Don’t let walk-ins just walk out again

No matter how much you spend on designing your reception, the investment that will really pay off is the personal welcome and service patients receive

18 December, 2018 / management
 Richard Pearce  

Whenever I get the chance I drop into a practice and ask for an appointment. Last weekend I was in Cambridge and spied a practice that was open. It had a modern façade and looked bright, airy and welcoming. As I opened the door the expensive fit-out was clear – this was a private practice where interior designers had been employed. So far, so good.

The reception desk was right in front of me and the receptionist looked up (she was sitting behind it as is usual), she smiled and seemed almost pleased to see me!
“Do you have an appointment?”she asked. “No,” says I, “I wanted to see about booking one.” Those words from me would, you would hope (if you’re a practice owner), ignite in a receptionist a challenge. All that expensive marketing, all the agonising over creating a welcoming space for customers has worked. A prospective new patient has walked through the door and asked for an appointment. I could have been a walking £20,000 piece of work (they did implants).

The next 30 seconds of interaction could seal the start of a practice-patient relationship that could last many years and be worth thousands of pounds to the practice. There was not just my patronage at stake but that of several friends and family I could refer – isn’t that what we were supposed to teach our staff?

Back to our interaction at the reception desk. “Well we do have a couple of appointments available later on this morning,” she suggested. It’s all a bit impersonal at the moment, she could have immediately followed with, “Could I ask you your name?” As soon as she had that and started to use it, we might have started building a relationship. She didn’t but she did try to book me in for one of those (check-up) appointments, good try. Obviously, I didn’t actually want an appointment. Time for my delaying tactic and to ask for some information about the practice, so I could think about it.

“there was not just my patronage at stake but that of several friends and family i could refer”

This is where the experience started to fall down again. I was handed two A4 pieces of cheap paper, in black and white with lots of writing on them. Undoubtedly, they were produced in-house and not even by the enthusiastic desktop publisher. I was underwhelmed.

“OK,” I said, “I’ll take this with me and get in touch.” The receptionist now has one last chance to get some information from me so they can follow up. She could have said, “James, the practice principal prides himself on understanding what a patient wants from him and he really does fantastic dentistry, could I take an email address from you and send some examples of his recent treatments?” This would allow a professionally produced pdf to be sent, showcasing James and great dentistry, perhaps with a short video of him (I still don’t know if I’ll like him), showing that he smiles and sounds like he cares.

If I’m prepared to give an email address, I might also give my mobile too. But let’s rewind a little and discuss what could have been done differently in this practice.

The initial greeting

Would it really have hurt for her to stand up, walk round the desk to me, shake hands and say, “Hi, I’m Jane, how can I help you?” There was only one other person in the waiting room and she had never met me before. When we meet someone for the first time we generally introduce ourselves
with our name. Get their name and use it – we like having our own name used.

Empathise and engage

Just because I’ve asked for an appointment, doesn’t mean that’s what I need now. What about suggesting a tea/coffee (great coffee that is available in the waiting area) and then a chat about what I am looking for in a dentist? If I agree, then there is a chance to build a relationship.

Get the marketing collateral on-brand

If you’ve gone to the expense of designing the layout and look of your practice, why not make sure that what you give to patients is consistent? It’s the first thing a corporate does when they buy a practice, because it’s so easy, cheap and effective. So, you can do it, but better.

So, we need to recruit and train the right staff to get the right outcomes. They also need the collateral at their fingertips (or the click of a mouse). This is what practices often fail to do but it could be the difference between appointments remaining empty and many more new patients.

Richard Pearce lives in Northern Ireland. Following a business career in various sectors and an MBA, he joined his dentist wife in dentistry. Richard combines his wide commercial experience with being attuned to what it is like for an associate dentist, a practice owner and a practice manager. His unique perspective ensures he can assist a practice owner with every area of the practice to create a more profitable practice and to achieve their smart objectives.

Categories: Magazine / Management

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