(This article is an 8-minute read)
THREE THINGS YOU’LL LEARN FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1. How to establish a community of patients
2. How to build trust among potential patients
3. The process of getting someone from your website to your appointment book
If you’re marketing dental services and you understand your patient’s approach to finding you, you’ll be a lot more successful. Some dentists assume that process involves opening a surgery and waiting for people to walk in the door. Those dentists will get fewer patients than the ones who realise that a patient has to get to know you, then get to trust you, before they ever book an appointment.
That’s fair enough, too. Going to the dentist isn’t the same as popping into a shop to buy groceries. A potential patient has to know and trust you if they’re going to let you play around in their mouth with lots of scary looking metallic instruments.
The process you go through to build up that trust before they ever get to the chair involves showing them who you are, why you can and should be trusted, and how they can easily book an appointment.
How big is your social community? And by that I mean the number of people you can say you truly know. I’m guessing it’s about 150 people. Know why? Because that’s Dunbar’s number—first proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who said that, based on our brain size, that’s the maximum number of people we can maintain a stable relationship with.
It’s not enough people to sustain a normal dental practice. You have to know more—or more people have to know you.
So to reach a larger community, you’ve first got to figure out who is in that community. You can define your community by location (people who live in your suburb), or by age and gender, or by interests.
For example, you might say you want to talk to 35-year-old women with families. That makes sense—that’s a profile of someone who would have an influence over a number of other potential patients (their children, their spouses, and their social networks). So if that’s your target market, now you have to figure out how to meet them.
There’s two ways you get to know someone—talking to them, and listening to them. If you only do one of those, you’re not going to succeed. For example, you might offer a cosmetic service which you really love. But if your potential patients aren’t interested in aesthetic dentistry, it’s hard to establish a relationship with them. Because every time you advertise your cosmetic services, they’ll ignore you.
Think about patients you already have who are like your target market. What are they interested in? What do they ask you about?
Once you know their interests, you have to let your potential patients get to know you. This is what you use social media, and your website, for. A Facebook or Instagram page, and a blog on your website, gives you the opportunity to spread good health information to a group of people so they can start to know you.
This is the first step in relationship building. You offer something to them. Once these people see you have something intelligent to say and something worthwhile to offer them, you have started to build a relationship.
The way to stuff that up is to immediately try to sell them something.
You have expertise. You have studied for a long time to know what you do. As a professional, you have something really worthwhile to offer people that will genuinely enhance and improve their lives.
And they don’t know that. They don’t know you’re an expert. And trust is a big issue for evaluating any healthcare provider. As it should be.
You don’t gain people’s trust by hanging your degree on the wall. You don’t gain it by telling them you know everything, and they don’t have to worry.
You show them. Write on your website about things they want to know. Tell them their options for different treatments. Explain what you’re doing when you poke around someone’s mouth with a scary-looking instrument. Send them a newsletter once every month where, among other details, you give them a link to an article you’ve done, or a video, just giving them some solid, general information about oral health.
I know what you’re thinking: what if patients don’t want me emailing them with random blog posts or articles or videos? It’s a good question, because some of your patients won’t want that. And that’s a good thing.
To build a relationship with a patient, it has to be two-sided. They have to want to hear from you. If they really hate the idea of getting a newsletter from you, and they tell you, that’s actually great—it means you can stop sending it to them, and save you (and them) the stress of hearing from you. Those patients will make up their own minds if and when they want to come in. So let them.
But for everyone else, you are building up their trust in you. By maintaining a regular point of contact, you will sometimes jolt them into action when they may have otherwise forgotten. Your patients might not read every article you post (in fact, many bloggers report most of their web traffic comes from only a small percentage of their blog posts). But just the fact that you are trying to maintain contact builds your relationship, and their trust.
Just because someone knows, likes and trusts you doesn’t mean they are going to pick up the phone tomorrow and make an appointment. There are a number of factors that will make that happen. It might be a dental emergency, or a desire to look good for a special occasion, or a conversation with a friend.
Whatever the case, they are far more likely to make an appointment with you if you have built that relationship with them. You increase the chance of that happening if you are regularly showing them that you know your stuff. They are less likely to do that if you’re not on their radar.
The reason we recommend publishing your own blog posts and promoting them on social media is that’s where people are. That and email are still the easiest way to contact them. Don’t believe me? Catch a train or bus on any work day. The majority of your fellow passengers will be staring at their smartphones.
The last piece in the puzzle is making it as easy as possible for someone to book an appointment. How hard is it to pick up a phone? I hear you ask.
Well, it’s not—but it’s even easier to book via a website, where they don’t have to worry about the phone being engaged, or you not being there to take their call, or any other impediment.
There are lots of good plug-ins you can add to your website to present a calendar to potential patients. You may have to manually integrate that with your practice management software, but if you have a Wordpress CMS (and 26 per cent of websites are Wordpress), you will likely be able to export the web-based calendar and integrate it with your in-house one.
If people feel they know you, and trust you, and it’s easy to book an appointment with you, you are well on your way to growing your patient numbers in a sustainable, sensible way. And even better, you’re attracting the right sort of patients—ones who are educated on their oral health, and aware of the range of products and services you offer. Because they have learnt from the best.