Patient retention is defined in the same way any successful relationship is: By having positive touchpoints. This collection of touchpoints is the determining factor in how likely any patient is to continue with your practice or leave for a competing practice.
Positive touchpoints don’t often just happen, however. A proactive approach must be taken to create a solid foundation of positive interactions that will be enough to keep your patients loyal, despite the occasional, and for some inevitable, poor experience. Client relationships should be one of the key focuses of your practice.
This article breaks down retention into three main categories. Building retention through your office, your staff and through your patient interactions.
Patient Retention Strategies for Your Office
1. Make Appointment Scheduling A Breeze
A dental practice is no place to play hard-to-get. People aren’t usually knocking down your door to get their teeth cleaned! If your patients have a difficult time scheduling an appointment, they’re going to be upset before they ever come to your office (or worse, just give up and go someplace else). It should only take a couple of minutes for someone to get their appointment in your calendar.
2. Confirm Your Appointments In A New Way
Sending a confirmation text is an easy way to not only remind someone about their appointment, but also an opportunity to show your appreciation for their business. Try thanking them before asking them to confirm. BONUS: Send your automated messages from a full 10 digit phone number versus a short code for better open rates.¹ Weave provides an excellent patient appointment reminder solution. You can learn more about our dental appointment reminder software here.
3. Have A Professional Website
It doesn’t have to be the most amazing website in the world, but having helpful information and a few images of yourself, staff or office could go a long way in helping new patients feel comfortable making that first call. There are easy-to-use website template services out there that provide some great, and relatively inexpensive, options, such squarespace.com. Also, even though your current patients have contacted you before, odds are they don’t have your number saved in their phone. Make certain that vital information about your business is easily accessible such as: your phone number, address, hours of operation, and other vital information. It is imperative this information is well formatted on the mobile version of your website. " Weave is an awesome service and has always been something that makes the day to day in the office easier for those up front. Puts a name to a face when they call and let’s me communicate with patients on such and easy and personal level. Would highly recommend Weave to anyone!"- Weave Customer
It's the Personal Touches that Make Your Practice Stand Out
" Weave is an awesome service and has always been something that makes the day to day in the office easier for those up front. Puts a name to a face when they call and let’s me communicate with patients on such and easy and personal level. Would highly recommend Weave to anyone!"- Weave CustomerSchedule Demo
4. Make Sure Your Website Is Easy To Find
Even repeat customers may not remember your website url. When your website ranks high in search engines your patients can easily find the information they need.
5. Make Sure You Have An Updated Google Business Listing
Having a Google Business listing helps to ensure your information comes up quickly on Google search results, and even produces a map listing for patients to get to your practice easily. This also demonstrates you care about making things simple for your patients and that you care about your marketing.
6. Make Sure You Have An Updated Bing Business Listing
Google listings are great, but a portion of your audience may be looking on Bing as well. (Yes, Bing users are people, too!) Make sure you’ve updated this listing for anyone not using the Google search engine.
7. Sit In Your Own Waiting Room For 30 Minutes
Have you ever sat in your own waiting room for half an hour? Give it a try. By the end of your time you should have a few ideas about how to make the experience a little nicer.
8. Provide Enough Parking
Anything you can do to provide ample parking is a plus. Consider making some spots reserved for only patients if you share your parking lot with other businesses.
9. Give Patient Payment Options
According to the National Survey from the Health Policy Institute of the American Dental Association, Why Adults Forego Dental Care ², 40 percent of adults don’t seek dental care due to the cost. Consider offering your patients a more convenient way to pay by creating your own payment plans or offering CareCredit³. Weave helps you easily collect and monitor reviews on Google and Facebook. These reviews can be some of the best marketing for your business.
9 out of 10 people check online reviews before choosing a business
Weave helps you easily collect and monitor reviews on Google and Facebook. These reviews can be some of the best marketing for your business.Schedule Demo
10. Rethink Your Office Hours
It may be difficult for patients to come into your practice during normal working hours. Consider having your office open early mornings and/or later evenings to accommodate people’s working schedules, even if it’s just one or two days a week. This will make scheduling an appointment much easier for some of your patients because they won’t have to worry about taking time off from work. Not only can this be difficult to arrange (if they have to find someone to cover a shift), but it may also mean they lose some income. BONUS: Try being open during times that no one else in town is.
11. Ask Them What You Can Do Better
It never hurts to ask your patients what they would like your practice to change or improve. Send out a free survey using surveymonkey.com or some other free service and see what they have to say. If you decide to make a change based on specific feedback – let that individual know that you implemented their idea.
Try sending out some great learning opportunities to your patients. Nothing shows that you’re on top of your game more than helping your patients get on top of theirs.
13. Become A Source For Health-Related Information
Engaging patients between appointments with helpful health information will keep them informed and interested in their on-going dental care. Try using regular blog posts on your website as a mechanism for patient education. When you update your content it shows you are a practitioner who cares about staying at the forefront of care, and your patients will gain better trust and respect toward you.
Use Your Staff To Keep Patients Loyal
14. Avoid Calls Going To Voicemail
Nothing is more frustrating than calling in to set up an appointment and hear it go to voicemail – especially during working hours. Make sure you know when your calls are coming in and that a friendly voice picks up right away.
15. Return Phone Calls
Sometimes your office will be closed and a patient will leave a message. If this happens, call them back that day and, if possible, within the hour. Returning a patient’s call tells them they are important to you, which, from the perspective of the practice, they most certainly are. If it takes several days to get a call returned, chances are your patient will start looking elsewhere for service, especially if it’s a more urgent situation.
16. Provide Exceptional Customer Service
This means finding ways to go above and beyond to enhance the customer experience. Once you learn a patient’s name, always remember to use it. Making sure there are things to help lessen boredom in the waiting room (magazines, books, TV, music) can go a long way in helping everyone feel comfortable. And, of course, a little smile goes a long way, even if you’re just on the phone.
17. Treat Your Patients With Respect
Train your office staff to treat each patient like it was your only one. The more respect you give, the more likely they are to return.
18. Don’t Get Too Far Behind
One of the first complaints out of a patient’s mouth will always be how long they had to sit in your waiting room. We know you’re working hard to get in as many people as possible, but remember to be realistic with your appointments or you’ll start to see patients lose interest in your practice.
19. Be Proactive
Although rare, occasionally, emergencies come up. And while as professionals, we don’t like to make our problems our patients’ problems, sometimes these mishaps impact out patients. Say someone on your staff gets a flat tire and will be an hour late in coming in, that impacts your schedule for the entire day. If possible, call your first appointments of the day and see if they are flexible and would like to come in later or reschedule for a different time. If your patient are already in the office, apologize and let them know that their appointment will start a little later than expected. Most people are understanding and reasonable if you tell them what is going on and allow them to manage their schedule accordingly. However, if it’s 30 minutes after their scheduled appointment start time and a patient has to ask the front desk what’s going on, they aren’t going to be very happy.
20. Post Opt Calls
Multiple healthcare studies show that a next-day phone call to check on patients goes a long way in how patients perceive the care they received. Additionally, it will help you identify any problems with the care received. Furthermore, it has been found that post-op phone calls reduce malpractice lawsuits significantly. This helps protect you, helps the patients feel taken care of, and it’s a practice that most of your competition is not doing. It’s the simple things like these phone calls that patients will remember the most about their experience with you.
21. How to Handle Upset Patients In Your Office
Look for signs that a patient is upset, and try to be as professional and empathetic as possible (so easy, right?!). If someone appears upset, it might be a good idea to simply ask how their day is going. It may not be anything you’ve done, but if you can show a little sympathy, it can make a great impression, and it’s just a nice, human thing to do. Even if they aren’t exhibiting outward signs of distress, just having a caring, interested demeanor can help fix a multitude of attitudes. If it ends up being an upsetting experience for you, try to take a few minutes to do things that will help calm you down so you don’t pass on that stress.
22. Continually Train and Educate Your Whole Team
It’s no good if you keep it to yourself or if you’re the only one making an effort. As the saying goes, “It takes a village to retain a patient.” Have a meeting to discuss and get suggestions from the team (they may have a lot based on their own experiences), and then put up reminders or signs to keep everyone on track, because some days, let’s face it, we’d rather not. However, it’s important to keep in mind that one bad day on our part can drive away a patient for a long time, maybe forever.
23. Track Results
Every method on this list needs to be suited to your individual practice. What may work for one office, may be a total failure in another. Whenever trying something new in your practice, track the results so you can easily see what is working and what needs to change. Make sure you know in advance what you would consider to be a success.
24. Collect All Their Contact Information
It’s important to have multiple updated contact sources for your patients. It’s a good idea to collect primary and secondary phone numbers and email addresses for each patient so you’re always able to reach them.
25. Handle Negative Reviews Properly
Even the best companies receive negative feedback on occasion. Today, more often than not, negative feedback is shared online in terms of reviews or on social media. If your practice receives negative feedback, it’s best to address it head on. Thank the person for the feedback and respond to their concerns. If the feedback is of a sensitive nature or if the person did not provide much detail, let them know that you would love to hear about their experience and make it right. Provide contact information where they can reach out to you to get their problem resolved. Even if you can’t fix the problem, most people want to know that they are heard and acknowledgement of the issue and an apology can go a long way.Bonus: Weave provides an automated review collecting service.
Focus on Patient Interaction
26. Little Things Go A Long Way
Look for small ways that can make a big impact to your patient’s overall experience. To “wow” your patients, the gestures don’t have to be big or expensive, but rather show that you care about their experience while they are there. Small things such as offering a bottle of water when they arrive or giving them sunglasses to wear during a dental exam so that the exam light doesn’t shine in their eyes go a long way to differentiate your office from the one down the street.
27. Communicate What You’re Doing And Why
It often relieves a lot of stress when you explain everything that you’re doing. No matter how obvious it may seem to you, your patient may have some questions.
28. Avoid Side Conversations
Nothing shouts, “you’re not important” more than having a side conversation with a nurse or hygienist during an entire visit. Take time to get to know your patients; pay attention to their needs and wants. Leave your side conversations for between appointments or after hours.
29. Memorize One Fact About Each Patient
Depending on the size of your practice, this may be difficult – but will make a huge impression on everyone who walks through your doors. Everyone wants to feel special and important, knowing at least one thing about each patient will let you have a tailored conversation that makes them feel valued. Plus talking with them about their interests can help the time go easier, and you might learn a thing or two.
30. Give Them Something For Free
One principle of psychology called the “Law Of Reciprocity” can really help out with patient retention. Basically, if you give someone something for free, they naturally feel like they need to return the favor in some way, shape, or form. If your patients feel they are getting something for free, they will feel a natural desire to keep coming back to your practice.
31. Free Day/Community Outreach
Offering a day or a half day of free services (think teeth cleanings or eye exams) can reactivate patients, and their families, who are overdue for an appointment. Sometimes people are afraid to come in for an appointment because it has been so long since they’ve been in. Other times they feel like they can’t afford to make an appointment because their insurance coverage has changed or they have lost coverage entirely. Offer a free exam to get them back in the door and help them understand their options for any follow up treatment. Chances are, they will return to you for any follow up care. Bonus: if you offer a free day and promote it, they will bring their friends and family as well.
32. Always Communicate Results
After the appointment is over, no matter if it was blood work or a simple x-ray be sure to communicate the results with your patients. Also, make sure you explain these results in a way that makes sense to them. They may worry, even if nothing is wrong.
Everyone loves their birthday. Celebrate with your patients by sending out a personalized text message. This can mean a lot to patients, and it is a strong signal that you care about them.BONUS: You will want to find a delicate balance between writing a personalized birthday message as well as automating this process. You might want to consider an innovative technology solution. Weave provides a solution that can remove the headache of manual texting, while also enhancing your patient relationships.
Just like birthdays – feel free to send out fun greetings for major holidays, or maybe even a minor holiday. (International Talk Like a Pirate Day, anyone?)
When it comes to the business of dental care, it is just as important to retain patients as it is to get them in your door. In fact, it costs 7x less to retain a patient than attract a new one 4 There are multiple strategies which can be executed to improve your patient retention efforts. A diligent focus around all the small details of the customer experience creates a foundation of success. When implemented, these efforts economically enhance your operations. Setting yourself apart from the competition means setting your practice up for success in the long-term, because they’ll keep coming back until you give them a reason not to.