The Importance of Patient Retention
Dental practice owners and staff alike all know that nurturing and retaining existing patients is essential to practice growth and business success. According to Fortune 500 management consulting firm, Bain & Company, retaining current customers is 6 to 7 times less costly than acquiring new ones. In addition, increasing customer retention rates by only 5% increases profits by more than 25%.
Not only is investment in patient retention less costly and more profitable than focussing on acquiring new patients, but, according to dental management consultant Julie Parker, it’s far easier to market to, and hold on to the patients you already have.
Focusing efforts and budget towards building loyalty with existing patients makes sense when these are the patients more likely to invest in long-term treatment plans, and better motivated to spend on higher-value treatment. Efforts in patient retention are also a valuable avenue to patient acquisition via referrals and word of mouth.
So, what is the best way to keep your patients coming back to your practice time and time again? Here are 3 key strategies to improve patient retention at your practice and help your business thrive.
#1 – Improve patient communication
- Personalise your messages
- Use a multi-channel approach depending on the preference of your patients – Email, SMS, direct mail
- Professionally designed content
Effective communication is the foundation to any successful relationship, but sending dental patient communication can be tedious, time consuming and expensive. Dental staff that take on this manual task in-house, struggle with the effort and cost involved in keeping patient communication regular, fresh and to a high standard.
Using patient communication software that can automate sending across multiple platforms – print, email, SMS – and personalising messages in professionally designed templates is an effective way to increase engagement with existing patients.
When you engage with your patients via a variety of channels, in a professional and interesting way, you improve the chances of that messaging achieving your desired outcomes. Whether that’s to get your patients to book a check-up, take up a special offer, complete a treatment plan, or simply to show you care about your patients with a birthday message or treatment follow-up. Regular, relevant communication is key to keeping your patients consistently coming back to you for their oral health needs.
#2 – Improve the in-practice experience
Once new patients reach the dental chair, they have already formed opinions about the practice. They’ve had experiences with front desk staff and the waiting room that will influence whether they return, regardless of the standard of care that the dentist will provide from this point on.
Practice Staff – An internal focus on building loyalty with staff is a great way to cultivate a positive, loyal culture within the practice. Staff who feel appreciated and important to the business will go the extra mile with patients and can often be the key to getting patients over the line with crucial treatment. Training in customer service and personal development for staff is a great way to achieve this.
At the front desk – Staff at the practice play just as important a role in retaining patients as the provider. Remembering patients and their personal situations can go a long way in creating a memorable and positive patient experience. A photo and short note from the previous visit on the patient file can aid and prompt staff to make each person walking through the front door feel valued in their relationship with the practice.
In the waiting room – Improving the waiting room experience is also an easy win in the patient loyalty game. Acknowledging unexpected delays and apologising for them will do wonders to the attitude of the patient towards the practice. Providing free Wi-Fi or interesting video content on a common TV in the waiting room will reduce perceived waiting times and entertain patients during this time.
In the chair – Once the patient is in the chair, ensure they are given uninterrupted time with the dentist. As valuable as the dentist’s time is, this point in the patient journey is crucial to retaining that patient. Using patient education tools to support verbal explanation is proven to build chairside trust and reduce common patient anxiety.
#3 – Reward loyal patients
Frequent, returning patients are key to any retention strategy. Rewarding these valuable patients is an effective strategy in maintaining loyalty and turning new patients into your best advocates who will sing your praises to family and friends and send referrals your way.
Little perks or rewards that work for your business, don’t affect your bottom line, and stay within ADA Guidelines, will give patients a reason to come back past great customer service. This could be as simple as extra toothpaste samples after a check-up, or as generous as a complimentary whitening treatment for a patient’s upcoming event.
The most important thing to remember with a rewards policy is maintaining it. Director of Solution Design & Delivery at marketing agency BI Worldwide, Tricia Mikolai points out “A lot of companies will get a lot of programs off the ground, get some engagement, but then everything phases out. You have to be in it for the long haul. You can’t have a three-month launch plan, and just assume that it will all keep going.”
These rewards will stand out for patients, influencing their decision to stick with you long-term and bring along others in their personal and social networks.
Acquiring new patients is only half the equation to achieving practice growth. Transforming them into loyal, long-term patients is the other half. High-quality, seamless communication, an exceptional in-practice experience and an enticing loyalty program are 3 key strategies you can begin with to improve retention. It’s an ongoing process – new strategies can and should be implemented regularly. A renewed focus on patient retention will improve your marketing return on investment, increase profits in the business, differentiate your practice from competition, foster strong relationships with patients and keep them coming back every time.
About the Author – Kath Lewis
Kath Lewis is a Product Manager at Centaur Software and has 13 years’ experience in the dental industry across practice management, marketing, and product management. She holds a Bachelor of Media from Macquarie University. Kath is an avid reader and cinema enthusiast, spending her spare time consuming stories across all genres.