person. Avoid creating barriers that require patients to download an app or sign up for an account. For instance, if a Facebook ad or page encourages patients to engage on Messenger, don’t use automated responses that require them to fill in a form. Instead, promote channels that allow direct communication with the practice, such as click-tocall buttons. If automated chat sequences are necessary, clearly indicate that a chatbot is responding and offer the option to speak with a team member via call or text. By prioritizing human connection, practices can build stronger relationships with patients and avoid distancing themselves from them.
  2. Build brand consistency. Patients have certain expectations of the brands they love, and your practice should be one of those brands. Patients should believe they’ll receive the same level of service regardless of the channel they choose to communicate with you on. If you’re inviting patients to text you but only respond to those texts after 24 hours, while responses to phone calls or emails are sent within a few hours, the experience is inconsistent and doesn’t help build trust. If you’re going to layer in an additional communication channel such as texting or live chat, be sure you’re supporting it in the same way you support your main channels.
  3. Prioritize personalization. While brand consistency is important, it’s equally important to ensure both the tone and message itself are personalized to the individual and the appropriate situation. Think of graduates at a graduation ceremony: All grads wear the same cap and gown but have the opportunity to personalize their cap and shoes to show individual style and personality. The practice should encourage team members to show their personality when connecting with patients. Your team is full of individuals! Celebrate that and encourage the team to adapt their messaging while still remaining within the boundaries of your brand.
  4. Strategize when human interaction is necessary. Most doctors have a strong sense of when it’s appropriate to communicate via automated message and which situations require a personal touch. Follow-up to reschedule a consultation no-show could be automated; the first follow-up after a consultation should definitely not be automated. As the practice builds out its workflows and overall communication strategy, leverage automation as much as possible. You need to free up the team so they have time to bring the human element where needed. If that element is not needed, leave it out and let technology empower you.
  5. Make it clear when it’s a human interacting versus automation. When it comes to the content of automated messages, write them in a way that clearly identifies it as an automated message. This level of transparency helps to build trust; when a human reaches out to the patient, they know it’s a real person waiting on their response, not a computer-generated message.
  6. Know all practice communications and adapt. Communication must be streamlined and not repetitious. People are already prone to ignoring digital messages, so patients will begin to ignore your messages if they continuously receive redundant, unnecessary or irrelevant messages from your practice. To avoid this, ensure everyone on the team is aware of all communication that happens during a patient’s experience with the practice. As an example, if the financial coordinator spoke with the patient the day before a scheduled consultation, the coordinator should ask the patient if they have any questions related to their appointment, confirm the appointment and then turn off appointment reminders, because they’ve already successfully confirmed the appointment over the phone and any additional reminders would be unnecessary.

How to make it clear you’re a human
To make it clear that the sender is not a robot just spitting out scripted responses, here are a few tips you can follow:

Use your own vernacular. If you have a particular way of speaking, use it! Whether it’s using colloquialisms or slang, it can make your communication feel more personal and human.

Tell jokes. Humor is a great way to break down barriers and make connections. (Just be sure to keep it appropriate for the situation and audience.)

Tell stories. Sharing personal anecdotes or experiences can help build trust and empathy with the person you’re communicating with.

Reference pop culture. This can be a great way to show you’re up to date with current trends and also add a bit of fun to the conversation.

List your own name as sender. When sending emails or messages, be sure to list your name instead of just the company name. This helps personalize the interaction and can make it easier for the patient to build connections with individuals in the practice.

The key to humanizing patient communication is not to avoid digital communication channels—the fact is, we rely on digital communications channels to properly connect with patients. Instead, leverage automation as much as possible so the team isn’t overly burdened by remedial tasks and can spend the time and attention it takes to humanize your patient communication.

Author Bio
Casey Bull Casey Bull, the global director of content and community at The Invisible Orthodontist (TIO), drives TIO’s efforts to provide member practices with marketing and business management expertise. Bull began her career in the orthodontic industry in 2014 working for Dr. Alexander Waldman in Beverly Hills, where she developed a range of practice management processes encompassing tracking and reporting, management systems and templates, treatment plans, marketing programs and more.
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