Track your patient leaks – and plug them

For some reason when talking about Business growth there’s a tendency to think of new patients – it just feels more sexy. Trust me though that it is a great deal more profitable to invest the same time and money on winning the loyalty of your current and sometimes forgotten patients.

Indeed on average it costs six to eight times more to get a new patient than it does to keep an existing one, and its 16 times easier to sell to an existing patient than to a new one.

So my strong advice, on this 1st day of December, is that when considering planning for the month or for 2015, look first at the patients who are on your books, as this is where the goldmine is.

The first step would be to see which are your oldest patients. What has made them stay? From this data you can gain an understanding of what is being done right.

But even more importantly take a detailed look at current patients to understand what more can be done to deliver the service that will encourage them to stay – take up advised treatment plans, make more enquiries about your other services or even refer you to their friends and families.

The natural position with most dental teams and businesses generally is that it’s easy to think that once a patient is through the door or has booked their first examination you’ve got them and the hard work is over.

My firm belief is that in this still relatively new customer/patient focused world that we now live in, where we are all bombarded with messages both on and off-line continuously, this is a very dangerous position to take.

Unfortunately what you will find is that your Practice just isn’t the most important thing on their list. Particularly in the current environment, calendars become full, time is needed for children, for a change in job, for children or even for Facebook. In such circumstances a return visit to the dentist falls lower and lower down the list.

So much so that for some it actually feels embarrassing to return so even when in desperate need they will go a competitor rather than return to you.

This is a situation that you absolutely and naturally want to avoid.

The first step though is to clarify what the leak (if any) actually look like.  This is also often referred to as the business analyzing the practice ‘churn rate’.

There are different ways to measure this but the one that I find the simplest is:

  • To produce a list of all patients that you would consider as ‘active’ in your Practice or all that have been in for the last two years as of the beginning of the month and then divide that by the number of patients (minus any new patients) at the end of each month.
  • If the figure is timed by 100 you will arrive at a percentage.

An average for dental businesses is a churn rate of 19% over the year. This may not sound that bad but when you consider that a 5% increase in customer retention can generate 30 to 40% increase in profitability you can see how all the team will benefit with some added investment in encouraging patients to stay with you.

In fact this is actually my favourite strategy because it’s one that every Practice can do something about – and do something by practicing what you are qualified and best at doing. That is delivering a wonderful service. One that delivers a wow.

I could actually a complete seminar and write a few books on this subject but as I keep reminding myself that this email is already too long I am only going to list a few that I think can be implemented immediately – possibly even before that dreaded Christmas deadline.

Most importantly, just by being aware that there is a problem and measuring it the rates will start improving.

But then add to this:

  • Ensure that every communication by a patient is responded to within the day
  • Do not let your patienst think you have forgotten about them
  • Ensure that your recall system is set up, documented and implemented on time
  • Review any reminder letters, texts or emails leaving your Practice immediately. Make sure that they look like something you would like to receive from people responsible for your own health and wellbeing and definitely do not refer to the word ‘recall’. Yes – check and when checking check the subject heading of any emails or texts.
  • Use email to communicate with your patients regularly. Not just to remind them of their next appointment but to let them know of developments that would be of interest to them
  • Use technology to add appointments to their calendar – to their phone
  • Discuss their wants and tell them what you can do to help achieve them
  • Consider and improve each touch point they have with you and your team
  • Delight them. Give them a reason to say ‘Wow’
  • And those patients that are no longer active. Continue to talk with them. Make it easy for them to return – particularly if they meet your Practice’s ideal patient persona profile.
  • And of course always provide an exceptional preventative dental service


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