We recently bought a puppy, which has opened up the wonderful world of dog ownership to me. This includes regular walks in the park and unofficial membership to the dog walking community. I mention this because chatting appears to play a major part in a dog owner’s life.
Last week, the subject of orthodontics came up. One of the dog walkers was asking for a recommendation and before I could chirp up and declare this was my specialised subject, three mums with young teenagers started a discussion to which I listened intently.
To summarise; each had a child/teen with braces. Each had done meticulous research into all the local providers including specialist orthodontists and dentists providing orthodontic services. All had initially looked online for information and then asked others for a recommendation. Others being: their dentist, family, friends, and people they know and meet during everyday life (like dog walkers). Once recommendations had been collated it was back online and then calls to arrange a consultation.
Leaving an impression
Experiences varied enormously but one of the dog walkers was more passionate, more vocal and more scathing about her experience with one particular practice. It was condemned as too ‘salesy’, too pushy and too keen to sell the expensive private option and the most expensive option at that. Over the next few days I heard this conversation repeated by others and it struck me how this single negative experience had taken on a life of its own and how the damage to the reputation of this orthodontic practice is cemented in an increasing number of potential patients in the area.
But what really lay behind the patient experience? There are a number of possible answers to this; personality clash, clash of values, poor communication skills could all have played a part but the bottom line is every single interaction you have with a patient or potential patient leaves an impression. The reality is the more positive impressions you leave the better the practice will do.
So what lessons can we all learn from this story?
1. Know who you are
Unless you’re a business where the work you do is so intrinsically wonderful or innovative that it drives your market through sheer uniqueness, then be honest about your business model. In FooCo’s case this means we’ll ultimately be judged by the quality of work we produce and showcase. In orthodontics it means the straight teeth and smiles you deliver are what make you stand out for all the right reasons.
2. Communicate your values
Yes, your company already has values, they’re why you do what you do and how you do it. But have you articulated these? An interesting exercise is to list your products and services then translate the list into actual benefits for patients and, crucially, think about how you communicate these benefits. What’s unique about these benefits when compared to what your competitors are offering? For every unique benefit list why this integral to the work you do.
3. Values drive your business
The practice that left the bad impression has commendable values but failed to communicate them properly in this instance. The perception of maximising profits is not a value that translates well to your patients.
4. Live up to your mission statement
Whether you have one or not, it’s nice to try and encapsulate what you’re aiming to achieve in a single statement. At some point in almost all new business meetings I mention our motto, ‘Do it once – do it well’ and it’s a statement that could translate very well into orthodontics. Not world changing or overblown, but on many levels it says something about quality, expertise and trust – all values we strive for.
5. Connecting with your community
Everyday you’re connecting with your community as the above story shows. This isn’t just about identifying who your potential patients are and bombarding them with offers or over-playing the sales card. It’s about building trust over time and consistently adding value. Tell patients how you’ll make their lives easier, inspire them and use your beliefs and values to do it.
6. Be true to your brand
Clarity with your own values and the ability to communicate them adds real value. It gives your business story and personality; the right way v the wrong way. Get this right in the practice and online and your audience, in subtle ways, will recognise shared beliefs and embrace your view of the world.
If you want to build trust with patients then your brand and the way you communicate it has to stand for something.
Malcolm Counihan is the founder and MD of FooCo Video and Marketing. Launched in 2007, FooCo now helps over 400 healthcare clients with their marketing and communications. Orthodontic clients benefit from an array of products and services including: website design; video production for websites and waiting-rooms; brace care video and other design and printing services.