How can fee-for-service practices compete with insurance-driven practices?

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Recently, an online dental discussion group brought up this topic:

How can fee-for-service practices compete with those who are in network?

There were a lot of ideas from the group like:

Have the dentist call the new patient the night before to say she is looking forward to meeting them.

Get up from the desk and walking around to greet patients as they enter.

Recognize special events in their lives.

Acknowledge when you are behind schedule.

Provide stellar customer service.

All good suggestions. But if it comes down to numbers, you won’t be able to compete simply on that level. There are TWO DISTINCTIONS above all else that will give you an edge.

The FIRST DISTINCTION is to identify what makes you distinctive. What do you provide that your insurance-driven colleagues can’t or don’t. Are there services that you are particularly known for such as TMJ therapy, sleep apnea solutions or sedation dentistry? Is your specialization one that is unique and notable? Do you offer second opinion consultations? Do you have a comfort dog at the practice?Without something compelling, you are just another dentist. Whatever that distinction is, name it and claim it. Identify who your audience is and above all else, remember the second distinction.

SECOND DISTINCTION: Build your entire practice around this question:”How can we make our patients lives better than when they first walked in?”  You see, no one goes to the dentist for no reason. People have complicated lives and one of the last things on their list is you, the dentist. They only contact you when they believe you can help solve a problem they have – then they want you to go away. And their expectations are usually low because their previous experiences (in an insurance-driven office) were probably less than stellar in part because no one cared to learn about what was important to them. So, the more you and your team develop exceptional behavioral and problem-solving skills, the more you will learn about your patients and what they care about. Everything you do from there is built around that objective: “How can we make your life better than when you walked in?” Identify the answer to this question and remember it throughout each stage of the process. Provide individualized care, fashioned just for them and keep going back to what problem, in quality of life terms, you are helping them solve.

All the other things such as calling patients to find out how they are feeling, acknowledging birthdays or asking about their vacation, even filing insurance on their behalf are nice but it won’t keep a patient from switching practices because they have insurance.

What will make the difference is your unrelenting desire to solve your patient’s problem so they feel good about the experience and can go on with their lives. That is what will distinguish you from everyone else in the marketplace and for a lot of people, that is worth the difference they are willing to pay from what insurance will cover.  It’s really very easy once all the systems and the right people with the right skills are supporting you.

We help dentists evolve their practice to this new model.

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High Cost of Doing Nothing Part 1: Marketing Basics for Dentists

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Herb’s practice was struggling. His new patient flow had dwindled and after practicing for 30 years, he had become resistant to change. The thought of promoting his practice went against his long-held beliefs that it cheapened the profession. So, he did nothing.

On the other side of town, Sam had built her practice from the ground up. That was two years ago. And while she used her street smarts to market her practice, she wasn’t feeling confident that her time and money were being used in the most effective way.

High cost of doing nothingThe simple truth is, if you don’t tell people who you are and what you do, they will not become your patients. In today’s marketplace, there is a very high cost for doing nothing.

And while marketing is not usually the dentist’s area of expertise, it is essential to have a strategic marketing plan. Here are some basic rules that every dentist should know and use to guide their decisions for implementing a solid marketing plan. Successful marketing comprises of a combination of five key components:

REACH – Target your message to the specific group or groups you wish to attract.
If you are a pediatric or family dentist, you want to focus your efforts on targeting and appealing to young families. On the other hand, if you specialize in exquisite implant-supported dentures, you will want to reach out to affluent seniors. The more specific you can identify your niche in the marketplace, the more targeted your reach.

FREQUENCY – Send messages and send them often.
Each message or “impression” builds on the last. Consumers rarely experience one exposure or message and remember your name or what you do. It requires multiple impressions for a potential patient to connect with who you are and what you offer.

CONSISTENCY – All messages should speak with one voice.
Focus on identifying your niche and brand and tie together your messages with visuals and content that are similar. One logo, one font and color palette, one positioning statement, consistent approach and style.

VARIETY – Send your marketing message through a number of different avenues.
Identify unique opportunities in your community to raise awareness of your practice and cross-promote whenever you can. This will help increase your REACH and FREQUENCY. For instance, sponsor a charity event or a sports team, billboard presence, host a talk radio program, health fairs, personal letter of introduction to new residents, targeted print publications or magazines, collaborative relationships with other businesses, active community involvement such as Rotary and Chamber of Commerce.

TOP-OF-THE-MIND PRESENCE – Connect with patients when they are likely to need you. It is difficult to know or plan for your messages to connect with people at the very moment they decide they need a service that you offer. But if you are committed to a campaign that focuses on REACH, FREQUENCY, CONSISTENCY and VARIETY, you are more likely to connect.
So, when someone is “in the market” for your services and they either search online for or come across your information, they will think, “I know them. They are familiar. They are known for (fill in the blank). I’ll give them a call.” It is familiar to them because of the marketing foundation you have previously laid.

IMPLEMENTATION
You must identify goals, and develop a plan and timeline for your marketing. This will likely require the support of a team member who is fully capable of helping you in this endeavor. Make sure this is included in her job description and she is given the time, tools, and authority to make it happen. If you don’t have the resources on your team, reach out to a local marketing specialist to help you deploy your marketing plans.

EVALUATION
When you are developing your marketing strategy, also plan for evaluating the results of your efforts to insure you are making good use of your investment of time and money. How will you assess the effectiveness? What indicators will you use and at what stage will you review the campaign and make course corrections, if necessary?

CONVERSION
If you spend time, effort and money to implement a solid marketing plan, you better have your internal house in order AHEAD OF TIME.

This is HUGE. You want to make sure that when the target patient you attracted through your marketing, calls and visits your practice, the experience matches what they have come to learn about you. If it isn’t exceptional, you’ve wasted your time and resources. Many practices make the mistake of spending large budgets on marketing their practice only to lose potential patients at the beginning of the relationship because their staff lacks the skills to connect with them in significant and meaningful ways.  In my opinion, this is the most common marketing mistake made!

Contact me to receive a marketing questionnaire to help you clarify what you are doing now and what you should focus on. And if you would like help reviewing your systems, communication skills, practice perception and marketing strategy, I invite you to call me for a more in-depth conversation.

Rube Goldberg and Stupid Systems

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Every year, students compete all over the country in the Rube Goldberg Competition. Named after the American cartoonist, sculptor, author, engineer and inventor, it is now a noun. The process of creating a Rube Goldberg is defined as: doing something very simple in a very complicated way that is not necessary.

We see this every day in all kinds of businesses. The most recent example I witnessed last week at the new BurgerFi restaurant that just opened in my town. If you haven’t heard of this place, it’s a burger joint…plain and simple. And I’m guessing that because there are a lot of burger places, and most of them are less expensive, BurgerFi, which is a franchise, wanted something unique to set them apart from their competitors.

Enter the tracker system they use once you order. The order taker at the counter gave us our tracker and instructed us to place it on the mat on the table so our order could be delivered to us.

Now here’s where it gets tricky. IMG_3676

We find a seat and sure enough, the mat is easy to spot – right in the middle of the table.  We placed the tracker on the star in the middle of the mat which has black hole in the middle, which we assumed communicated with some high-tech GPS system so they know where to bring our order.

Sidebar: The BurgerFi logo is on the tracker pad. This is important information for later.IMG_3675

About two minutes go by, then the owner/manager comes over to our table and moves the location of the tracker, explaining we placed it in the wrong spot.

We take a closer look and in small print on the four corners of the mat are the words;     Place Table Tracker Here

We missed that. So I called the owner/manager over to ask him how IMG_3674often he has to change the location of the tracker for his customers. He told us “about 40% of the time…”. So, four out of every ten orders, he runs around the restaurant having to “fix the system”. I asked him if there might be a better way to find the right table without all the unnecessary effort. His reply was something along the lines of “Yes. But it’s part of the BurgerFi experience.”

This is a classic Rube Goldberg: doing something very simple in a very complicated way that is not necessary. There are so many other systems for delivering food to the right table that don’t occupy someone’s time trying to fix what isn’t working. Unfortunately, no one wants to abandon the system for a better way because the company has invested so much in the system and has tied it in with their “brand”.

Is your practice guilty of some Rube Goldbergs? Do you have systems that don’t benefit you or your patients? Systems that are outdated? Systems that require remediation? Systems that occupy the time and energy of valuable staff for no payback? The router system? The half the record in the paper chart/half on the computer system? The hygiene post card/phone call/email reply for “confirming” appointments system?

Bring your team together and use this blog post as a conversation starter about the stupid systems in your practice and how you can think smarter, not harder.

Top 5 professional habits you should commit to in 2014

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With every new year, comes an overwhelming amount of commentary on new year resolutions and goals. A lot of them are common sense no brainers mixed with an equal amount of recommendations we know are unattainable. Reflecting upon 2013, I would like to shift the conversation to some things I believe have become overlooked.

I have discovered that many people have forgotten the basics. It annoys me when the professionals I work with don’t afford me these common courtesies. If you want to gain respect from your colleagues, patients, customers and employees and you want them to offer you the same respect in return, it is absolutely essential that you follow these very basic rules of business etiquette in 2014.

Here are my TOP 5 No-Brainers every business professional should commit to in the new year:

Number 5: Don’t interrupt.
Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule and if you made it through high school, you can surely figure out what those are. I’m talking about people who cut you off in mid-sentence because they believe what they have to say is more important than what you are expressing. It indicates they are not listening. It comes off as rude, disrespectful and confrontational. If you are guilty of this, listen more, talk less. If someone else violates this rule, let them know you weren’t finished with your thought.

Number 4: Do what you say and say what you do.
If you tell someone you are going to do something, don’t just talk about it. Do it! If you aren’t sure you will follow through, don’t commit to it. How many times have you been disappointed by someone who has said they were going to do something then dropped the ball? And it adds additional insult when they don’t give you the courtesy of letting you know, which leads me to 4a:

4a) If you commit to something then discover it was unrealistic or you can’t follow through, own it.   It’s as simple as saying you’ve discovered you’ve bitten off more than you can chew or your time commitments have gotten the best of you. You will continue to earn respect from your peers, co-workers, and employees when you are honest with them about your shortcomings.

Number 3: If you change your mind, say so.
Everyone has that right. But changing your mind and not telling us is not OK. People will have different expectations and you will inevitably disappoint them – possibly make them angry – if you don’t tell them your thinking has changed. We will continue to think you have your original mindset unless you tell us otherwise.

Number 2: If you are in a meeting or conversation, DO NOT LOOK AT YOUR CELL PHONE!
We’ve all been on the receiving side of someone who shifts their attention from us to their “next-best friend”. Why would anyone think this is appropriate? This is rude and disrespectful. Period. But it is occurring at epic proportions these days. Just because others engage in this behavior doesn’t mean it’s OK. It says they could care less about what’s happening outside the edges of their smartphone screen – so why should we? Business owners and CEOs can often be the biggest violators of this. Regardless of how important someone is, your time is equally important. If someone does this to you, stop talking until they look up and tell them you’d be happy to continue when they aren’t pre-occupied. Let’s shut this behavior down in 2014.

Number 1: Reply to emails. And do it in a timely manner.
Just like the sign in the public bathroom stall that says; “please flush after use”, this is so basic that I shouldn’t have to mention it. That being said, a large percentage of the emails I send out go unanswered. If email isn’t your thing, tell people up front or simply don’t give out your email address. Otherwise, people expect an acknowledgement or reply – THAT’S WHY WE SEND EMAILS! If you don’t reply, it’s the same as saying you don’t care or the sender isn’t worth your time. Your lack of response indicates your lack of interest which erodes your credibility, regardless of your position or role in any business.

Are you starting to see a pattern here? Every one of these has to do with professional courtesy and respect. And if we want people to respect us and behave in a certain way, we have to commit to that behavior ourselves. That is the hallmark of a leader. And yes, these are basic. That’s where we have to begin to build a solid foundation of professionalism, gain respect from others and to further develop our effective communication skills.

Do you have something you would like to add to this list? Let’s start a dialog and spread the word in 2014.