The bucket analogy of marketing is a classic theory with a simple illustration used to explain the impact of defecting customers, and in our industry, patients. Growth in patient base acts very much like a bucket being filled with water. Migrating, defecting, and inactive patients represent the leaks. The bigger the leaks, the more you have to put into the bucket just to maintain the same level. But, with an effective relationship-building marketing strategy, DSOs can plug the holes.
It must be noted that there is a normal attrition rate of 10% yearly due to relocations, death, etc. Attrition is measured differently by different dental groups and dental support organizations (DSOs). For example, some use one year of inactivity as the determinant for attrition. If the natural attrition is a result of relocation, a satisfied patient of a branded DSO may likely look for their former office’s branded location in their new town. Quality consistency among branded DSOs increases customer retention.
Patient retention is the single biggest factor to reliably grow your DSO’s practices and profitability. According to many sources, including Healthcare Success, “Increasing customer retention by five percent can translate to up to 95 percent greater profitability in the retail world, in part due to the absence of acquisition costs. It’s a bottom-line reminder that relationships that you have with your existing patient base are incredibly powerful.”
Why is retaining your patients more valuable that obtaining new ones? It comes down to trust and loyalty:
- Established patients are more likely to follow your treatment plan and they are less likely to second guess your recommendations.
- Returning patients are more open to considering enhanced services like whitening and other cosmetic treatments.
- Satisfied patients refer friends and family to their own practice or another practice within the DSO, write good online reviews, and can provide video testimonials for use on your website.
- You don’t need to offer new incentive programs to keep them coming back.
- Since you already know what it takes to make them happy they require less maintenance.
- They see the relationship as long-term so they are more likely to treat you and the team well.
- They have decreased price sensitivity and occasional fee increases usually won’t drive them away.
Marketing can be an incredibly powerful took for increasing retention, which is the single biggest factor in building a practice. It’s worth it to your DSO to get it right. Understanding what patients think of your DSO’s practices is the first step to boosting retention.
When patients leave a practice, they often do so silently. Therefore, gathering feedback while they are still a patient is vital. Dissatisfied patients are more likely to post their dissatisfaction on social media review websites like Yelp and Google. Bad reviews have widespread and tangible impacts on efforts to obtain new patients to a branded DSO in any of its locations.
It is important to a DSO’s system of check and balances for marketing departments to read and listen to patient reviews, as it not only provides a wider perspective to truly understand the practice’s patients and the inner workings of the practice, but also provides the dental group an opportunity to step in and provide support or mentoring to the dentist and/or staff.
There are easy ways to obtain customer feedback. At check out, offer a short survey asking patients about their experience, incentivized with a small giveaway like organic lip balm, or a drawing for free oral care products. Provide patients postage-paid post cards at check out where they can anonymously complete the survey questions and mail back. Ask patients to provide an email address and utilize email surveys like Survey Monkey.
A DSO can spend lots of money and time trying to hire dentists who are both competent and trustworthy, but if the DSO fails at creating a good patient experience, it might not matter. And no marketing program can compensate for poor patient experience. These are some crucial factors patients consider in their overall experience:
- Clear, visible signage which is easily seen when driving
- Easily accessible and safe parking lot
- Clean, comfortable waiting room with free Wi-Fi, age-appropriate entertainment for patients, and clutter free walls with one central viewing area
- Certifications, licenses, and examples of charitable work in the main hallway leading to the operatory
- Quick check-in and check-out, as well as ease of six-month rescheduling with preferred hygienist
- Clean, modern operatories with appropriate posters and displays which are helpful for education and discussion
- Convenient appointment confirmation. Choose delivery methods to match demographics – texts and emails for millennials, post cards and reminder calls for more traditional patients.
Important goals for every DSO include making the patient experience enjoyable, comfortable, and having their offices be a reflection of the DSO brand. Your DSO’s brand is basically a promise to patients that what they have come to expect will be delivered. Brand loyalty means loyalty to the DSO and quality control across your DSO’s practices is paramount. It’s important to understand that you need to create brand loyalty whether a DSO is locally branded, individually branded, or nationally branded..
You can improve your DSO dental practices patient loyalty and experience using marketing tactics. While marketing to existing patients can take many forms, it is important to pick just a few tactics and then execute them really well. Weak marketing can hurt the value of your brand and waste a lot of money.
Here are a few marketing tactics your DSO should be employing and why:
- Appointment reminders like postcards, letters, texts, email or courtesy calls result in fewer missed appointments and higher production due to a reduction in no shows.
- Print, email, and online newsletters can tell patients what is new at the practice and highlight team members, events, and education, all of which can help in brand building. Informed patients are more likely to comply with treatment, keep regular check ups and consider additional services.
- Events for charity, dental health awareness, and sponsorships of local community activites allows patients to see that you and your team are committed to improving their community.
- Adveristing in print, online, radio and TV is typically focused on new patients, but can also reinforce to existing patients why they should continue to choose you.
- Social media like Facebook, Yelp, Google, Instagram, Snapchat and others can effectively deliver a cross section of practice content, as well as logistical information like locations, hours, patient tesimonials, and highlight photos.
- Your DSO and/or practice websites should be optimized for both PC and mobile. A strong site will serve existing patients well and attract new ones. Patients can review team profiles, make/change appointments, show before and after pictures, informational videos, locations, and testimonials both written and visual.
- SEO is vital as that is how most people find practices today and done correctly increases traffic to your website. Invest in using a strong vendor or hire someone who specializes in search engine marketing so it can be adjusted daily/weekly/monthly.
Your DSO’s marketing department will improve patient retention rates if they listen to patients, make the experience positive, determine what success looks like to the DSO, understand the practices’ demographics, utilize a few different marketing tactics based on those demographics in a well-orchestrated marketing campaign, and carefully measure results until they determine what is generating the most ROI.
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