Online has become the first place for everything; whether it’s knowledge, purchases or entertainment, we either 'Google it' or find an 'app' for it.
Whether we have a desk-based computer, tablet or smartphone, a world of information is at our fingertips, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
In the past, if a customer wanted to buy something, whether it was goods or services, they had to physically go somewhere.
And when they got there, they didn’t know how good the product would be. They took potluck based on information from a salesperson, from advertising, perhaps friends, or possibly a magazine.
Today, whether they are booking cinema tickets, buying a washing machine, finding a restaurant, or reviewing their car insurance, the internet-savvy consumer will go online to deal with it. So companies, organisations, and providers must have a web presence, preferably one with an ecommerce or booking facility. If they don’t, they risk losing that customer to a competitor that has.
The internet now brings the buyer and seller together, but more than that, the internet has now become a powerful ally, especially to the consumer. There are comparison sites that aggregate potential vendors or suppliers, allowing consumers to compare individual items, terms or availability.
However, before they book that holiday or buy that toothbrush, they can read through the experiences of others – few people would consider purchasing anything, large or small, these days without first perusing the 'customer reviews'.
These online features are now entering the healthcare and dentistry industry.
Over a million people search for dental services every month in London alone, so having a web presence is just as important for a dentist as it is for any service provider. Many practices do have simple websites that provide information about their services, opening times and how to get in touch with them. Some have even gone a step further providing a booking facility, but these are limited.
Obviously dentists want to be readily available to potential new patients, while patients naturally want to find a dentist that can deal with their problem effectively, and at a time that suits them.
There are a variety of websites available where prospective patients can search specifically for a dentist in a particular location, and these generally provide contact details and a link to the practice’s website, if they have one. While these sites are useful, they are fairly simple.
However, there are now online facilities that act as a link between the dental practice and the patient.
From the practice’s point of view, they can act as a marketing tool, providing visibility to thousands of potential new patients and verify that those patients are legitimate. For the patient, not only can they find information, they can also book their appointment online.
This type of service has many advantages for a practice. Rather than just a directory listing, practices normally have their own individual page on the site to promote their key messages to users, often with easy-to-use templates for information such as location maps, biographies, the treatments provided, and price lists.
The technology used is separate from the practice; they can upload vacant appointments to the booking system on the service website and there is no interference with the practice’s website or management software. Also payments are still firmly in the control of receptionists or practice managers.
One of the advantages of these sites to prospective patients is the facility to read real reviews and ratings from previous patients so they can make an informed decision to book that appointment, based on things like waiting time, manner and cost; if they wish, they can then post their own review after they’ve had their treatment.
One such website is Zesty.co.uk who describes its mission as being ‘to make booking a dental appointment as easy as booking a hotel online’, transforming an old-fashioned process into a modern, convenient experience for both parties.
Sites like Zesty provide 24-hour, real-time access to finding and booking an appointment, this is especially useful when one is needed for the next day, or even the same day in an emergency. With the trend for people to live their lives through social media channels, these sites can also generate interest through its presence on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Pinterest. And yes, there is an app for it.
Using an online marketing and booking service is the way forward. They provide a modern method for practices to promote themselves and their services, and a peer-reviewed facility for new patients looking to book appointments online. These sites build a bridge between dentists and patients, and create a win-win situation for both parties.