Unprecedented, uncertain, and the new normal are overused phrases and words used to describe this time. Certainly you and your business have been through a lot the past few months. So many of you have been applying for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, working with creditors to delay payments, procuring personal protective equipment (PPE), and keeping your team apprised of the new systems upon returning to work.
As an executive coach, my focus has been to coach my clients not only to come back to work successfully but also to up their game to thrive in this new environment. My hope for you is that you take some of these ideas and implement them so you have certainty that your business can serve patients, strengthen team culture, and increase profitability.
The 3 hats
Throughout this process, we have reminded the dentists we work with that they wear three hats as an owner of a dental practice. They are a leader, a CEO, and a clinical director. As the CEO, you have been busy obtaining your PPP loan, temporarily laying off portions of (or all of) your team, and focusing on cash flow analysis. As a clinical director, you have procured your PPE, created new protocols, and outfitted your practice to comply with the current standards. Now, let's move into what will sustain you in the long term: you as the leader.
Leadership is all about influencing those around you -- your patients, your team, and your community. Patient relationships and engagement are not new, yet effort will have to be significantly increased to thrive in this environment.
You may not be able to control external forces and events, but you can control the narrative inside your practice. What are the communication and messages that you send to your patients and community? You have an opportunity to strengthen your relationship and the trust they have in you as a healthcare provider. That includes encouraging your patients to take care of their oral health as it's connected to the rest of the body.
While we don't have a crystal ball, there could be a "gap" in the patients who are ready to come back to see you. The "early adopters," those who trust you and were ready to see you once you opened your practice, have most likely already been in for their appointments. The next phase of patients to come back are called the "early and late majority" (up to 70% of your patient base). These patients may be more hesitant and will require more engagement to influence them to come back to your practice. What we do today can greatly reduce the effect of that gap.
Before we get into some tactical strategies on increasing patient engagement, let's focus on leadership. It starts with doing what we call a "culture calibration." Calibrating one's culture means simply to have everyone aligned in the result and the actions taken to achieve the ideal outcome. Once there is consistency in your culture and everyone is clear on the expectations from each other, they can begin to focus on the desired results from every interaction. If every employee understood that each interaction with every patient either encouraged patients to come in and experience the office or pushed them away and influenced them to reschedule their appointment, we would see an increased level of importance and concentration on each interaction.
Our conversations matter, our word choice is essential, and their experience matters.
What is the consistent message you want your patients to feel when they engage with your office? Whether it's calling the office and speaking to someone over the phone, visiting your website or social media channels, or coming in and interacting with your team, what should a patient feel? In a time like this, you want to focus on words like trust, safety, reassurance, confidence, safe, and knowledgeable.
In your team meeting, gather the team and ask two questions. First, what do we want our patients to feel? Second, how will we ensure they feel that?
Once you have your culture in place, focus on the different ways you will engage your patients. We also have a detailed guide with scripting
for all modalities listed.
The most obvious way you're engaging with your patients is by telephone. Do you have a script for prescreening your patients before they come in? It is also important to communicate to the patients all of the protocols the office follows to keep the team and the patients safe and healthy.
Whoever is making the phone calls should also reassure all patients that the dental office is one of the safest places to be and we have been diligent about infection control for decades. In addition, a postappointment check-in is a great time to ask for reviews and referrals.
Let's talk about email. Many practices have a patient communication system that automatically communicates with the patients, such as RevenueWell or Solutionreach. Take a look at those emails that are going out and customize them to the current times.
It's important to customize and send out five different types of emails:
Reactivation: This email should be sent to patients who are past due for an appointment.
What to expect during your visit: This email should be sent two to three days before the patient's appointment.
Follow-up after appointment: This email should be sent after the appointment.
Weekly emails to all patients: A weekly email should be sent to the entire patient base.
Personalized emails: For patients you have called and had no response, send them a personal email, including some verbiage regarding their oral health and the steps you're taking to keep them safe.
Weekly emails to patients can include things like patient written testimonials and patient video testimonials. They can also include team videos about what to expect, fun team videos on what is happening in the practice, personal stories of team members, information on PPE/how you are keeping patients safe, inspiring messages, and health and dental tips.
Text messages have become an effective tool. Are you customizing and getting creative with your texts? You can use texting for communicating availability and hours. You can use two-way texting to schedule appointments, confirm appointments, and send a postappointment thank you.
In addition, you can use customized giphy images that reflect your brand and image. By customizing your texts, you are differentiating yourself and strengthening the personal connection.
Engaging your community using social media is more important than ever! People are spending more time on social media than before, and with that, here is your opportunity to engage with your patients and greater community.
Even if you were not focused on this before COVID-19, now is your chance. One of the most valuable tools you can use is getting video patient testimonials. If someone else says it, it must be true, right? Ask your early adopter patients to make a short video on how great their experience was and post it on Facebook and Instagram and use it in your weekly emails. Don't forget to boost posts on Facebook.
Social media ideas:
Post photos of your happy and friendly team members.
Conduct a Facebook Live session and answer patient questions.
Discuss scheduling, including when and how patients can visit the practice.
Promote your in-office discount plan.
Obtain patient testimonials showing your "wow" factor.
Create selfie videos to speak to your patients -- and speak from the heart.
Share a virtual office walk-through video on the "new" patient experience.
Provide a "behind the scenes" video of cleaning instruments, door handles, etc.
Show the new PPE and equipment to keep patients and team members safe.
Create team member videos sharing what will be different when patients come in.
Patients and potential patients will be looking at your online presence. Your website should be updated with new hours, videos of the doctor and team explaining new protocols, video testimonials, and a welcome back message. It should also utilize live chat.
Finally, now is the time to turn your online advertising back on. Focused Facebook advertising and Google Ads are important to keep that steady stream of new patients flowing into your practice.
We are seeing that the following keywords are effective: emergency dentistry, implants, safe dentistry, senior dentistry, and same-day dentistry.
As an executive coach for Fortune Management
, Kim McGuire brings more than 18 years of dental executive coaching and practice management knowledge to the Colorado dental community. She advises doctors and teams to implement strong systems for maximum effectiveness.