What exactly are you promoting or “selling?” Most of us in the dental profession would answer this question with crowns, fillings, dentures, teeth whiting, improved aesthetics and/or optimal oral health. But in reality, we are selling services. We can’t actually give patients new white teeth, but we can fabricate a new set of dentures, prep their teeth for beautiful veneers or make them a beaching tray to help them achieve a brighter, whiter smile. In dentistry we don’t sell tangible items, only services.
As a dentist, it’s easy to forget that we sell a “service” because we usually think about our practices by the numbers -the number of crowns we prepare, the number of patients on the schedule or the number of teeth we extract. You can’t sell someone a crown the same way you would sell them a new pair of shoes, but you can give them a gentle injection, prepare their tooth, take an impression, fabricate a temporary, send the crown off to a quality dental lab, collect their money, and deliver it in two weeks -all with a smile. Dentistry is a service, and your patients need to know why they should purchase your service over the service they can get down the street.
The general public assumes that because you have a dental license, you are competent and capable of providing quality dental treatment -so what they’re really buying from you is the level of service you and your staff offer. This is why one doctor can get twice the amount of money from a patient for the exact same procedure as the doctor down the street.
Dentistry is a service business, and to better market your services, you must understand the four keys of successful service marketing: (1) tangible vs. intangible products (2) your service, (3) relationships and (4) perceptions and expectations.
Key #1 Tangible vs. Intangible Products
Unlike your dental services, a new pair of shoes or a new shirt is a tangible product. When you’re shopping for clothes, you can hold them, compare them, touch them, and feel them. You can even try them on and walk around the store. Service products like dentistry are usually very intangible. You can’t play with your new filling or try out your new set of denture teeth before you buy them. Most of the time patients aren’t even given a chance to see their new $900 crown until it’s cemented in their mouth. This is an intangible service.
So, what can you do? Make it more tangible! Use intra-oral cameras, pictures, flipcharts, models and imaging, you can make your services more tangible and meaningful to your patients. People like to see, touch, and feel things -try this with your dental services. Make your dentistry more tangible by educating and involving patients in their treatment plans and case presentations. When patients understand why and what they’re buying, they’ll buy more of it. Most people don’t like to invest in things they don’t understand.
Key #2 Your Service
A majority of dentists miss the apex on this one. Dentists and staff often think of marketing as either selling or advertising. Dental practices will spend a lot time and money developing a new company brochure or web site, running an ad in the newspaper, writing a patient newsletter, changing their logo, or investing in the latest and greatest direct mail marketing piece, but they often forget to focus on the most important principal of service marketing –the service itself. Combined these are all very important parts of your practice.
Your service is represented by the dentistry you do, the way it’s done in your practice, and how you and your staff treat the patients. Before you even think about a new marketing program or a radio advertisement campaign, you need to be providing excellent customer service to your patients.
Many people have come to expect “good” service in general, and this means they’ll expect better service from your dental practice as well. Patients are watching television shows like Extreme Makeover and Oprah, and reading magazines about “Spa experiences” in upscale dental offices. It’s not just about the amenities you offer patients; it’s about your service. How are you treating your patients? Do you treat them the way you would want to be treated? Are you educating and motivating them? Do you make them wait thirty minutes before being seated in the treatment area? Do you make them feel welcome and comfortable in your practice?
Concentrate your efforts and energy towards improving your service and you won’t have to spend as much money on marketing and advertising. The best marketing tool at your disposal comes from word of mouth. If people really like their experience in your office and with the doctor and staff, they are more likely to be telling their friends about it.
Key #3 Relationships
One thing that’s missing in this microwave, fast cure, hurry-up world is relationships, and connections with other people. It’s OK to be professional, but you need to focus on being personal and friendly. Take time to let your patients know you care. I would trade professionalism any day of the week to make a real connection with my patient. Being a doctor is great, but it doesn’t mean you’re any better than the guy or gal that’s sitting in your chair with a mouth full of bad teeth.
Dentistry is based on people, relationships, and communication. When patients purchase your service, they’re buying the talents and abilities of the people that perform those services. People purchase products based on their feeling towards those products. They purchase services based on their feelings toward everyone and everything involved with that service. That means they’re buying into your dentistry because of you and your staff. Many studies have shown that patients judge us on our interpersonal skills, not our clinical ones. This is why the more you care about your patients, and the less you worry about how much money you can extract from them, the more money they will give you for your services.
Key #4 Perceptions and Expectations
If you understand your patients’ perceptions and expectations for “quality dentistry”, you’ll have a much better chance of positively influencing their perceptions and beating their expectations. Perceptions and expectations are based on past experiences. So, be sure to ask your patients about their previous dental experiences. Find out how they feel about dentistry, and what type of dental treatment they expect to receive from your practice. You would hate to find out after delivering a new upper partial denture that what the patient really wanted was two bridges for those missing teeth.
Today’s dental patients want on-time appointments, courteous doctors and staff, clean offices, thorough exams, explanation of treatment, and an overall comfortable, enjoyable experience while in your office. Give it to them! You’ll not only change their perception of today’s dentistry, but also meet all of their expectations of a quality dental practice.
Patients are purchasing our service. In the end, it’s your marketing that brings them in, your relationships that keep them returning, and your service that has them referring.