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Dentists get creative in weak economy

August 20, 2009 Leave a comment

“Drilling For Dollars”, an article about dentists in  September’s SmartMoney magazine,  describes a number of things dentists are trying to create income in this new economy.  These include:

  • Care packages for patients, including coffee mugs
  • Laying off hygienists or handling hygiene appointments during the hygienist’s lunch break
  • Rewards points for patients who show up on time, wait in the lobby, or choose an elective procedure
  • Changing focus from cosmetic dentistry to more general and endo cases
  • Lowering fees
  • Using fillings instead of crowns to lower costs
  • Free tooth whitenings
  • Free electric toothbrushes
  • Upselling everything from tongue scrapers to makeovers
  • Rewarding referrals with a bouquet of flowers

What do you think of these techniques?  It’s easy to criticize the ones that don’t make sense to you, but maybe not so easy to come up with your own effective methods. 

The point is this:  you can’t just wait for the economy to turn around and  reverse disappointing practice revenues.  You need to expand your comfort zone create opportunities for yourself.

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Make your patients your marketing team

The best marketing, and the best subsequent customer experience, generate not just customer satisfaction, but actual customer loyalty.  Brands like Apple and Harley Davidson have not just customers, but evangelists, spreading the word.

Effective marketing and superior customer service will put your patients to work for you, and bring you referrals like crazy.  So will giving patients a referral  thank-you gift.  If you start a referral incentive program like the one below, make sure to send an e-mail or postcard to all your patients letting them know.

Put this language on the back of your business card:

New Patient Offer

Get a free $25 Visa Gift Card with your first paid appointment.

Tell us who sent you, and they’ll get one too!

I was referred by:  _____________________

Some patients really get into it.  I’ve see a few offices have contests for their patients to see who can give the most referrrals in six months or a year.  Prizes are either a bigger gift card, or an electronic item like an i-pod or flat-screen tv.

Make sure that your state board has no restrictions about rewarding people for referrrals.  Most don’t, but you should check first.

Internal Marketing Is Even More Important in a Slow Economy

October 10, 2008 1 comment

I’m already on record about the importance of maintaining your marketing when the economy slows down. http://thedentalmarketer.com/2008/04/25/dental-advertising-in-a-weak-economy/ The marketing dollars you spend now will increase your current market position, and will make you even more competitive when the economy improves.  Be the steady presence in the community, not the guy who comes and goes in and out of the public consciousness.

 

However, even the best intentions can’t pay the bills if the budget is just not there.  Bad luck or insufficient planning may have left you unable to sustain your marketing.  If there is no way you can manage to keep your marketing plan on track, then a new plan is in order.  Here’s the new plan:   1) Generate more general dentistry, by 2) Ramping up your internal marketing.

 

Some dentists have seen a decline in elective procedures, especially larger cosmetic cases.  Many cosmetic surgeons have slowed down too, some as much a 30%. http://www.suntimes.com/lifestyles/fashion/1202321,CST-NWS-sag05.article  If patients are just not accepting big cosmetic cases, you need to make up that production as much as you can with basic general dentistry.  Your fastest and cheapest method to do this is internal marketing.

 

Send a short e-mail to every patient you have.  If you don’t collect patient e-mails, start doing so immediately.  Use postcards by regular mail to whatever extent necessary to reach everyone.  Your message should be short and should offer a direct benefit.  Here’s an example.

 

“Don’t forget to use your dental benefits by the end of the year.  Make an appointment between now and December 31, and receive a take-home whitening kit at half price!
 
We take it as a great compliment when you refer a friend or family member to our practice.  Now we want to show our appreciation with a thank-you gift.  When you refer someone to our practice we’ll give you a gift card of your choice.  Some of your fellow patients have already chosen to receive gift cards for Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, WalMart and Target.  What will you choose?”

 

This message does two things – it markets for new patients, and it offers direct benefits to existing cutomers.  If this referrral incentive is not your style, offer Visa gift cards, which are practically the same as cash, or movie tickets. When times get tough, efficiency is more important than ever.  Few things are more efficient than internal marketing.

Lifetime whitening

March 16, 2008 Leave a comment

Many practices are now offering free “touch-up” kits to every whitening patient each time that patient comes in for a re-care visit.  This program takes a variety of shapes, including a ready-made copyrighted system called “Free Whitening for Life”.  (You can Google that phrase to find a link to their service.)  Whether you call it “Whitening for Life” or “Lifetime Whitening” or any of a dozen variations, the net result is the same:  you encourage re-care visits by giving the patient a reward. 

If two tubes of whitening gel costs you $12, and you give out this $12 reward twice a year to your patients, is that too much of an investment to get a steady supply of patients who faithfully appear at the right time for their hygiene appointments and exams?  Most practices are happy to make that investment, and their patients have enthusiastically embraced the program. 

It works because the reward “feels” like an expensive gift to the patients, but your cost is minimal.  It’s the classic win/win situation.  You’ll need to tweak the details to fit your own practice.  Some dentists charge a specific rate for the intial whitening, including the tray.  Some have a fixed price for an intial one-hour whitening, and produce trays for the patient at the same time.  Most practices have a flat fee for when the patient needs replacement whitening trays.

Marketing to your existing patients, or internal marketing, will always give you great bang-for-the-buck.  Keep looking for opportunities like this to maximize the value of all those charts in your filing cabinets.

Using e-mail for internal marketing

March 5, 2008 Leave a comment

Every dental practice should be collecting patient e-mail addresses.  Many of your patients actually prefer to be contacted this way.  Use e-mail to let your patients know about the services you offer or special programs you have. 

One great program you can e-mail patients about is your new Referral Incentive Program.  It could go like this:  Thank you to all our patients for referring your friends and family to Sunnyside Dental Care.  To show our appreciation, we’d like to offer you a “thank-you” gift.  Every time you refer someone to our practice, you can have your choice of gift card.  So far your fellow patients have chosen gift cards to Target, Applebees, and Red Lobster.  What will you choose? 

Gift cards make good sense as an incentive because they are easy to buy and store, and people like them.  Some practices use Visa gift cards, movie tickets, gas cards, and gift cards for their local mall.  If you’re not sure what to give, ask some patients! 

Categories: Internal Marketing

Internal Marketing for dental practices

March 5, 2008 Leave a comment

Dental marketing, like all marketing, aims for efficiency above all else.  We get the best ROI by spending as little as possible to get the highest returns.  One of the most efficient ways of marketing a dental practice is with internal marketing.  It’s called “internal marketing” because you are speaking to people who are already “in” your practice – that is, your existing patients. 

Your patient list is an asset, just like the dollars in your marketing budget.  You can leverage this asset in two ways.  First, you want to make sure that all your existing patients know about all the services you provide.  It’s quite possible that they don’t know you can do one-hour whitening, or that you offer oral conscious sedation which could help them say yes to the extensive treatment plan they’ve been postponing.  You need to let them know everything that is available. 

Internal marketing to your patients can also generate referrals to your patients’ friends and family.  When people are pleased with your service, they are happy to make a recommendation.  When they are thrilled with your service, they become evangelists, looking for opportunities to sing your praises.  Dental practices that don’t take advantage of internal marketing are leaving money on the table.  And that is not efficient.

Categories: Internal Marketing