My Prediction for 2013

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Good news!  U. S. News and World Report has announced their list of the top jobs (those in greatest demand) for 2013 and topping the list at number one is dentist!  Following in the number ten position is dental hygienist! At the risk of angering some of you, I’m going to say it. No more whining! You can position your practice and seize the market. But you must decide to take a good hard look at your practice and make some improvements.  Look at these FIVE ELEMENTS and ask whether you are making the most of each opportunity:

1) Your Physical plant

Patients have very little in which to judge your expertise or competence and some will assess you by the appearance of your practice. From the exterior and signage to the decor, wall art and clutter, look at your practice with new eyes or ask a third party or professional to give you their honest opinion. And while you must like and be comfortable in your surroundings, the more important issue is who you are targeting and what will appeal to them.

2) How are patients welcomed?

The best investment you can make is to train the team members entrusted with answering the phone and welcoming new AND existing patients. NO AMOUNT OF ADVERTISING OR EXTERNAL MARKETING WILL BENEFIT YOU until your team members learn how to connect with people in the most effective way. The challenge is that you rarely know how your team members are engaging people because you are focused on doing dentistry. Enlist the help of a professional to both assess and train your team appropriately.

3) Work on building relationships

This may sound like a no-brainer but there is more to building a relationship than learning where your patients work, their children’s names or where they went on their last vacation. Everyone who works in the practice must be capable and willing to learn communication skills that will carry your relationships beyond the superficial. This requires learning why patients come to you, what they are asking and expecting of you, and how you can connect with them in ways that help them get what they want. The end result is more patients authorizing more dentistry sooner!

4) Fostering referrals

It stands to reason that if you manage expectations and give patients what they want, they will be happy and continue to come to your practice. Far too often, we don’t ask our best, most satisfied patients for referrals. Do you and your team know the art of asking for referrals in a genuine way? Do you have a referral program that encourages people to voluntarily share their experience in direct and viral ways? Enlist the help of a professional to AMP UP this highly overlooked goldmine.

5) Marketing

For you old-school guys and gals, WAKE UP!  It’s 2013 and if you aren’t getting your business out into the community, you will be left behind. For those of you who have marketing plans in place, now is the time to re-assess their effectiveness.  Keep these three essential elements in mind as you craft your campaigns:

Reach – who you are targeting

Frequency  –  how often you are sending messages out

Top of the Mind Awareness/Familiarity  –  being in the consumer’s mind when they are in the market or have a need

I encourage you to consider more non-traditional means of promoting your practice with a heavy emphasis on education and good-will marketing. Think creatively and out of the box. Don’t rely on a team member to try to implement your marketing when they “have time”. Instead, hire someone who can focus on it.

I predict that if you tackle all five of these goals this year, your practice will SOAR. I would love to help you with each of these areas to make 2013 your greatest year ever and be poised for success for years to come.

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Practice Perception: From the inside out

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In my previous post, I mentioned a dying bamboo centerpiece we discovered in a restaurant to illustrate the importance of practice perception. My main point was that patients have no way to judge your clinical abilities and the indicators they will use to determine what your practice is about or gauge your expertise are the physical plant, the environment you create and the way you engage your patients in the process. Let’s take it one step further.

Does your physical plant represent your practice mission and is it in alignment with what you offer?

In this and future posts, I want to focus on the physical plant and environment and shed light on those areas you may want to evaluate in your practice.

For example, for new patients, the most important place in your practice is the reception area. This is where the look and feel of the practice is established and should be congruent with the image and messages you are sending into the marketplace. You want this space to set the stage for what the patient can come to expect from you and your team.

Let’s use a simple exercise and approach this process by using the five senses as a guide. If your practice specializes in working with anxious or fearful patients, how would you want your reception area to look, feel, sound, smell and even taste? Visualize in your mind how a person might enter into and experience the environment.You want to project the image of clean, soft, comforting, soothing, uncluttered space.

Sight

The colors would be blues, greens or violets to calm the mind, provide harmony and balance and encourage meditation. Artwork would be minimal and serene – no generic smiling people portraits. The space would be accented with side tables and you wouldn’t find ratty magazines or stand up displays promoting procedures or electric toothbrushes.  Instead, visitors might discover hardcover picture books about photography, travel, animals, or inspirational short stories. Plants would bring in the natural environment and remove the clinical feel. A couple of carefully-placed live flowers might dot the room showing your care and attention.

The lighting would not come from harsh overhead or can lights but instead would be a mixture of floor and table lamps and sconces, providing soft, warm pools of light through the space.

Touch

There would be soft, inviting comfy chairs or loveseats, perhaps with pillows. Massage chairs might be another option. The floor would be carpeted or would have throw rugs, which also softens the sound of footsteps and voices.

Sound

Patients might hear instrumental spa music just loud enough that sounds from the clinical area would be masked. A water feature like a fountain, or a live or virtual aquarium would support the calming environment and add a distraction for anxious patients. No loud phones ringing, no speaker phone, and the volume of voices would be kept low.

Smell

Candles or wall plug-ins would dispense the aroma of lavender, mint or jasmine to aid in calming fearful visitors. No clinical or “staff lunch” smells would be detected.

Taste

A coffee, tea and water station would invite visitors to make themselves at home with an assortment of flavors, including calming camomile.

Can you begin to see and experience this reception area in your mind’s eye? This sets the stage for what they will experience throughout their visit. The physical space and everything you do should be congruent with this.

You may want to gather your staff together and perform this exercise in your own practice.  Paint a picture for your team of the way you would like to treat your patients and how you want your practice to be perceived, based on your specialty and mission. Start with the physical plant. Come up with ways you can support the message.  Walk through the space and evaluate what is in the space now. What doesn’t belong? What would you want to change or how would you improve the features? Then do this same exercise for each area of the practice:

Entrance
Reception
Front desk
Clinical areas
Business office
Treatment consultation room
Other public areas: hallways, bathroom

I would love to see photos of your reception area to see how you welcome patients.

In my next blog posts, I will look at the following equally important areas of perception: Staff, external messages and marketing messages. Be sure to click on the “Follow” button so you will get notification of the next post.

The Dying Bamboo

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Recently, Sandy and I had dinner with a dentist and his wife before we visited their practice for observation. The restaurant was in the airport hotel where we were staying.  We were greeted and seated immediately and as we settled in, both of us noticed the centerpiece; a trendy looking slate stone vase that held a single bamboo shoot.  Sounds like a great concept, right?  If only the bamboo wasn’t falling over and the leaves weren’t yellow and wilted.  It was downright sad.

Immediately, this symbol of good luck became a depressing sign, so we removed it from the table.  It might also have been a sign for the lack of attention the restaurant received from the management and employees. As the dinner progressed, I noticed the bread was stale, the water glasses sat empty without a refill, and the meals were plated with little care. I began to wonder whether the food prep area was sanitary. Was the walk-in refrigerator temperature to “code”? Did the employees wash their hands? I didn’t have high expectations for the meal. Luckily, our server was decent and our food was acceptable but the experience was less than what I expect from this type of restaurant. I left underwhelmed.

What we discovered were telltale signs that no one was paying attention to the details. If those details weren’t being tended to, what about the things that really mattered?  In their book,“In Search of Excellence,” Peters and Waterman make the following observation:

“When there are coffee stains on the tray tables, passengers wonder about the quality of the maintenance of the airplane’s engines.

These signs undermine confidence. The same is true in your practice. For example, on a recent consultation visit to an upscale cosmetic practice, I immediately noticed something that seemed out of place. The sign in front of the building and the landscaping was top notch. The reception area was gorgeous and it was obvious an interior designer was consulted. The environment was warm and the sounds were soothing. Then I saw it. The spot on the carpet. It did not belong. When I asked the group about it later in the day, most of the team had no idea what I was talking about. Two staff members did recall the spot and said that it had been there for as long as they could remember. No one seemed to feel it was a big deal. That spot was as significant as the dying bamboo centerpiece.

Point 1: Patients have no way to judge your clinical abilities and the indicators they will use to gauge your expertise are the physical plant, the environment you create and the way you engage your patients in the process. If the little details aren’t tended to, your patients will wonder if the things that truly matter – proper diagnosis, clinical expertise, sanitation standards – are also being overlooked.

Point 2: Your team must be vigilant all the time. Create a culture where your staff is encouraged to pay attention to the little things – the stain on the carpet, the full trash can in the patient’s bathroom, a patient’s concerned look or the negative comment he or she might make on their way out. Everything matters. Patients notice. You can’t let down your guard.

Over the course of the next several articles, we will review the physical plant and environment and shed light on those areas you may want to pay more attention to in your practice. If there is a specific area you would like for me to address, please comment below or email and let me know.