In the first of two discussions on the patient journey, Les Jones and Nigel Jones look at the part that often gets overlooked – the time before the patient arrives at the practice.
Les : I think most people think of the customer journey at a dental practice as the patient arriving at reception and then the interaction with the dentist. But, of course, that journey starts a lot earlier doesn’t it?
Nigel : Absolutely. It’s a fairly classic thing in process management terms to define a start and end of a process. When I chat to practices it can be really interesting to hear where they think those ends are, especially when you ask them to think about it from a customer perspective, rather than just a practice team one.
Les : I think the process goes right back to before you even meet the customer coming through the door. It’s about how you market yourself, how you position yourself, how people find out about you and how those expectations start to grow in people before they even step into the practice. There are multiple ways in which a person can find out about a dental practice, advertising, social media and your website. In fact, the mantra to remember is that ‘all roads lead to your website’; however a person first hears about you, they will check out your website.
“The process goes right back to before you even meet the customer coming through the door.”
Nigel : Yes, and all of these things are about your brand and reputation, and how people perceive you. I think it’s always quite an interesting test if a practice team takes the time to think about the type of words and adjectives they would like their patients to use to describe them. For example, if one of their patients was sat in a pub and one of their friends was saying that they had a dental issue and needed to find a dentist, what specific words would they like their patient to use to describe the practice and the team? The idea is to then take those descriptors and ensure that they are coming through in any communications from the practice, whether that be social media, adverts, website, etc.
Les : Definitely, it’s about setting up expectations, so that when a patient actually makes contact and walks through the door, there’s no disconnect between what they are expecting and what they are starting to experience. Just picking up on your point about the test, the words I tend to hear quite regularly are ‘friendly’, ‘professional’ and ‘caring’ – which are all great words, but you would argue that every single dental practice should be friendly, caring and professional. In many ways, it’s how you bring it all to life. Do you want to be friendly, caring and professional in a cool and funky kind of way or in a fun and vibrant kind of way? Those are the things that start to define the culture of the practice and start to feed into how you position yourself through your marketing channels. If you clearly define your culture then you can concentrate on the best ways to present it, whether that is in practice or through marketing channels such as social media, website, etc.
Nigel : I couldn’t agree more. You need to avoid any sort of disconnect otherwise mistrust starts to creep in. For example, I’ve seen advertising, which promoted a practice as being family-oriented, but when a patient turned up at the practice, they were faced with something that looked like it was aimed at young professionals. Setting expectations is a serious business; you don’t want a patient to feel as if they have been seduced by fancy marketing, otherwise the trust will be eroded right from the start. I think that’s why, with any customer journey, you’ve got to get everything synchronised and dove-tailing into each other very neatly.
“Setting expectations is a serious business; you don’t want a patient to feel as if they have been seduced by fancy marketing, otherwise the trust will be eroded right from the start.”
Les : That’s a really good point. Let’s talk about the specific areas, in terms of how prospective patients are touched in some way through the marketing and communications of the practice. For me, a key area would be referrals, potentially the life blood of a practice, but often not tackled in a structured way.
Nigel : Yes, I think most practices understand that it’s a good thing to do, but feel inhibited from doing it, but a process for referrals is essential. The key is to make it habitual so that it isn’t something that’s daunting.
Les : I think it needs to start with the dentist. It shouldn’t be something that is offloaded to the reception team, where they hand a referral card to the patient as they are leaving. It carries much more weight if the dentist, at the end of an appointment, asks for a referral. A simple 20 second conversation along the lines of, ‘Mrs Smith, it’s been great to see you as always. Can I just say, we’re always looking to grow our practice and we’d love more patients like you. Can I just give you these referral cards? If you know anyone else that could benefit from the treatment that you get, it will be great if you referred us.’ It’s not over the top, and not salesy in any way. Of course, many people would argue that the referral part of the customer journey is the end of the journey, which it clearly is for the existing patient. But for the one that they are going to refer to, it’s the beginning.
Nigel : If Mrs Smith makes a referral to a friend, the chances are they will go online and check out the practice website. A website is extremely important in terms of setting the tone for the practice and making that initial connection.
“The vast majority of practice websites fall into the trap of being written for other dentists rather than for the patients. They focus too much on the technical ability and qualifications, which are important, but not from a customer perspective.”
Les : The vast majority of practice websites fall into the trap of being written for other dentists rather than for the patients. They focus too much on the technical ability and qualifications, which are important, but not from a customer perspective. Those types of things are expected.
Nigel : I agree, the really important thing is to use language from a patient’s perspective.
Les : I also think it’s about immediacy. We all know that when people are surfing or looking for a particular product or service, they will land on a page and if that page doesn’t grab them in the first 5 or 6 seconds then they’ll just bounce off that and go to the next one on the list. Therefore, the very first thing a website has to do is grab people and make them feel that they’ve landed in the right place straight away. Thinking about if you met someone face to face and you literally had 5 or 10 seconds to tell them the really key things that you wanted them to know about your practice, what would those things be? Once you’ve identified what those core things are, make them very, very prominent on your website’s landing page.
Nigel : And, as you’ve alluded to, whether that’s the images or the words, both have to be consistent with the impression you want to convey.
“Think about if you met someone face to face and you literally had 5 or 10 seconds to tell them the really key things that you wanted them to know about your practice, what would those things be? Once you’ve identified what those core things are, make them very, very prominent on your website’s landing page.”
Les : Ultimately practices need to see their website as an investment. Being prepared to pay for professional photography rather than trying to do it on your iPhone and cobbling something together.
Nigel : Absolutely, I think it’s also worth pointing out that any video testimonials on websites need to have thought and prep put into them. You need to give the patient the chance to understand what you would like them to convey, giving them some structure and format on the approach, just so that everything is consistent.
Les : Whilst we’re still talking about websites, I came across a practice who were using a chat function. Something I’ve not seen many practices doing. I started a chat with them and asked them questions about how they used the facility. What came back was that it was an extremely useful tool in terms of breaking down barriers before they had even met the patient. If you imagine the situation, a prospective patient lands on your website, starts to have a little look around, and then suddenly the chat function pops up and a very friendly chat says, ‘Hi. How are you today? Is there anything I can help you with? Do you have any questions?’. If people start to interact with that, firstly it’s a very, very safe environment for them. They’re still completely anonymous. They can ask questions about the practice or about certain parts of their dental health that they might be concerned about. Also, it starts to build a little bit of rapport as well. It makes them feel a lot more comfortable about actually making the next step. When I was talking to this practice, they were saying that their conversion rate of people landing on their website to actually making an appointment had gone through the roof simply because of this personalised interaction very early in the customer journey process.
Nigel : It all makes an awful lot of sense. As you say, it’s breaking down the steps for the customer and making it manageable for them to take the next one. As long as the interaction they receive is friendly and caring and fits with the core values then it further builds rapport and trust. I can appreciate that there are some practical issues for a lot of practices, whether or not they have the functionality for chat, let alone resourcing it adequately, but I can very much see that in the next few years, that will become the norm rather than the exception because I think the conversion rates will speak for themselves.
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