Sheila Scott explains why understanding your patients and listening to what it is they need is the most important and worthwhile area of your marketing strategy.
The first rule of marketing is ‘know thy customers’. You have to identify them, understand them, find out what they want and what they think, anticipate how they will change, and then give them what they want – profitably.
We know that patients think differently to dentists and dental teams, so the old wives tale ‘treat customers as you would wish to be treated’ is not exactly right. If you’re a dentist or work in a dental practice, you know far too much about how you can improve patients’ lives, and you perhaps just know a little too much about what you’ve got to give to patients. In short, you might just bludgeon them with your skills and knowledge, and miss the point that they’re looking for.
Being good at marketing means being good at listening to patients; finding out exactly what they want, in order to deliver services they want and will happily pay for. It doesn’t mean being good at second guessing what patients want and delivering only what you think is right.
For example, my research shows that regular dental patients are more interested in dental care that keeps them healthy, than services to deliver treatment.
Shock horror! Most patients don’t walk into practices hoping for treatment.
Yet, conversely, dentists are well-practiced and well-trained problem solvers. Almost all of the dentists I work with just love finding problems in mouths so that they can consider treatment options, formulate treatment plans and book patients in for treatment. But patients hate their enthusiasm. Almost all come into surgeries hoping for a clean bill of health. They walk in saying ‘I hope you don’t find anything’ or even ‘please don’t tell me off’. Both of these comments betray a desperate hope that they’ll walk out again without a treatment plan. The dentist who dances round the room with joy when he finds a crack the size of the Grand Canyon, or who rubs his hands together with glee when a tooth has to come out, is failing to address the first rule of marketing, and the first rule of human understanding.
Please, dentists! Any treatment need is surely a failure. It’s a failure of the patient’s care, and a failure in terms of the practice’s care too! It should not be celebrated, but lamented. How did this happen? This should be a question asked and addressed with each patient, regularly. Treatment should be proposed to return patients to dental health, not as an end in itself, as it appears to be in many practices.
It’s not that difficult to plan to turn around the apparent focus of the practice – but it is difficult to change some of the habits that have been adopted since dental school.
Changes in how practitioners converse with patients, and how care, health assessment and advice to improve health are necessary to better meet patient needs. The challenge for practices from now on will be in giving confidence to patients that they’re meeting patients’ basic needs, not in how they celebrate the ‘sell’ of a treatment plan.
Liked what Sheila had to say? There’s plenty more where that came from! Head on over to our Resource Library where there’s more articles written by Sheila and many more industry experts.