The patient journey

I may sound like a scratched record sometimes, but the more I listen to enquiries from new and existing clients, the more I realise that there are some very basic steps missing from the day-to-day activities in many dental practices. In fact this also applies to all other businesses – so if you are not a dentist but a supplier of other products and services, you are not excused from this.

As part of our work we organise workshops for our clients, and that means every quarter Team CB are obliged to call up to 100 practices (many of whom are already in our coaching programmes) and make simple enquiries as to how many people will be attending and whether there are any special dietary requirements. We also have to ask for payment of the course.

During our marketing and lead conversion activities, we call many hundreds more practices to confirm bookings for events or simply follow through on new business enquiries. And guess what we have discovered? The majority of businesses have very poor systems for answering the phone and dealing with enquiries. So in considering my subject this time around, I’m mindful of the need to go ‘back to basics’ and ask some simple questions:

• If I were your potential new patient (client) and had just moved into your area, would I see you early on when I start looking for dental practices?

• If I did find you in Yellow Pages or online, would I see an inviting website?

• If I did then make a telephone enquiry to your practice, would I be greeted and handled well?

• Would I get the information and answers I was looking for? Would they be delivered by individuals with the correct knowledge, skill and attitude?

• On my arrival, would I be welcomed professionally and warmly? In short – would my first impression be a good one?

• And if I recommended family, friends and colleagues, would I be assured that they would experience the same level of excellence?

I’m going to be bold and provocative here and suggest that the feedback I get from Team CB is that, in the majority of cases, the real answers would be in the negative, even though you might think otherwise.

Let’s deconstruct this and look a little deeper. In term of visibility, how do patients find you initially? You may have a Yellow Pages advert or be listed in some form of online directory, but how easily would I find you? The latest information I have is that more than 85,000 people per month are Googling for ‘dentist in my town’ every month in the UK.

During our marketing workshops I like to do this online and live. Very often a Google search will reveal sponsored links that are either based in the West End of London or, more frequently now, in Budapest or Prague.

It’s very rare indeed to find a privately owned and local practice with a sponsored link – and the open search area only leads with directory listings where your practice information is lost in a fog of others. And when I do find you in print or online, are you sending me an inviting message that you are providing the levels of customer service that I’m looking for?

The subject of dental websites is well covered in publications – and there is a good choice of specialist dental web designers around now – but what’s the point of having a good site if it’s invisible? ‘Search-engine optimisation’ is an important part of your marketing plan, especially bearing in mind the number of baby-boomers now using the web as a consumer research device.

The other form of visibility is, of course, the exterior of your building and signage. To avoid offence, I will not name and shame but in my blog I recently mentioned three dental practices within 100 metres of each other in my home town. One was a sign that read ‘dental surgeon’ at the foot of a flight of stairs, the second a terraced house with ‘XYZ Dental Practice’ on the door but no other visible signs of life – just a door and shuttered windows. The third was a brightly lit shop front with displays of consumables, information and a welcoming ambience. Each will, of course, attract a different breed of consumer, but which one would you want to work in? Which do you think is most likely to have a welcoming team?

So what happens when I call? I have to be straight with you – we are amazed at how poorly and inconsistently the phones are answered. Let’s listen to some real life examples:

• Level 1: The awful.

‘Hello?’ Then silence. Yes, just silence.

‘Dental Surgery?’ Then silence.

‘Smith’s Dental?’ Then silence.

• Level 2: The passable (but not really)

‘Dental surgery, good morning.’ Then silence.

‘Smith’s Dental, good morning.’ Then silence.

• Level 3: The nearly getting it.

‘Good Morning, Smith’s Dental, can I help you?’

• Level 4: Finally, the right approach

‘Good morning, Smith’s Dental, Mary speaking, how can I help you?’

There we have it – the perfect greeting, and if you or your team are worried that’s a bit of a mouthful, get over it and get used to it because that’s customer service done right and you are in the customer service business. You already know the main questions that people are going to ask, including the difficult ones: Are you currently taking on new patients? Do you take NHS patients? Can you give me a price for a crown? Will you see my children on the NHS?

So there is no excuse for sitting down with your team and agreeing what the answers are going to be, and then making sure that you create those answers as a brand standard, adopted by everyone who ever answers the phone. And, of course, answer the phone with a smile and a genuine desire to help. So my challenge is that, when I have finished my first telephone enquiry, I put the phone down and think to myself ‘that lot sound as if they have got their act together, I’m looking forward to my first visit.’

And before I arrive at your premises, am I going to receive a professionally created welcome pack? One that will include: A covering letter explaining what’s going to happen during my first trip; directions and parking; practice mission statement; meet the team; terms and conditions of business; customer service agreement; price guide; medical history questionnaire; an initial ‘smile check’ as featured in previous articles.

When I arrive both the verbal and non-verbal skills must be in evidence:

‘Good morning can I help you?’ (Eye contact and smile)

‘Yes, my name is Chris Barrow and I’m here to see Dr Smith.’

‘Oh yes Mr Barrow, welcome to Smith’s Dental, my name is Susan and I’m a member of the reception team here. Before you go through to our patient lounge, Dr Smith’s nurse will be down to collect you in a few minutes. Did you have a chance to complete your medical history questionnaire and smile check?’

And off we go. So, after reading this article and mulling over the facts, can you put your hand on your heart and honestly say that you have this right?

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