Excellent customer service can turn a new patient into a lifelong patient. Learn how you can use your Dentrix software to create an exceptional new patient experience.
Can you remember the last time you had an exceptional customer service experience? How about a truly awful one? Recently, a friend shared her best and worst customer service experiences, which both happened at the same hotel chain. On her first visit to the hotel, she was deeply impressed by the quality of service she received. She was so pleased with how she was treated that she specifically chose that hotel for her honeymoon, and she returns each year on her anniversary. In fact, that first impression was so powerful that even when she had an awful experience a couple of years ago, the hotel kept her business.
That’s the kind of customer service you want patients who are new to your practice to experience. You want to provide an encounter that is so positive it will keep them coming back for years. While it’s not easy to provide that kind of topnotch first impression, with a little bit of planning and some help from your Dentrix software, you can create an exceptional new patient experience in your office.
The First Visit Appointment Call
The most important thing you need to communicate to a new patient is that you want to see them. Too often we unintentionally communicate to a potential client that we’ve got to attend to other, more important patients. We put them on hold, we tell them we can’t schedule them for weeks, or we hurry them through that initial phone call without making them feel welcome. Does this sound familiar? If it does, then you need to make some changes in your new patient handling, immediately!
Start by making it a priority to schedule new patients. A recent study revealed that by scheduling a patient within 48 hours of the initial contact, you dramatically increase your show-up rates and your new patient production. Yet, almost 75 percent of dental offices are unable to schedule a new patient appointment within that 48 hour window.1 Take advantage of what other practices are not doing for new patients by reserving time in your schedule to see new clients.
Dentrix makes this easy by allowing you to set up provider time blocks. Time blocks allow you to reserve specific times in the Appointment Book for certain appointment types, such as new patient exams. Once you have set up and activated a new patient time block, you will see a colored border surrounding the blocked time, which contains the time block name and the provider assigned to that block.
If you attempt to schedule another type of appointment during the reserved new patient time, Dentrix warns you with a message.
To create a new patient time block, open the Appointment Book. From the Setup menu, click Provider Setup. Choose your new patient provider and click Setup. Click Add to create a new time block. Assign a name, operatory, and date(s) and time(s) to the block, and select the type of appointment that is allowed to be scheduled during that time. Click OK to save your settings and return to the Appointment Book. (If the new patient block doesn’t show up immediately, try clicking the Perfect Day Scheduling button on the Appointment Book toolbar.)
Make a Personal Connection
During the initial phone call, make sure to gather some personal details about the patient. Document this information in the patient’s appointment note by double-clicking on the new patient appointment and typing the details in the Notes field.
On the morning of the appointment, these notes will show up on your Daily Huddle report so that you can review them in your morning staff meeting.
When the patient arrives, refer to the notes so you can personalize your connection with the new patient. You can say things like, “So, I noticed that you were referred by Jane Deacon. How do you know Jane?” or “I heard that you moved here from Cincinnati, what brought you here?” By taking the time to gather, review, and talk about these personal details with new patients, you emphasize that you are interested in them for more than just their business.
The VIP Phone Call
Nothing will make a patient feel more valued than receiving a personal greeting from their “new” doctor even before they arrive. Make it a part of your new patient experience for the doctor to call potential patients two days before their first visit. The call doesn’t have to be long, but it should give the doctor the opportunity to thank the patient for choosing your office and to ask if the patient has any specific concerns or questions before the scheduled appointment. This simple phone call serves to remind the patient about the appointment while also making the patient feel like the Very Important Patient they are.
You can simplify the process of making these phone calls by creating a new patient phone call list for your doctor in the Office Journal. To add a call to the list, open the Office Manager, and then click the Office Journal button. Since you’re opening the Office Journal from the Office Manager, you’ll be prompted to choose a staff member. Select the doctor’s provider ID and click OK. Then, from the Office Journal, click Add Journal Entry. Select Reminder as the Type and set the Date as the day the doctor should make the phone call. Type the new patient’s name and phone number in the Note field and click OK. The doctor can either launch the Office Journal to access the reminder list before making the VIP phone calls, or you can print a filtered list for the doctor to take home.
Timing is Everything
Most people rank being asked to wait as first or second on their list of annoying business behavior. In fact, according to service industry research, 76 percent of customers believe waiting longer than 5 — 10 minutes is unreasonable. Forty-eight percent of customers surveyed said that long wait times indicate that a business is “not well run or badly managed.”
Yet, many dental offices think nothing of asking a patient to sit for that length of time, filling out paperwork as part of their “new patient experience.” Many dental offices rationalize this as necessary. Perhaps you’ve even gone so far as to warn the patient, “Come in 20 minutes before your appointment so that you can complete some paperwork.” But to busy new patients who are trying to cram this visit into a lunch break, waiting 15 — 20 minutes to be seen feels like a huge disrespect of their time. What makes it especially painful is that in this day and age there’s no need for it. Technology makes it easy for potential clients to access new patient paperwork and consent forms online, allowing them to complete these tedious time gobblers when it’s convenient for them and not when they’re in a hurry to get back to work.
If you’re worried that new patients don’t want to go online to access forms, don’t be. In the same service industry study, researchers found that 87 percent of respondents would use technology if it would save them 15 minutes of wait time.
A Dentrix eCentral website can make this process even more streamlined by not only allowing patients access to your new patient forms, but also by allowing them to complete your forms through an Internet connection. With an eCentral website, you can create custom forms in the Dentrix Questionnaires module that can be uploaded to a special New Patients page on your website. New clients access the forms by typing in their name and appointment date.
Once the forms have been submitted, they show up on your computer in the Questionnaires module. You can then import the information directly into your Dentrix database, saving your staff from having to manually enter the information (which further extends your new patient’s wait time).
The exceptional new patient experience doesn’t end when the new patient leaves your office. Be sure to follow up the patient’s visit with a phone call asking for feedback. Communicate to the new patient that you wanted to exceed their expectations and ask if you were able to do so. Ask specifically what you did well and what you can do better. End the phone call by thanking them for choosing you as their dental care provider.
To make certain that you’re consistently gathering the same information, add a New Patient Exit Interview questionnaire to the Dentrix Questionnaires module. You can use the questionnaire as a script for the phone call and as a place to store the information.
Every week, you can open the Questionnaires module and review the responses to the interviews you’ve stored as a way to help you identify where your new patient experience is succeeding and where you’ve got some room for growth. Excellent customer service can turn a new patient into a lifelong patient. Make your new patients feel important by valuing their time, making personal connections, and respecting their opinions. By taking these steps, you create a truly exceptional new patient experience.
Read Preparing for the New-Patient Phone Call for other ideas about working with new patients.
Discover other patient communication tools at https://www.dentrix.com/solutions/patient-engagement.
By Jim Philhower, Director of Dental Leadership & Development and May Wescott, Senior Editor
Originally published in Dentrix Magazine, Fall 2013