Irrespective of the nature or focus of a private or mixed dental practice, or the demographic of a practice’s patient base, a dental payment plan is a proven means of; nurturing patient loyalty, encouraging preventative dentistry and improving cash flow thanks to the reassurance of recurring income.
There are so many ways a dental payment plan can be positioned to suit a practice’s patient base and objectives. For some practices it may be a high priority to promote and communicate the budgeting benefit of a dental payment plan to enable patients to afford access to their regular visits. For other high-end practices attracting a different socioeconomic group of patients with greater disposable income, whereby budgeting is not a priority, the focus of promotion may be more around creating a plan membership with an exclusivity or oral health angle.
Nevertheless, whatever kind of payment plan a practice runs and promotes, whether it be capitation or maintenance based, there are fundamental communication tactics that can be adopted and developed to encourage the growth of a strong and loyal base of payment plan patients.
Many of you may have heard of such fundamentals time and time again from reading other articles or attending related seminars and events relating to selling services and treatments and most certainly not relevant only to promoting a dental payment plan. But how many of the below tips and advice do you apply from day to day? Do you monitor and enforce the use of such tactics on a regular basis? Do you review and revise such communication tactics based on what’s working and what’s not?
It should be pointed out that a critical aspect of achieving strong plan uptake at any practice is down to the positioning and pricing of the payment plan in the first instance. If the plan is not structured and priced whereby it is both beneficial to the practice and attractive to your patients, then irrespective of how good a practice’s communication tactics are, plan uptake will be hindered. This, however, is another article and area of discussion. Assuming a practice’s dental payment plan is positioned correctly to suit the practice objectives and patient demographics then the following communication tactics can be applied and developed to achieve good and regular plan uptake.
Simple for success
I’m a very strong advocate of simplicity. There should never be, for example, twelve different dental plan options at a practice with a list as long as your arm of the numerous features and joining criteria. Plan options should be kept minimal; three or four maximum I usually encourage. Any related literature promoting your practice’s range of plans should be short, concise, bullet pointed, use patient friendly language and not waffle.
Keeping your plans simple not only makes it easier for your patients to understand the benefits of a plan and not be swamped by choice, but it’s also easier for the practice team to understand and feel confident in talking about your plans, which of course equals improved chance of plan uptake.
Don’t rely on brochures and media
On so many occasions I have come across practices that have become lazy in relying on printed literature to promote their dental plans, such as brochures, posters and TV advert loops. The assumption is made that because there is a glossy dental plan brochure or the practice TV mentions the plan on its loop of adverts that this will suffice as the communication tactic.
Whilst printed literature and media can be effective at playing a part in promoting a practice’s dental plan to patients (if designed correctly), it is the power of talking to patients and engaging in conversation that plays the biggest role in raising awareness of the fact there is a plan available and highlighting the benefits that are likely to resonate with the specific individual in question. Different benefits will resonate with different patients. It’s important not to encourage the culture of ‘have a look at our brochure, it explains everything’, as this will significantly limit plan uptake.
A consistent journey
When talking about and promoting your practice’s dental plan every member of the practice team should play a part in communicating the plan benefits to patients and raising awareness of the plan proposition. A prepared, consistent and process driven approach to the patient journey will ensure all team members are clear on how to introduce the plans and encourage uptake.
From when the patient enters the practice the reception team may introduce the plan and highlight certain benefits, providing printed literature for the patient to digest whilst waiting to see the dentist. As the patient is escorted to the surgery the nurse may ask what the patient thinks about the plan. The dentist may then recommend which plan is most suited to the patient’s requirements and finally the reception team complete the sign up process ensuring the patient is fully aware of the relevant plan benefits.
Some practices have well structured dental plans that are an obvious choice as the best means of accessing care at the practice and hugely beneficial and suited to the vast majority of patients walking through the door or those searching for a new practice via the web. Nonetheless, the plan is not mentioned on the practice’s website! The worst examples are practices that opt to have a web page that details a full list of fee-per-item prices, yet fail to mention the availability of a cost effective dental payment plan. If you offer a dental plan, make sure it’s communicated through your website as well as any email marketing, social media or other digital marketing channels you may utilise.
Ask now and ask later
‘No now does not mean no forever’, unless of course a patient categorically asks you to never mention or ask them about joining your plan again. If a patient isn’t ready to join your plan when you introduce it to them for the first (or another time thereafter), then try to gauge why this is the case. The patient may tell you the exact reason why they aren’t ready to join your plan, for example; ‘let me have a chat with my partner’ or ‘I’ll have a think and let you know next time’.
Record the reasoning and have a process in place to speak with the patient next time they visit the practice to spark up conversation around the plan relevant to your past conversation. Never assume a patient’s choice or circumstances will never change.
Features versus benefits
‘Features tell and benefits sell’ is as true today as it ever has been. When talking to patients about your dental plans it is important to not only focus on the features.
For example, ‘our plan includes two examinations and two hygiene visits per annum’ highlights two features of the plan, but the benefits of these features are the aspects that are likely to impact the patients decision to join your plan; ‘your regular visits will reduce the risk of oral disease and the need for potential expensive treatments’.
Review and refine
Finally, it’s important to continually review and refine your dental plan communication tactics. Some of the above tactics may be more effective at one practice, where at another practice it is alternative tactics that have more of an influence on plan uptake.
Einstein explained to us the importance of not doing the same thing time and time again whilst expecting a different result. Try to monitor which tactics are most effective at your practice. Refine your tactics and experiment with what works best for your practice and your patients.
Simon Reynolds is commercial director of Patient Plan Direct, dental payment plan provider working with practices across the UK, recognised for its cost effective support and administration, as well as its web-based management platform.