Communicating value

Sometimes the most profitable sale you make is the one from which you walk away. That seemingly counterintuitive message is an important business lesson that dentists should heed when faced with price-shoppers.

Here’s an example; last year, the Spanish airline Iberia needed to purchase a new aeroplane. To get the lowest price, Iberia asked two manufacturers, Airbus and Boeing, to compete against one another. Boeing was skeptical. It had never won an order from Iberia, but the company decided to make a proposal.

Both manufacturers were told their price was too high. Boeing tried, without success, to change the discussion from price alone to performance and long-term maintenance costs. But Iberia refused to discuss anything but the cost of original purchase.

Airbus and Boeing went back to the drawing board. They looked for various ways to cut their price, and submitted new bids. Iberia then announced it was considering the purchase of a used aeroplane to save additional expense. Airbus made even more dramatic price concessions; it won the order but not necessarily much in the way of profit.

It’s never easy to walk away from business you feel you need. But when you’re willing to walk away, the entire atmosphere, the leverage, changes.

When Iberia indicated it wasn’t interested in discussing value, what might have happened if Boeing replied that it was no longer interested in pursuing the business? Iberia may have changed its tune, and Boeing would have maintained a reputation for quality and integrity.

Remember, Iberia’s original goal was to pit two suppliers against one another. If one goes home, Iberia would have lost all its leverage against the other. No one is ever forced to lower his or her price; only you decide what you’re worth.

Focus on the right patient

The more patients you have calling you, the less concerned you’ll be when you’re not the right choice for a particular patient. That’s why it’s important to develop response-oriented, patient-centred formal internal marketing programmes.

Not all callers who enquire about fees are looking for the cheapest dentist. Some callers ask about fees because they think they are supposed to; they don’t know what else to ask. The important thing is that you should be proud of your fees, as they reflect the quality of the service you provide. But you should never just blurt out a price and hang up. Your goal is to instill a sense of value, and to floor the caller with your service.

A patient concerned only with price may not be interested in what your practice has to offer. It’s not easy to absorb the cost of standing behind your work, for example if your profit margins are razor-thin to begin with.

Your receptionist should be trained to express an interest in each caller and the caller’s problem. Every staff member must learn what it is that your practice is all about, your unique selling proposition, and be able to express it in less than 30 seconds on the phone or in person.

You’re not truly doing patients a service by keeping fees low. Raise your fees and watch yourself raise the quality of care you provide. Suddenly, you can spend more time with each patient, you can afford that new piece of equipment and take that continuing education course. The trick is to have high fees while making the patient feel that he is getting a bargain – which he is!

From commodity to trusted friend

Once you ask the right questions of your patient, you’re no longer a commodity. You aren’t ‘McDentist’ any more but a trusted friend and knowledgeable counselor. Patients who check fees are as likely to choose the practice that instills in them the greatest sense of value and service as they are the practice with the lowest price. You certainly wouldn’t want to fill your practice with all the price-shoppers who choose the lowest-priced dentist anyway.

Of course a price-shopper is interested in finding out your fees. But what most of them really want from you is your time and attention. They want to know if you are the right practice for them. As the caller shops around, they rarely get any additional help and certainly little beyond a euro amount as conversation. You’re different. You can do more.

When answering the telephone you can’t look into the caller’s eyes, you can’t smile at callers and make them feel welcome, and you can’t show them your incredible office and team. If fees are discussed with a cold, ‘I’ve been told to tell you’ attitude, the dentist will appear greedy and uncaring.

Do not just blurt out a price and hang up. The phone scripts used by your staff should be designed to instill value: ‘I’d be happy to help you with our fees and affordable payment options, Mrs Smith. So that I can properly help you, please describe your problem or concerns’.

The most important thing with these phone calls is for the team member to offer the caller an appointment. Compare, ‘a cleaning and exam is 100 euros, okay? Good-bye’, with ‘a cleaning and exam is 100 euros, I’d like to help you by scheduling an appointment’. Or better yet: ‘We can see you tomorrow at 2pm, if you’d like. I can reserve this time just for you. Is that time convenient?’

Are you looking to attract new patients into your practice? Would you like to connect better with patients that shop around and set yourself apart from the rest? The only chance you have to let patients know that they’ve called someplace different is by the exceptional service you provide over the phone.

‘What do you charge for a crown?’

A typical caller to your practice might ask: ‘What do you charge for a crown?’ The team member might respond: ‘Four hundred euros.’ Caller: ‘That much?’ Team member: ‘Yes, it is.’ Caller: ‘Well, I’ll have to call you back.’ Click!

There’s nothing wrong with quoting a fee. Patients respond to your honesty, openness, and the pride and confidence you demonstrate. How might this call have gone differently? Here’s an example.

Caller: ‘What do you charge for a crown?’

Team member: ‘I’d love to help you with our fees, may I have your name, please?’

Here’s your chance to let the caller know you acknowledge him as an individual and not just another caller. Use the caller’s name throughout the conversation. This is your first opportunity to bond with the patient over the phone. Simply quoting the fee and waiting for the response is not enough.

Now, answer the patient’s question. Don’t hesitate. Do it proudly. Team member: ‘Mrs Shopper, the fee for a crown in our office is normally 400 euros. May I ask you, how are you feeling? Are there any problems that I can help you with?’

Here’s your second chance to bond over the phone. Let the patient tell his or her story. Get the conversation going by showing interest in the patient’s situation.

Showing this interest is the quickest way to let callers know you care about them. It’s rarely just a fee that is the determining factor in choosing a dentist. The caller normally has other issues and a need to discuss them with someone who opens the door.

Be assured, no other office they’ve called has asked their name or what type of help they need. Surprise!

Team member: ‘If you have a quick minute, I’d just like to tell you about our practice and dentist. I know you’d be so surprised to visit our office for the first time. It’s immaculate and we’ll have Dr Dentist waiting for your arrival. You’ll love Dr Dentist! He’s the best.’

In a quick sentence or two say what’s best about your practice. No big story. Don’t wing this every time, don’t let each team member make up his or her own points. Be unified and consistent.

Now offer an appointment. Don’t ask: ‘Would you like to schedule an appointment?’ Say: ‘I’d love to help you by scheduling an appointment. What’s best for you?’ Don’t hang up without offering an appointment. So often a patient will wish you had asked! These callers are apprehensive, nervous and worried.

Should the patient not wish to schedule at this time, it’s still not over yet. Discuss the possibility of a future together. Plant the seed.

Team member: ‘Mrs Shopper, I would be happy to help you any time in the future. We’d really enjoy having you as a patient in our practice. Do you have your phonebook in front of you? Our entry is on page 752. Please circle it and write down my name, Beth. I want you to have my name and number handy when you need to call me back.’

This patient may have called five other practices today. How many other team members identified themselves and asked the caller to write her name down in the Golden Pages in front of the caller? If the patient goes elsewhere, and is less than thrilled, to whom will she come back?

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