Every practice will have a natural churn of patients – people move away or pass away. But it is a concern if your practice is losing patients because they are choosing to move to a different practice in your local area. My question to the team in this instance is, ‘why do you think they leave your practice?, I then get them to think about a time when they last received poor service from a shop/restaurant, etc, and then when they received outstanding service – generally there are more poor service instances than outstanding. However, we generally don’t complain about the poor service we receive, instead we make the decision to go elsewhere. To get the team thinking about the service they offer, I ask them to list everything they aren’t good at, what they do well, then everything they are great at and what they excel at. The idea being they are identifying areas that need attention. Below is a list of some of the ‘honest truths’ that come out of these sessions along with a few ideas on how to deal with them:
We frequently run late
Practices often run late because their appointment book isn’t zoned; a typical day could have back-to-back lengthy treatments where things can and do take longer than anticipated.
We cancel patients’ appointments as we are short staffed
Well, things do crop up from time to time but holidays and courses should be planned and staff shortages accounted for.
We don’t really look like a private practice
You may not think it but your practice surroundings are important – tatty wallpaper, dirty skirting boards, dated magazines… Remember, your brand says everything about you.
We book patients six months in advance and patients have to wait weeks to get an appointment
This makes the appointment book look full. Reality is many will cancel at short notice or not show. Not only does this leave you scrambling to fill the gaps left by these broken appointments, it’s difficult to schedule patients who actually want treatment. If you don’t want to move away from booking six months in advance, make sure you contact the patient one month in advance of their scheduled appointment.
We don’t really give patients longer appointments since we left the NHS
Giving patients more time allows you to develop relationships. Most patients want to feel like they know you, and that they can trust you with their dental care.
We close at lunchtime
If you can, stagger lunch breaks so that patients can access the practice at lunchtimes. If it’s not possible for a surgery to be running, at least make sure the ringing phone is answered.
Our website is out of date or poor and needs updating
Keeping your website fresh and up to date is essential. Today, more and more people use the internet to search for products or services they need.
Let existing and potential new patients know about any changes to the team, special promotions, new services and, love it or hate it, do include photos of the team and share your achievements both professionally and personally.
And, the one I often see is…customer service is lacking
Superior customer service is a must. When patients walk into your practice, they want to feel welcome. A warm greeting and a friendly smile can go a long way in helping them relax. Observe the patient’s body language and, if necessary, engage in further conversation.
If the reception area is noisy and the phone is constantly ringing, it sets a negative tone for the rest of the visit.
Any one or combination of the above points could be the trigger for a patient deciding to look elsewhere. So, spending some time to make sure these potential pitfalls are avoided is time well spent. Any business consultant will tell you that it is far more expensive and time-consuming to attract a new client than it is to keep the ones you already have.