Planting the seed

I am constantly amazed by the number of clients who tell me that their regular patients have recently had whitening/implants/veneers etc done elsewhere. “They didn’t come to you?” I ask. “No, they thought I only did check-ups and fillings” comes the reply. An opportunity well and truly missed.

Anyone who is not listing their services on their website, welcome pack and signage clearly has some catching up to do, but what if you have communicated your services visually and are still wanting greater uptake?

Listing treatments is one thing, but it pays to find out what your patients are really looking for. What is it about the appearance of their smile or about their oral health that they are concerned about? Are there any cosmetic issues they would like to address? Remember, people invest in the things they want more readily than those they need, so invite your patients to tell you what it is they would like from you.

Individual wishes vary so a simple checklist of statements provides the perfect tool. A Smile Check/Smile Analysis form comprises a list of no more than 10 statements, along with tick boxes, that fit neatly onto an A5 sheet. When a patient ticks that a statement is true for them, they take ownership of the idea of treatment and you will know what to provide. For example, anyone who ticks ‘I wish my teeth were whiter and brighter’ indicates an interest in tooth whitening. Similarly, a tick next to the statement ‘Some of my teeth are chipped or misshapen’ paves the way for a dialogue about veneers. The tricky subject of gum disease can be eased if a patient simply ticks ‘My gums bleed when I brush them’.

A Smile Check form isn’t a pushy sales technique, more an effective shortcut to patient satisfaction. You simply plant the seed and wait for the idea to germinate. Your patients then establish for themselves what it is that they want and know that you are the one who can deliver it.

Let your patients do the talking

As the summer approaches, I wonder how many practices have taken steps to counter the likely seasonal dip in appointments. CQC aside, I hear that some dentists have had a tough year, what with increasing competition and patients holding back on spending in the uncertain economic climate.

So how, with minimal outlay, might you draw new patients to your door?

One of the phrases I learned in coaching was “all the money you need for the rest of your career is in the pockets of the people you already know and the people that they can introduce you to”. It makes sense, therefore, to tap into this resource without delay.

The great news is that word of mouth referrals by your current patients will cost you relatively little. Just provide them with the perfect tool - a handful of referral cards - and let those people you already know get on with doing your marketing for you.

The referral card technique goes like this: At the end of a course of treatment, tell your patient that you are always happy to welcome new patients and politely ask if they would mind passing your referral card on to any friends, family or colleagues who might be interested in the services you provide. A referral card is generally a little larger than a standard business card, so there is more space for an introduction to the practice and a list of what you offer, along with a photo (remember it’s all about the personal touch) and your contact details. You may feel self-conscious asking at first, but be pleasantly surprised that patients are more than willing to take three or four cards for the purpose.

Referral cards are also a nice handy size to leave with any local businesses you may have identified as potential strategic alliances. Your local gym, beauty or hair salon, for example, will often be happy to display your cards as part of a reciprocal arrangement that you take some of theirs.

It’s a Win/Win no brainer and you have little to lose. Coincidentally, as I write, a client of mine just posted on Facebook: “OMG… Just had someone come in saying they are soon to be working with a 'geezer' called Clooney! Handed them a boxful of my referral cards!” Now there’s an opportunity not to be missed.

First Impressions Count

Fresh from exhibiting at the Dentistry Show and I’m thinking about visibility. Am happy to report wonderful feedback from visitors to my stand who said it looked like a mini art exhibition. I am flattered and proud: it displays my values; my roots in graphic design.

So how does your practice look to patients or anyone who passes by? Are they impressed by ­what they see?  Prospective new patients have few ways to measure the quality of dentistry and will make judgments by other means. Displaying a shabby or dated exterior is a bit like wearing your tattiest old clothes to an important function - you’d be letting yourself down, people would probably avoid you and the whole thing would be a bit of an embarrassment.

It's all too easy to trundle along from day to day, tolerating the status quo without looking at things afresh. Try viewing your practice with a keen, critical and independent eye and take note of your observations. What is your first impression? Does it look like a high quality practice, or is it in desperate need of a makeover and an eye-catching sign? Does it appear to be the best in the area? Would you choose this practice?

With all the clinical skills in the world, a shabby practice will let you down. Exterior signage not only identifies the practice but also reflects the quality of care provided. Whether the look is vibrant and eye-catching or calm and sensitive, it is a display that says "this is who we are, this shows the quality of what we offer".

Here is your chance to look stunning, to make your practice look irresistibly attractive and to draw new patients in. Are you making the most of this opportunity?

Needs. Wants. Attainable wishes.

Well we're only part way through January and I can pat myself on the back. One resolution gets a big fat tick - 'put my needs first'. Having just spent a blissfully self-indulgent weekend at Champneys Health Spa, I feel refreshed, re-energised and really excited about 2011. Sprawling in the jacuzzi, my mind drifted to something I learned from my coach and mentor: "People find the money for things they want, not what they need". This was certainly true of the Champneys weekend. Yes, of course I wanted it, but I also really did need it. Last year a family member became very ill, which rocked our stability and sent stress levels through the roof. I needed to be kind to myself and recharge those tired batteries in order to stay strong and effective for the future.

I pondered further on the wants/needs issue. How and where else might it apply? However much I may want a new car, do I really need one? The answer is no. Do I really need those fab new boots? Well yes, actually, the heels just came adrift on my current best pair. As the list went on, I realised that effective planning for 2011 ought to be about investing only in things that I want and need or, more importantly, need and want.

How might this apply to you and your practice? Have you identified your needs and wants? Do you need and want new patients? Yes certainly. If so, how might you entice them through your door? Do you need and want a new dental chair? You may well want one but do you really really need it? You get the gist. Being a great one for lists, I see this as a two-column affair. The trick is to prioritise and action only those things with a tick in both the need and the want columns.

"I need new patients' is an all too familiar cry these days. If these words have ever left your lips, think hard about what you have been investing in to date. Is yours a WOW-looking practice that will draw patients in? Do you have a striking, contemporary, memorable, stylish brand image by which you are known? What is the first impression your practice makes - clean, attractive, professional, welcoming? Or are you still displaying a tatty and dated sign? Horror of horrors - do people actually know you are there? Fab and functioning website? Stunning and informative welcome pack?

My guess is that many practices are in great need of a rebrand and probably want to feel proud of their image - but just haven't got around to it or have spent the budget elsewhere. Coming back to dental chairs... I've seen many a dentist enthuse proudly about the £25k they've parted with to buy one, but never once heard a patient say "I chose my dentist as he has the best chair in town." In these times of recession, not to mention the hike in VAT, the return on investments is paramount. It seems to me that, unless in relation to a new start up, the chair passion is pretty much driven by want alone.

This is a great time of year for planning and already I have had calls from several new clients who have been toying with the idea of rebranding for some time and are now raring to go ahead. In with the new, let's start as we mean to go on and get the priorities right.

I have decided to rename anything with a tick in both the need and want columns as an attainable wish. Not an 'airy fairy some day one day' wish, but a real 'make it happen this year' wish. My aim for 2011, therefore, is to ensure my wishes are fulfilled.

Checking out of Champneys, I felt proud of my investment and am now looking forward to ticking off the next thing on my attainable wish list. As for the Elemis bag containing a mass of indulgent potions driven solely by want want want, we're all allowed to slip a little here and there!