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Adam Smith got his start in the dental industry working for a company called Dental Intel. He was their first data analyst and worked with hundreds of dentists in his time there. He loved analyzing and problem solving with the dentists he was able to interact with. He bought into Oxford Dental Care and parted ways with Dental Intel, although Oxford Dental Care still uses them.
When the market is already saturated, how do you make your practice stand out?
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with a good friend of mine, Dr. Kyle Triggs, a dentist in Anchorage, Alaska. I met Dr. Triggs several years ago when I was working for a company called Dental Intel.
Because of what Dental Intel does, I had the opportunity to analyze a lot of the statistics for Dr. Triggs' practice and I was always impressed by success that his practice was seeing. When I started interviewing dentists about their growth strategies, he was on my list of people who I wanted to interview.
Just for a bit of context, if you are bidding on the most commonly searched keywords in the Anchorage market, you can expect to pay more than double what you would pay in Los Angeles. This means that people are investing thousands of dollars per month to attract new patients.
Dr. Triggs, you have been practicing for more than 30 years now. How have things changed in the time that you have been running your practice in Anchorage?
Things have changed tremendously. I was one of the first few dentists in Anchorage, so new patients were not hard to come by. Running a successful dental practice required no marketing. As long as you did good work and were a good people person, you pretty much had it made in the shade.
That all changed starting about 15 years ago. Dentists came flooding into the Anchorage market along with several corporate chains. They started marketing very heavily and we were required to adapt quickly.
So what did you do to adapt then, and is that what you have continued to do?
When the market started changing, everyone started running mailers on a regular basis. I would personally get two or three mailers per week at my house. I knew I needed to do something, but I felt like I would be a needle in a haystack if I just jumped on board with the mailers.
Our office decided that our focus would be on internal marketing. We had a very loyal patient base, and we decided to take a two-pronged approach to growth. First, we would provide the best patient experience that we could possibly provide, and second, we would let people know that we would appreciate referrals. This is still our main approach for new patient acquisition to this day.
I understand what you are saying, but this doesn't seem all that different from what a lot of other dentists try to do. It was obviously successful for you, so how did you do it?
You are right. This isn't a whole lot different than what other dentists try to do. In fact, it is not even a whole lot different than what our office was already trying to do, but we did it a little bit differently.
First, we hired an outside consultant, Gary Takacs, to come in and evaluate our patient experience. Sometimes we think we know what our patients want, and we typically feel like we are giving that to them, but hiring someone external to evaluate your process can be a game changer.
Gary came in and flipped my world upside down. He brought so many things to my attention that I never would have noticed on my own. We started implementing those things and the patients reacted in a very positive way. We learned to communicate the value of everything that we were doing. When a patient feels like they receive value for their entire visit to your office, referrals start to come naturally.
So you learned how to communicate value and the patients just naturally started referring?
Yes, but that is not the whole story. Patients did start to refer without us asking, but we also fine tuned the process of asking for referrals.
One of the things that we hypothesized when we were trying to figure out how to grow in a saturated market was that people were willing to refer their friends and family, but that they either didn't know that we wanted referrals, or they forgot because we did not remind them.
When you communicate a lot of value, you get compliments about your practice. We decided to piggy back off of every compliment that we received in order to ask for referrals. If someone said, "wow, that was a lot less painless than I was expecting", I would automatically piggy back on that with, "I'm so glad to hear that! I try really hard to make dentistry as painless as possible, it makes me so happy when people notice! If you have any friends or family members that are looking for a good dentist we would love to take care of them as well!"
I will be honest that this was hard to do at first, but I really meant it, and as I got more and more comfortable saying things like that patients responded very positively.
Ok, so let me summarize this to see if I got the whole picture. First, hire an outsider to analyze your patient experience. Second, improve the experience and communicate value. Third, proactively ask for referrals when someone pays you a compliment.
Yes, that process has been one of the major keys to our success. I would note that it should be an outsider with experience in either the dental industry or customer service, or both preferably.