FREE Consults – What Say You?

Episode 086

What are your thoughts on FREE consults for patients? This is a question I tackle (sorry, I don’t have the definitive answer) in this week’s episode of Business of Dentistry.

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We are dealing with a concern about free consults in my practice. In general, I’m not a big fan of giving free things from my practice. Some people think free consults are loss leaders. The idea is to give free exams to get people in the door and when they meet your staff and you and go through your customer experience  they will come to you for their future dental needs.

While I understand the concept, I think if you give something away for free people will value it and perceive it as not being worth anything. Plus consumers today are savvy, they know there is a catch to giving away an exam for free. And I think we are diminishing the value of the service we provide.

I say all of that to get into why I brought this up in the first place: we are giving away free consults for anyone looking to do dental implants.

We do a free CT scan and a free consult which is typically close to an hour to 1.5 hours of our time. Most of that is done by Meredith, my implant treatment coordinator. I come in and go over specifics as it is necessary. But regardless of who is with the potential patient we don’t charge for any of our time or our efforts.

Now our office is unique in that we do oral surgery and we get referrals from other practices for oral surgeries. We do free consults for those referrals.

But somewhere along the line people started to think we did free consults for everything. We don’t. But we have policies that conflict with each other: if you come in to talk about removing your wisdom teeth then you’ll get an office visit and will be charged for it.

But if you come in for a dental implant visit then you will get a free consult. There’s a conflict there.

In addition to the conflict in policies, another problem with free consults is we diminish the value of the implant itself.

Compounding these two issues is yet a third problem: today we get a lot more traffic online and we are getting more direct referrals as a result. We are getting people, people I call “free agents”, who are interested in dental implants and sign up for the free consult right away.

But a lot of these people don’t show up for their free consultations, as opposed to the people who are referred to us. Referrals typically show up, but the people who find us online often are no shows.

We don’t have a good process in place to pre-screen dental implants. If we had a better pre-screening process I think we could find out from people if they can afford to pay for the implants or not, and talk to them about how they expect to pay for it. Many people think Medicare will cover it because it’s a surgical procedure, but that’s not always the case.

So if we pre-screened potential dental implant patients better we’d clear up these issues and we’d avoid the no-shows and giving away our time for the consults.

What we are thinking about implementing is a consultation fee, a flat fee that includes our time plus the CT scan. People in my area are charging anywhere from $250 to $350. We are considering charging a fee in that range, but then crediting that fee back to the cost of the implants after people have the procedure done.

In essence it’s a free consult but it’s on the back end of the procedure, after the patient has followed through. But if the person opts not to do the consult then it’s a fee they have paid, and at least we have been compensated for our time and efforts.

We are considering doing this so I’d appreciate your feedback and would love to hear what you are doing and what your experiences are with free consults. Shoot me an email or leave a comment below and let me know if you have been through this and what you have done after you join me on episode 86 of Business of Dentistry.

Tweetable: “We have to bring value to our patients.”

Episode Resources

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Dealing With “No Show” Repeat Offenders

Episode 085

Some frustration behind the mic this week as I discuss having a repeat “no show” offender that found her way back on my schedule on episode 85 of Business of Dentistry.

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This is about a patient interaction I had, I want to know how you would respond. I have a policy we created a year or two ago so my team would know what to do in the event of a no-show or last-minute cancellations. It’s simple: 3 strikes and you are out. If you can’t be here, you cancel, or you don’t show up 3 times then you can’t get back on the schedule. I don’t think it’s harsh, even though some may think so.

We do have exceptions, if someone understands the impact of not showing up and want another chance we’ll allow them to prepay for their visit and reserve time on my schedule. Many people have done this and we haven’t had too many issues.

But this past week we hit a little bump. We had a patient on my schedule again after this person had cancelled or not shown up for 7 appointments over the last year or so.

You can imagine I almost went bonkers when I saw this person was on my schedule. I couldn’t understand why because I had specifically put an alert into our practice management software for this person’s name. The alert said this person was to receive no more appointments! And it had my name attached to the alert so my team would know the directive came from me.

My team overrode that alert and put her on the schedule anyway. When I asked around why this happened no one could give me a good reason. As I put this episode to air I still don’t know why this patient was on my schedule, even though I explicitly said not to allow her in again.

So this patient came in and I talked with her. I asked her several times if she is ready for this treatment and ready to follow through this time. She said yes.

I asked her to be sure because she has cancelled at the last minute or not shown up for 7 previous appointments. She again said yes she was ready to go ahead. I said okay, and told her my team would be in shortly to talk with her about insurance coverage and the like.

I then told my team we needed a 50% nonrefundable deposit for this patient’s procedure before setting an appointment date. I thought that would ensure this patient had some skin in the game. But at the end of the meeting when all was said and done, this patient didn’t set up an appointment.

I’m bringing this up because these are the types of things that kill me on the business side. I understand taking care of patients is important, but sometimes people don’t respect our time or the value we bring.

So don’t be like me and see someone who has cancelled 7 times previously.

My other issue with this experience is that my team basically ignored me and couldn’t give me a reason why they allowed this person to be on the schedule again.

By our office rules this person should not have been on the schedule. And I understand it can be difficult, sometimes people on the phone are pushy, or they give sob stories or all kinds of other reasons about why they need to be on the schedule.

But we can’t allow this, unless we have a very good reason. As the owner of your business you should be allowed to make an exception to a rule or policy or guideline in your practice. Be sure to write it down with input from your team. Don’t make changes based on emotions but on objective data, otherwise it will confuse your team, your patients and potential referrals.

So visit or revisit your policy on no-shows, cancellations, missed appointments. Do cancellations need to be done more than 24 hours before the appointment? Three days before? A week before? How do you define an acceptable cancellation timeframe? Whatever your window for cancellations, you also need to look at how effective you are at refilling that slot in your schedule and adjust accordingly.

These are important areas to look at in your practice and they are also important for your mental health!

To wrap up today’s show I share the three responses to have in a situation like this and the most important thing to learn from these types of experiences. Join me to hear those takeaways on episode 85 of Business of Dentistry.

Tweetable: “Perfection is a journey, not a destination.”

Episode Resources

Voices of Dentistry Summit 2018
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What Would You Do If You Couldn’t Practice Dentistry?

Episode 084

A happenstance meeting in a Mexican restaurant prompted this question. How would you answer? Listen to this week’s episode of the Business of Dentistry as we discuss my take on this topic.

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There’s a little Mexican restaurant near my office and a few times a month my office manager Paul and I go there to talk politics, business, shop, etc. We did the other day and a conversation we had with our waitress opened my eyes to a few things.

This woman was someone who had waited on us before. She spoke broken English but spoke Spanish perfectly. Something about her made me think she was from somewhere other than Mexico, somewhere like Central America or South America, and I said as much to Paul.

Because Paul is pretty direct and to the point he asked her where she was from when she returned with our drink order. She said she was from Venezuela. Paul continued talking with her and asked about her country. She described to us how it was poorly run, the food supply wasn’t great nor was the water, and the electricity was spotty.

As she left us to take care of another customer I thought she said (in Spanish) that she had been a dentist in Venezuela. When she came back to check on us, she used her phone to show us photos and videos of her working as a dentist in her home country. From what I could understand from her story, the military had come in and forced out all the civilian dental care providers and took over the hospitals. They sent her packing, basically.

Listening to this woman’s story put things in perspective for me. It wasn’t a great week at my office, we had some patient issues and other things. But hearing what she went through got me thinking about what would happen if I couldn’t be a dentist next week or three months from now.

Imagine if you were to go from a good profession like ours to not being able to do your work. Where would you go? What would you do? Some of us would be devastated if we couldn’t continue in our profession. Personally, I began wondering what would I do if I couldn’t do this. Would anything pay as well as this career? What kind of work would I do – would it have to be manual labor or could it be something more intellectual?

It also made me think, as a single practitioner in a private practice at the age of 50, what is my long play on this? I realized I don’t have a secondary source of income or another source of income. I’ve got all my eggs in one basket and I started wondering about different ways to add to my income streams.

This conversation made me think about this topic a lot: how would I add another stream of income? Would it be a product I could sell, a different business, a hobby? Is there something else I could monetize?

I have a few things I’ve thought about but never taken action on, and this experience is helping me shift my focus a bit to those things. And of course I know there is truth to doing the one thing and doing it well, but the conversation with this waitress has got me thinking about other options.

And I’m interested in hearing from you on this: what would you do if you couldn’t do dentistry tomorrow? How else would you generate revenue? Do you already have other streams in place? Do you have any other eggs in your basket? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you after you listen to episode 84 of Business of Dentistry.

Tweetable: “At what point do we start thinking about a different revenue stream?”

Episode Resources

Voices of Dentistry Summit 2018
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Patient Interaction And Reputation Management With Podium’s Nico Dato

Episode 083

This week I sit down and talk with Podium’s Nico Dato to discuss customer interaction and reputation management. He offered some great advice that apply to us as private practice dentists. Go give it a listen on episode 83 of Business of Dentistry…

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Podium is a software as a service company (SaaS) out of Utah. They work with a variety of industries, including dental practices, to help with customer interaction, communication, and online reputation management. In our conversation on today’s episode of Business of Dentistry we talk about improving our communication, his tips on how we can use Google chat and three steps to dealing with negative reviews.

We begin by talking about what Podium is and what it provides for businesses. Podium software offers everything from setting appointments to feedback on the appointment to online reviews. Podium’s software exists as more of a platform with the focus being on interaction between the business and the consumer and is meant to help the practice and patient develop a stronger relationship.

To elaborate on that point I asked Nico to spell out what he sees dental practices not doing, and how they can improve regarding communication with patients.

There are a few common mistakes or missed opportunities he sees regularly. The first is how a practice communicates with its patients. What will determine the preferred method of communication is who your demographic is, so you must find out what is convenient for the patient AND for your practice. In general, the easier it is to keep in contact with your patients the more money you will make. You will have fewer no shows, more appointments will be kept and more patients will become repeated patients for the long-term.

As far as feedback and online reviews: getting positive reviews is good but the piece so many practices miss out on is the actual feedback within the reviews. So dig in and understand what the patients says in their review, and then make changes within the practice. This is what the really smart practices are doing – it is gold for them!

Being focused on those two things is what the best practices are doing: communicate with patients how they want to be communicated with and adjust your practice based on the feedback you get within your online reviews.

We also talk about Podium’s Google click to chat feature. This is Google’s attempt to add another way for consumers to interact with businesses. From Google’s search results you can call, get directions, go to the web site or now with the click to chat feature you can message the business. It’s basically a text message sent to your practice.

Podium plugs right into this feature so you can manage it through their software, versus going to an individual’s cell phone. Nico says they’ve seen a lot of dental practices receiving messages after hours from this feature. Patients communicate and ask questions at their convenience, and the convenience aspect is important because it means it is easier for a patient to come and see you. The easier it is for them the more likely they will be to choose you now and in the future.

I also wanted to know what he recommends doing when you get a negative review. He broke it down into 3 steps:

1. Respond calmly and from a detached perspective.
The person responding to the review should be detached from the situation and not emotionally involved. If that is not possible then make sure the person responding is level-headed and doesn’t get defensive. Of course it’s easy to become emotional about it because it’s your business and your livelihood but it won’t help the situation if you become defensive in your response.

2. Apologize and move the conversation offline.
As we said in step one, avoid defensive responses when you respond. Also when you respond apologize for the person’s experience and move the conversation offline. Offer to talk about it offline or via email. Give them a phone number and email address so they can communicate with you and your office.

This is good for the relationship with the reviewer but it also shows potential patients you will address their needs and work with them to right any wrong that may happen when they come to you.

3. Actually have the conversation offline.
Chat with patient offline either via email or on the phone, and hopefully come to a resolution. At this ponit you can often have them add another review or leave a follow up comment on their original review sharing how the issue was resolved.

On this episode we also talk about where you should focus on getting more reviews online, what it means to “gate” a patient and why you shouldn’t do it, and why collecting reviews should be done on an on-going basis. We finish up with details of Podium’s services including costs and contracts. Join us to hear all of those details on the 83rd edition of Business of Dentistry.

Tweetable: “Adjust your practice based on feedback from online reviews.”

Episode Resources

Podium’s web site
Podium’s blog
Email Nico
Voices of Dentistry Summit 2018
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