Phone Etiquette: Does It Matter?

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When a prospective patient calls your practice, their interaction with you over the phone is going to set the tone for the rest of the patient relationship. If you do not win them over from your very first word, the chances of them establishing themselves at your practice decrease significantly. Encourage your front office staff to uniformly and consistently interact with patients, so that their customer experience is as positive as possible. To start, have your front office follow these tips:

  • Use inclusive language. By using words such as “we” and “our” you are allowing the prospective new patient to feel like they are already apart of your dental family. They will also feel more of a personal connection to your practice, easing the anxieties that come with visiting a new dental practice.
  • Limit your buzzwords. Each person’s knowledge of dental vocabulary and common terms varies, so keep it as simple as possible, especially when discussing insurance and finances. Remember, you are an expert in dentistry, and the prospective patient may not be. Overly communicate and explain, so that you can be sure you are always on the same page.
  • Empathize. Make it your priority that the prospective patients feel heard, especially in regard to their unique needs and requests. Again, this will help develop a personal connection right off the bat, and the prospective patient will immediately feel more at ease with you.
  • Be realistic. While empathizing and thoroughly explaining, ensure you remain realistic when discussing treatment times, treatment costs, appointment times, etc. Thorough and transparent communication will allow the patient relationship to develop from a positive foundation, setting the tone for the each patient interaction.

By setting a positive tone and developing a relationship with prospective patients from the very beginning, you and your front office team will help boost patient conversions and overall positive patient experiences with your practice.

Comparing Apples to Oranges… Or is it?

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Let’s have a look at the differences and similarities between marketing startup practices and established practices, and what one can learn from the other.


Startup Practice Established Practice
Strategy First. The best foundation for a great marketing plan is a strategy. Gather together a group of mentors, past professors from dental school, and people who know, understand and believe in your vision for your practice. Try to include a handful of potential patients and any staff that you plan to hire. Survey this pool of people to find out what they think you do best. Ask them, too, what marketing media they think will be best received by your target audience. (Media might include direct mail, social media, online ads, etc.) Strategy at Last. In our nine years of experience, we find that about 95% of dental practices conduct marketing without a strategy. The best foundation for a great marketing plan is a strategy. Gather together a group of your happiest patients. Survey them to find out what they think you do best. Ask them, too, what marketing media grabs their attention. (Media might include direct mail, social media, online ads, etc.) If you have been sending practice marketing materials, be sure to ask specific questions to gauge whether they were seen or acted upon. (For example, “How did you first hear of us?” or “Do you recall seeing our ad on Facebook?”)
Understand the Competition. Make a list of the top 5-10 practices that your potential patients may consider before selecting yours. Be sure that the message and look that you plan to take to market are dramatically different and better than these competing practices. You might even have a friend or family member “secret shop” these practices to be sure that your atmosphere, services and fees are on par or even above par with what is available to patients in your community. Understand the Competition. Particularly with the encroachment of corporate dental, the competitive landscape is always changing. Every 2 years, make a list of the top 5-10 practices that your potential patients may consider before selecting yours. (You might even ask on the surveys what other practices with which they may be familiar.) Be sure that the message and look that you are marketing are dramatically different and better than these competing practices. You might even have a friend or family member “secret shop” these practices to be sure that your atmosphere, services and fees are on par or even above par with what is available to patients in your community.
Set a Brand Baseline. Take the time and invest the money to have the practice logo and identity professionally designed. (Identity includes letterhead, envelope, appointment cards, business cards, email signature and even signage.) This will go a long way in building your reputation and making your practice memorable in your area. Check Your Brand Baseline. Every 5 years, take the time and invest the money to have the practice logo and identity professionally designed or at least refreshed. (Identity includes letterhead, envelope, appointment cards, business cards, email signature and even signage.) Today, consumers expect fresh, new design in their brand interactions. After all, we get entire system updates on our smart phones every few months. If your logo and identity haven’t been refreshed in 5 years or more then they may be dating your reputation and making you less memorable in your area.
Wow With Your Website. As with logo and identity, take the time and invest the money to have the practice website professionally developed. The process should take about 6 weeks, and with regular security and content updates, a great website will last up to 5 years. Regular updates are like oil changes for your car; as routine maintenance, they shouldn’t take long or cost much but can drastically improve the lifetime value of your investment. Wow With Your Website. As with logo and identity, take the time and invest the money to have the practice website professionally developed every 5 years. Be sure that your developer is making regular security and content updates on your website. These updates are like oil changes for your car; as routine maintenance, they shouldn’t take long or cost much but can drastically improve the lifetime value of your investment.
Drive Traffic. The practice website is a billboard in the middle of the ocean until you drive traffic to it and, thereby, patients in your door. Look back at the survey results and deploy only those marketing tactics that are going to make your target audience sit up, take notice and take action. Drive Traffic Differently. Look back at the survey results and deploy only those marketing tactics that are going to make your target audience sit up, take notice and take action. What worked a few years ago may not work anymore. Continuously evolve your efforts to keep in line with the times and ensure a steady flow of patient traffic month after month, year after year.

Is yours an existing practice in transition such as merger or acquisition? Begin again under the “startup” column.

And no matter where you are in your practice history, remember that marketing is the oxygen to your practice. Never stop, or the practice will suffocate and perish.

Using Systems and Structures to Reach Your End Goal

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To ensure steady, month-over-month growth, detailed systems and structures need to be in place for every aspect of your practice. That includes systems and structures for how the phone is answered, how new patients are tracked, how insurance claims are filed, how each operatory should be prepared for a new patient. There need to be systems and structures for every single aspect of your practice.

Systems create effectiveness, readiness and ultimately productivity. By instilling and upholding established systems and structures, each team member is clear on his or her responsibilities, and is therefore held accountable and can clearly see their part in achieving the end goal.

In turn, your team sees you as a leader and their confidence in you continues to grow. You will empower them to feel an individualized and communal sense of accomplishment, and the overall workings of the practice will run much more smoothly and effectively.

While there are systems and structures in place, they must remain non-negotiable and each team member must feel personally responsible for helping reach the end goal. That being said, the systems and structures put in place can grow, change and improve as the practice evolves.

To determine and refine the systems and structures within your practice, first set your end goal. Where do you want your practice to be in one year? In five years? What do you want your practice to be remembered for? Use your end goal as the baseline, and then map out how you will steadily and realistically get there.

Once your systems and structures have been determined and agreed upon, document them. When you hire new team members, acquaint them with the systems and structures that are in place to ensure a seamless transition.

Deploying and maintaining the systems and structures is an ongoing process; team members should constantly train for and practice them. It is human nature to revert to old habits or what is comfortable, which is why ongoing training and holding each team member accountable is imperative to the success of your systems and structures.

Developing the systems and structures that are right for your practice is an intricate process that may take some time. Refine each system and structure until it is right for your practice culture and your team members. Make sure that it is producing the results you want and helping you achieve your end goal.


Responding to a Negative Online Review

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With the majority of patients likely finding you via the Internet and social media, your practice’s online reputation matters now more than ever. Since it is nearly impossible to please everyone all of the time, negative online reviews may happen. When they do, view them as an opportunity to bring attention to your practice’s many positive qualities and a chance to improve the practice in order to prevent recurring mistakes or complaints.

When responding to negative reviews, there are three important factors to keep in mind.

  1. General is better. Briefly acknowledge the patient and the issues at hand, and then deal with any specifics within the confines of a private conversation (whether it be in person or over the phone).
  2. Never be defensive. Even if the patient is misinformed or incorrect, online the patient is always right, even if you disagree.
  3. Encourage conversation. It is hard to get entire thoughts and emotions out in just a few words via the Internet. Call the patient and talk through the issue. This will allow you to salvage and foster the relationship, and learn from the experience to ensure it never happens again.

Here is an example of a negative review response, to use as a general template:

“We appreciate hearing your feedback and we apologize that you didn’t have a good experience at our office. We would love the opportunity to talk with you. We will do our best to contact you as soon as possible so that we can make things right.”

Of course, your specific response may vary based on your practice culture and what you feel comfortable posting.

Managing your online reputation doesn’t have to be a full-time job. Monitor your reviews on a weekly basis and respond as needed. Follow these general guidelines and your online presence will continue to flourish!

12 Ways to Increase Acceptance Rates

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  1. Set a benchmark. Know your case acceptance rate. This is the one and only way to truly track progress. An average case acceptance rate is 65% and an excellent rate is 85%. Once you know where you are (say, 62%), set a goal for where you want to be (for example, 75%). Track results monthly and keep an eye on the annual average.
  2. Nurture, nurture, nurture. No matter how high your case acceptance rate is, you will always have patients who simply aren’t quite ready to start treatment. Most practices forget the not-quite-ready group. With some nurturing, they could very well convert into high-paying patients. Nurture them with educational emails and the occasional friendly phone call or text. Be absolutely sure to reappoint all patients at the end of each appointment. The trick is to keep patients engaged, earn their trust and speak to all of the questions, obstacles and challenges that might exist in their minds about that big case.
  3. Monitor phones. Is everyone at the front desk warm and friendly in voice and tone on every call, or are there inconsistencies? Are all new patients offered a complimentary initial appointment and tour of the office, or are some written off as “not good patients” too quickly? (The initial appointment can be as simple as a meet-and-greet in the waiting room and a quick whirl around the office. It can even be a group session, such as a lunch-and-learn about braces or implants. It shouldn’t involve anything that would require the doctor’s fee. The initial appointment can go a long way in welcoming new patients, building rapport and establishing trust – all of which translate into case acceptance down the road.)
  4. Check chair-side manner. Are all of your hygienists and assistants adept at articulating your vision for the practice, or are they just focused on the clinical side of the practice? Do they engage patients in meaningful conversations to build deep relationships, or do they leave them waiting alone? Do they know the right questions to ask to “fish” for patients who may be thinking about that big case, or do they ask generic questions like, “How was your summer?”
  5. Ask open-ended questions. People are willing to share… but you have to open a door for them. Asking questions like, “What was your experience with braces?” or “What have you heard about dental implants?” gives the patient permission to talk freely with you. Other favorite open-ended questions are, “What do you think your smile says about you?” and “How would life be different if you had the smile you always wanted?”
  6. Ask for referrals. Just because one patient isn’t quite ready for treatment doesn’t mean that he or she can’t bring more patients who are. Train the team to ask for a referral every time a patient compliments the practice or says, “Thank you.” The response can be as smooth as, “Thank you! We love seeing patients like you, so be sure to send your friends and family your way.”
  7. Write the script. Work with the team to create a script for how to talk to patients about case acceptance. Start with things that have to be said. Include things that should not be said. Sprinkle in a few anecdotal points of discussion. Be sure to present the fee in clear and simple terms, and put it in writing.
  8. Offer 0% APR financing. Both CareCredit and LendingClub make it possible for practices to offer their patients creative financing. When money is on their minds, financing options make it easy for the patient to make the right choice for their dental health.
  9. Practice. Inspire the team (and yourself) to master the script by practicing often. Practice with each other. Practice at home. Practice with patients, of course. It’s less about getting it exactly right every time and more about oiling the machine. The more you say it, the more comfortable you become in delivering it. And when you’re at ease, the patient is at ease, which gives way to case acceptance.
  10. Watch every word. Positive language only! Resist using phrases like “no trouble at all” (a double negative) or “Unfortunately…” Instead, punch up the conversation with ultra-positive phraseology like, “We would be delighted,” and “There’s always a possibility!”
  11. Listen. This is not a one-way presentation. It’s a conversation. As you share expectations and financial options, intermittently ask if the patient has any questions or concerns. Ask every time you introduce a new concept. Listen for silence, too, and allow that in the conversation. This gives the patient time to digest what you are saying and ponder anything you have not yet covered for them.
  12. Rinse and repeat. Inspire the team to follow these steps with every patient, and you will see your case acceptance rate rise. Be sure to reward the team once you reach the collective goal. Then, set the bar higher!

The Highly Evolved Dental Practice

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In science, evolution refers to what happens when organisms change over time as a result of alterations in genetic traits. As organisms’ surroundings change, so do their physical and behavioral attributes, so as to adapt.

In dentistry, the dentist must also change and adapt to the market.

Marketing is an evolutionary process.

Over the last nine years, I have consulted with hundreds of dental practices. One comes to mind as a highly evolved dental practice.

I first met Dr. Jim Kearney in 2011 after I lectured in front of his study club. He knew he had to better market his practice, Austin Bluffs Dental, but he was feeling disenchanted with the marketing providers he had worked with in the past. He had shelled out thousands of marketing dollars and realized very little return on investment, which eventually caused him to scale back his marketing efforts in hopes of protecting himself. Instead, as a result, his patient numbers slowed to a trickle.

This is customary in the natural wild. The hunter is hunted, and retracts for survival. Yet he must return to hunting in order to survive. He must change and adapt.

Kearney did just that, restarting smaller than before. He set aside a few hundred dollars each month to invest into inexpensive direct marketing tactics such as online marketing.

Over a few months, his patient numbers began a slow, steady rise. It would be a rise that he would sustain for years to come.

Once Kearney attracted enough patient traffic to bank a modest surplus in production, he made another calculated move by investing more into marketing. Namely, he had his five-year-old website redesigned and added a referral marketing strategy to the mix. In adding these marketing efforts to his foundation of search engine optimization and online advertising, he saw his patient numbers and production rise even further.

Most recently, Kearney has added direct mail and Facebook advertising to his marketing strategy. He is now meeting his new patient and production goals, all because he continued to grow and adapt.

The entire process was a five-year evolution. Some practices prefer to make a similar evolution in a much shorter timeframe: even three months, six months, or one year. As long as the practice evolves with the marketplace, the end goal will be achieved.

The moral of the story is that you don’t have to go after the elephant right out of the gate. Start your marketing hunt small, and build as you go. But start!

Wendy O’Donovan Phillips is president of Big Buzz, the only full-service dental marketing firm in the nation. Her book, KABOOM!: The Method Used By Top Dentists for Explosive Marketing Results helps dentists build thriving practices with marketing backed by strategy. The American Marketing Association has awarded her for excellence in her industry, and she is currently acting as an expert marketing consultant to the American Dental Association. She lectures in front of dental associations, societies and study clubs nationwide. 

Where Did All My Patients Go?

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You see it all the time: a patient comes in for an initial consultation never to return. Or a child comes in for orthodontic treatment, and isn’t quite ready to convert to a new start. Or an existing patient asks about having that big cosmetic procedure and never accepts treatment.

Where do those patients go?

More importantly, how do you get them back?

In marketing, we often talk about the funnel that leads patients into your practice. At the top are those patients who are just becoming aware of the practice. At the bottom are those that are intentional about finding a dentist or orthodontist now due to an immediate need or desire.

So where do those patients who have lapsed or not accepted treatment go? They are hanging out in the middle of the funnel.


Sure, they are not moving into the dental chair. But it’s important to note that they are also not moving out of the practice. A high percentage of them are likely strongly considering moving forward with you, they just haven’t yet taken action. With some nurturing, they will indeed convert to new patients, new starts or that next big case. It’s like a goldmine: you can increase your production fairly quickly by working this part of the funnel.

At least once per month, reach out to the potential patient and address any challenges or fears he or she may be facing before accepting treatment.

The model is similar for orthodontic families that are not quite ready to move forward. In the time between the initial visit and starting treatment, stay in touch in meaningful, helpful ways to help put their minds at ease and make it a no-brainer for them to select you when the time comes.

Nurturing is all about building the relationship. The patient is far more likely to eventually become loyal to your practice when they like and trust you.

Here are 5 great ways to nurture these patients down the funnel and into your practice:

  1. Warm phone calls. This goes beyond asking, “Do you have any questions?” Again, start by building the relationship: ask about family, travels and work. Catch up about life. As the conversation takes its natural course, interject a few open-ended questions. “I recall you asked about improving your smile last time you were here. I’m curious, what concerns you the most about moving forward with treatment?” You might even coax answers, throwing out payment plan or recovery time as possible topics of conversation. As the patient answers, speak directly to how you and your practice can ease those challenges and fears.
  2. Email campaigns. Content marketing is the distribution of educational articles via email. These articles are meant to nurture potential patients into the practice. Great content builds trust and likability and also helps patients overcome any fears, challenges and obstacles they may have before they part ways with their money or make the big appointment with you. It helps answer all of the “burning questions” that keep the patient awake at night.
  3. Retargeting campaigns. Online retargeting ads are highly effective in nurturing patients who have visited your practice website and may not have made an appointment yet. This method uses web tracking to determine the interests and online activities of the patients who visit your website. This tracking allows your practice ad to “follow” them to other websites and continue to expose them to your brand. It’s a great way to stay top-of-mind so that when they are ready, they think of you first.
  4. Social media posts. Be sure to encourage or incentivize every patient to like your practice’s Facebook page. Social media is like a practice open house happening 24/7. As practice posts show up in potential or lapsed patients’ newsfeeds, they are reminded that you are there for them, that they relate to you and like you, and that your practice is the right place for them.
  5. Chair-side conversation. If ever you have the patient in the chair, connect and build a relationship with him or her. Ask what’s been on their mind about starting treatment.

You would be amazed at the sheer number of patients who are seriously considering your practice or services, and simply need a little nurturing to take the next step. Start mining for gold!

3 TED Talks We Love

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TED Talks are an inspiring, enlightening and motivating way to bring new perspective to your professional, personal, emotional and mental outlook. These three TED Talks do just that, and can be applied to several professional and personal circumstances.

  1. “Got a meeting? Take a walk” by Nilofer Merchant

In this brief, 3-minute talk, Merchant uses humor and poised delivery to get her point across: the majority of us spend our days sitting. Recent research shows that sitting that much can have detrimental effects on our health. Her solution? Any time we have a conversation-based meeting, switch up the routine by going on a walk. That way, we are fulfilling our work duties while still promoting our health.

Watch the talk, here.

  1. “The happy secret to better work” by Shawn Achor

In this talk, Achor takes us through a basic summary of positive psychology. He demonstrates that looking at a person’s surroundings can only explain 10% of their happiness level. The other 90% is based upon how their brain perceives the world around them. Taking it a step further, he explains the societal myth in which success leads to happiness. This is flawed because people tend to further extend their goals once they are reached the first time.

Watch the talk, here.

  1. “How to succeed? Get more sleep” by Ariana Huffington

Huffington keeps it short and sweet in this talk. Getting enough quality sleep is vital for functioning effectively at work. She discusses a recent cultural phenomenon: wanting to one-up each other with sleep deprivation. This phenomenon has adverse effects. Getting a solid night’s sleep can lead to increased productivity, happiness and decision-making.

Watch the talk, here.

Set yourself and your team on a clear path to success by taking a few moments this week to indulge in these insightful, eye-opening and educational videos.

Why Tracking Your Marketing Matters

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Marketing should be considered an investment, not an expense. To be sure your marketing is effective and providing a healthy return on investment, it is necessary to accurately and diligently track your marketing efforts.

By tracking your marketing results from the start, you will be able to establish baseline performance numbers and then work to improve upon them to reach your goals.

Two things are imperative to accurately and adequately track your marketing:

  1. Determine the average lifetime value of a patient. How much will the average person spend over the course of being a patient?
  2. Calculate how many new patients you need so that marketing more than pays for itself. Ideally, each new patient should bring enough revenue into your practice to cause a return on investment for your marketing tactics.

By establishing these baseline numbers, it becomes extremely evident how critical each new patient lead is, and how important it is to minimize the gap between new patient leads and actual new patients.

Marketing is an evolutionary process that requires recalibration as your practice shifts and grows and as your goals increase. Tracking your marketing efforts allows you to have a full picture into what’s working and what needs improvement, at any point in time. By constantly and thoroughly tracking your marketing efforts, you will always have full awareness and insight into your marketing.

How to Inspire Patients to Love Your Practice

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Patients are not buying a healthy smile from you. They are buying a relationship with you. Your energy level in each patient interaction is precisely what will propel the marketing and the practice.

The introduction to the classic psychology book How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie says, “There is no such thing as a neutral exchange. [With every interaction], you leave someone either a little better or a little worse.”

Here are 5 steps to ensure that every patient interaction leaves them a little better:

  1. Start with number one. Everyone in the practice, both patients and team members alike, match your energy every day. Are you bringing positivity to every interaction? Or do you often get mired in the challenges involved in owning a dental practice, and let it show? Are you a natural at winning friends, or are you more of an introvert? Do being hopeful and compassionate come naturally to you, or do you have to put effort into it? If you answered yes to the former parts of each question, you’re in great shape to move forward with the steps. If you are leaning more toward the latter parts, it may be good to invest in some leadership growth. In addition to Carnegie’s book, mentioned above, here are a couple of other good resources:
  2. Practice with the team. Connect with each member of the team every day, in meaningful ways. One easy way to do this is to affirm their contributions to the practice.  Carnegie writes, “We are all united by one single desire: to be valued by another.” This is not to say that your employees deserve praise 100% of the time. And sure, it’s appropriate to provide constructive feedback every now and again. But overall, assuming you have hired well, your team is working hard. Acknowledge the little things and give unexpected accolades. Here are just a few that I overheard in a dental practice recently:
    • “I want you to know that I notice that you arrive every morning a half hour before everyone else, and that I appreciate it and the team does, too.”
    • “You are always smiling. Do you know what a positive impact that has on our patients? I’m so grateful for you.”
    • “You handled that just the way I would have. Keep up the great work.”
  1. Ask “why” rather than “what.” In making small talk, we often ask, “What do you do for a living?” Or we otherwise ask about people’s work. Instead, ask patients why they do what they do. You will notice that they will soften and open up, talking about dreams, desire and even destiny. They may even share with you dashed goals, which is a great opportunity to empathize and connect.
  2. Explore what’s behind the statement. Human beings don’t like to be vulnerable. We mask our emotions from others in all kinds of clever ways. Listen closely to the inflections and words that a patient uses. There may be more behind what they are saying. For example:
    • Uh-huh… It’s… comfortable,” said in a small voice may mean, “I’m hurting, but I’m nervous to say so.”
    • “I didn’t think it would be that expensive!” may simply mean, “I’d like payment options to make me feel more comfortable.”
    • “I have to think about it,” may mean, “I have questions and concerns that I’m uncomfortable voicing.”

One of my favorite responses in these situations is simply a curious, “Tell me more.” This allows you time to intuitively process what they are saying and it gives them the opportunity to open up and tell the truth about how they are feeling.

  1. Take interest in other’s interests. Carnegie offers a few questions to start:
  • Where did you grow up?
  • What high school did you go to?
  • What are your kids’ names?

He urges readers to commit to asking thoughtful questions of every person they encounter. Instead of spending the day in thought about dentistry and how best to run the business side of the practice, connect with those who mean the most to the practice’s success: the team and the patients. “Interact with them,” Carnegie writes, “and discover what problems you might help solve or what pursuits you might help promote.”

When you leave each patient a little better, they become brand ambassadors for the practice, singing your praises across town with very little effort or prompting from you. This translates not only into more production dollars in the form of new patients, but also a more loyal team and a more fulfilling career.