The First-Impression Test
by DEBBIE BEST
Your patients’ experiences in your office start long before they sit in your chair—are you sending the right message?
G one are the days when you could hang out your shingle after finishing orthodontic residency and expect potential patients to fill your reception room. Today, orthodontists are not only competing with other orthodontic practices down the street, they are also contending with general dentists who offer orthodontic treatment. No longer can you be complacent, confident that your excellent treatment results will keep you busy and profitable. You must now partner your clinical expertise with the criteria that patients often use to rate and choose an orthodontic practice for their treatment.
Let’s look at your office from a potential patient’s perspective and see how you measure up to what the consumer is often seeking.
The First Impression
How did the potential patient hear about your practice? Was it a referral from his or her general dentist? If so, were you recommended by word of mouth, or did the dentist have a professional-referral slip to give patients with your logo, name, address, telephone number, and a map to your office? Was the patient given information regarding the orthodontist or orthodontists in your office, including personal and educational background? Did the general dentist and team know you personally as well as professionally?
In this age of technology, patients often find an orthodontist by searching the Internet. Do you have a Web page that is professional, eye-catching, and informative? Do you have links to general dentists in your area to facilitate referrals between the offices? Is your Web site interactive, allowing patients to fill out patient-information forms online? Does it feature the orthodontist and team members? Do you have a virtual tour that lets potential patients to visit your office online?
Patients are sometimes motivated to see a particular orthodontist because of the visual appeal of the office. Their attention is drawn to the building as they walk or drive by it. Do you have visible signage that reflects the quality of care you offer in your practice? Is the outside of the facility well maintained? Does the signage have adequate lighting, making it visible at night? To see how your first impression adds up, take the First-Impression Quiz (page 62).
A potential patient often makes initial contact with your practice by telephone. It is imperative that you “wow” every patient who contacts your office by phone, whether it be a new patient or one of record. The goal is to be personable and upbeat, yet professional and informative. How often have you initiated a telephone call and felt that the person on the other end of the line was rushed, unresponsive, and curt?
Staff members should always answer the phone with the orthodontist’s name and the name of the person answering the call. No matter how busy it is at the front desk, staff members who pick up the phone should always speak clearly and slowly to ensure that the caller can understand them. If you answer the telephone with a smile on your face, it comes across the phone lines. Ask who it is that you are speaking with to allow you to use his or her name in the conversation. If you find it necessary to put a patient on hold, ask his or her permission before doing so. The caller might have a question that can be answered quickly, or would prefer to have you call him or her back rather than being placed on hold. Use a system that gives patients information regarding your office while they are on hold. To see how you’re doing, take the Telephone-Technique Quiz (page 62).
The Initial Presentation
Do you have professional-referral slips printed for the general dentists?
Are your name, address, and telephone number on the referral slip?
Is your office logo printed on the referral slip?
Is a map to your office printed on the referral slip?
Does the general dentist have your office brochures to give to new patients?
Are you more than just a name to the general dentist?
Do you have a Web site?
Does your Web site offer information regarding your orthodontic team?
Does your Web site highlight the unique features of your practice?
Does your Web site link with general dentists?
Is your Web site interactive?
Does your Web site offer a virtual tour or pictures of your practice?
Do you have visible signage that can be seen from the road?
Is the outside of your building clean, neat, and professional?
Can you see your sign easily after dark?
Total possible points: 15
Is your telephone always answered with the name of the orthodontist?
Does the person answering the telephone say his or her name?
Is it easy to understand the person answering the telephone?
Does the person answering the telephone have a warm and pleasant telephone voice; is his or her smile evident?
Does the person answering the telephone ask for the name of the caller at the start of the call?
Are patients always asked for permission before being put on hold?
Does the caller hear information regarding your office while on hold?
Total possible points: 7 Your score:_____
A patient’s first visit to your office starts long before that patient walks through the door. It starts with the welcome packet that the patient receives in the mail or online prior to the initial visit. Included in the packet should be a practice brochure, an introduction letter, a map to the office, an appointment slip confirming the time and date of the appointment, and a patient-information and health-history form that can be filled out in the privacy of the patient’s home.
All forms must be original documents; a copy of a copy is never acceptable. Does your new-patient form reflect the image of your practice? Is your practice name, address, and telephone number printed on all of your forms? If you have a practice newsletter regarding patient contests or events, include a copy in the packet. This gives you a chance to show some of your practice’s personality prior to the initial appointment. And make sure that the information is sent out in a professionally printed envelope with the patient’s name neatly written on the front.
The second step of the first visit is a personal confirmation call made by either the orthodontist or a team member prior to the appointment. Confirmation calls for new patients should do more than just confirm the time and date of the appointment. The confirmation call gives you an opportunity to find out if the patient received the information packet in the mail. Ask the patient if he or she has any questions regarding the appointment or the information in the packet. Ask the patient to bring the completed patient-information forms to the appointment. There is nothing more frustrating than having a new patient arrive without having filled out the forms or finding that they have left the completed forms at home. Try the Initial-Presenation Quiz (page 63) to see if you are giving new patients enough information.
On the Road
For those who are “directionally impaired,” as I am, you need to make sure that the map and directions to your office are clear and easy to follow. Try to use commonly known landmarks to help new patients find the building. Make sure that your signage is well illuminated and easy to see. Your parking lot, although it may not be part of your physical plant, is a reflection of your practice. Do you have adequate parking spaces for patients, or is the lot filled up by your team members’ vehicles? Try to have the parking lot designed to allow adequate space between cars to allow room for mothers to get their children out. Your parking lot should be well maintained at all times. This means no potholes, no garbage on the ground, well-painted lines between parking spaces, and sufficient trash containers. Make sure that you have adequate lighting for dusk and evening hours so patients feel safe outside your building. If you are in an area that has any crime concerns, consider hiring a security guard to keep your patients and their vehicles safe.
Do you send out a welcome packet to all new patients?
Does your packet include a practice brochure?
Does your packet include an introduction/welcome letter?
Does your packet includes a map to the practice?
Does your packet include an appointment slip?
Does your packet include a patient-information/health-history form?
Are all forms originals?
Is your practice information printed on all of the forms?
Did you include something fun in the packet (a newsletter, a flyer, etc)?
Do you have printed envelopes correctly sized for the forms?
Was a personal confirmation call made prior to the appointment?
Was the patient asked if he or she received the packet of information?
Was the patient asked if he or she has any questions? o Yes o No
Was the patient asked if he or she knows how to find the practice?
Was the patient asked to bring the completed forms to the first appointment?
Total possible points: 15 Your score:_____
On the Road
Was the map easy to read and follow?
Can you see the signage for the office from the street?
Can you see the signage after dark?
Do you have adequate parking for your patients?
Is the parking lot well maintained?
Are there trash containers outside the building?
Do you have a sign with your name and suite number?
Are your hallways, floor, and elevators clean and well maintained?
Does the building smell clean? o Yes o No
Does the door to your office have your name on it?o Yes o No
Is your door a reflection of the quality of services you offer?
Are your patients greeted by their name and with a smile?
Does your office smell fresh and inviting?
Total possible points: 13 Your score:_____
As the patient walks up to your building, the practice’s name and suite number must be clearly displayed. If there are multiple suites in the building, a map is helpful for patients trying to find your office. The hallway paint must be clean, not only at adult eye level but also at the level of the little ones. How does the building smell? Does it smell inviting, or does it have a musky or “doctory” smell to it? If the hallways are carpeted, is your carpet well maintained? Is the carpet clean? Are the seams tight, and are the corners and baseboards free of dirt? If patients use an elevator to reach your office, ensure that the permits are up to date. The elevator must be well lit, clean, and odor free.
The patient is finally at your door. Are your name and suite number posted either on or next to the door? Does it look inviting, perhaps with a glass insert or your logo displayed? As the patient walks through the door, is he or she personally greeted by the scheduling coordinator? Is the first impression a smile, a friendly voice, and perhaps even the aroma of freshly baked cookies? The On the Road Quiz (page 63) will give you a clearer picture.
How Did You Do?
Add up your scores from all the quizzes (a total of 50 possible points). If you scored:
45 points or more
You are doing a fantastic job of promoting and selling your practice before you meet the patient. Combine your excellent pre-visit experience with a solid marketing program, and there will be no limit to your success.
35 to 44 points
Your practice falls within the range of what is expected by patients. However, it does not “wow” them before they actually walk through the door. With an excellent orthodontist and team, you are still most likely able to convert the majority of your new patients. However, you have to work a little harder to “sell” your practice.
25 to 34 points
Your new-patient count or your conversion rate is most likely not where you would like it to be, because your image among referring dentists and the community is average. The initial impression you project does not allow your practice to stand out from the others.
24 points or fewer
Your office needs help. You are shooting yourself in the foot before you leave the starting gate. It is time to stop and re-evaluate all of the systems in your practice, from your printed materials to your telephone interaction with patients and referring offices. Take the time to reorganize now and reap the benefits for years to come.
In conclusion, ask yourself, “What would it take to impress me?” If you are honest, you can be your own best critic. Put your vision into action, and you will be on the road to a successful orthodontic practice.
Debbie Best is a senior practice-management consultant for Consulting Network. She evaluates staffing needs and office computer systems to develop a strategic plan for practice productivity. She designs customized schedules, personalized job descriptions, and a personnel manual to fit each practice’s needs. As a part of her consulting program, She also focuses on the role of the front-desk team, financial controls, anti-embezzlement protocols, and practice-building methods. She can be reached at (925) 447-6993.