Whether you have your own practice, are a partner in a large group practice, work at a large company such as a hospital or research center, or are not even a health care professional, maximizing your “internal marketing” is a must. So agrees Fred Joyal, co-founder of 1-800dentist, in his book Everything is Marketing: The Ultimate Strategy for Dental Practice Growth.

Fred’s basic premise is quite simple. “Patients can’t assess quality of care, but they can assess their own experience.” Think about your own experience when going to a dentist or physician, having your taxes done, meeting with an attorney, or getting your car fixed. Don’t you just automatically assume the person is proficient in their profession or trade?

Fred starts his book on marketing for dentists by talking about the difference between a satisfied customer and aloyal customer. “A satisfied customer got what they expected. A loyal customer experienced something unexpected.” Fred goes on to explain that while a satisfied patient will keep coming back to your practice, only a loyal patient routinely refers their family members, friends and co-workers to you and your practice.

Think about the professionals you regularly recommend to people. And then think about those you wouldn’t recommend to your arch enemy in a million years. Fred is right. It’s all about the experience, right?

Please keep in mind that the patient experience isn’t limited to when he or she is “sitting in the chair”. The experience starts when the person researches which Doctor to call and then books an appointment, continues through the pre-appointment correspondence, followed by being greeted at your office by your front desk staff, and ends with the follow up information and/or phone call, paying the bill, and responding to your patient survey. Is your operation set up to maximize the patient experience at each and every step of the process?

My Patient Experience

I recently had a simple procedure at a local outpatient clinic. Prior to the procedure, the GI practice sent me a copy of instructions to follow the day prior to the procedure. The copies looked as though they were made by a 5 year-old child on a Xerox machine from the 1970s. Based on the poor qualify of the pre-procedure materials they sent to me, I didn’t feel overly confident about the care I would be receiving from this group. I ended up a satisfied customer, but I most likely wouldn’t refer anyone to this group if asked for a recommendation of a GI doc.

What do you need to do to reach that higher threshold of patient satisfaction? For starters, according to Fred, you can maximize the patient experience through:

  • Genuine Empathy
  • Effective Communication
  • Listening

If someone is trying to tell you something, that person wants to be heard at that time. Let the person fully explain their situation, and listen intently to what he or she is saying. Interrupting the person or finishing their sentences does not demonstrate empathy.

For many of us, listening is a skill that we never fully developed. Remember, at most schools in the US, we learn to read, write, and speak. Very few schools teach us to listen.

And while empathy is a trait that some people are born with, all people can learn to be empathetic. Trust me, as a Schwartz, I was born with very little empathy, but feel that over the years I have managed to learn to be much more empathetic when dealing with others in my home and professional life.

If you’ve had the privilege of reading Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he discussed Empathetic Listening in great detail. I strongly recommend that you read this book at some time if you haven’t already done so. (This past summer and fall, we had a book club in my office and read one habit per month starting in May. It was a big hit and we all learned a lot by discussing the chapters together.)

Do Something Unexpected

What are some easy ways that Fred recommend to maximize the patient experience by doing something unexpected?

  • You and all your staff should greet each patient by name. Who doesn’t like to be addressed by name?
  • Put personal info into your practice management  software (such as the birth of a grandchild or a great trip they were telling you about) and bring up that nugget to the patient at their next visit.
  • Call all new patients at the end of the day they contacted your office staff to book their first appointment with you. How reassuring would it be to get a call from your new Doctor welcoming you to the practice? Yes, you’re busy, but it shouldn’t take too long to leave a  message on their cell phone.
  • Track how each new patient came to your practice so you know where to focus your marketing dollars and efforts.
  • Thank patients for referrals. This doesn’t need to be a gift card or movie tickets. A hand written note is a nice touch.

My closing bit of advice? Read Fred’s book. I read it and ended up instituting changes in my CPA firm based on recommendations that Fred made to the dental community. During one of our staff meetings, we utilized the chapter on phone scripts and took turns reading his recommendations for the right way and the wrong way to handle certain situations. Even though the scripts were for a dental office, everyone found this exercise to be very worthwhile.

After reading the book, think about every aspect of the experience you are offering your patients, clients, or customers, and determine what you can do to maximize each person’s experience. Ask your staff to help come up with ideas. Then take the steps necessary to improve the internal marketing at your practice. Hopefully you’ll soon see an uptick in referrals coming to your office, and the improvements you have implemented at your practice will become as routine to you and your staff as going to the dentist.

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