28 Jul 2023  •  Blog, Practice Management  •  6min read By  • Ashley Latter

How to turn a negative into an opportunity

As the number of practices offering NHS dentistry gets fewer every week, independent dental practices field more calls from patients desperate to find an appointment with a dentist. As Ashley Latter points out, if these calls are handled correctly, they could be worth a minimum of £3000 to the practices, so it’s worth giving some thought as to how to deal with them and seize an opportunity. Here he sets out how to make the most of those calls.

I am being asked frequently by private practices how best to handle enquires from patients looking for NHS treatment. The current strategy being employed by a number of them is to say no and then try to sell the patient a plan. Unsurprisingly, the success rate for this has been patchy, to say the least.

Don’t rush things

Going straight in and trying to sell a plan is one of the biggest sales mistakes you can make in a practice. Offering a solution without first establishing what problem needs to be solved, or building rapport with the patient gives you a very poor chance of success.

Handled properly, these calls can be converted into appointments which could result in loyal patients who stick with you for life. Here are some tips to help you turn those calls from negatives into positives using my Ethical Sales Structure.

There are four main steps to the Ethical Sales Structure, which are:

  1. Build rapport with the right type of patient for your practice – that means someone who is genuinely interested in the services you offer
  2. Find out what their problem is – ask them questions
  3. Solve the problem, once you have established and understood what that may be
  4. Gain commitment – offer to make an appointment for them to come into the practice.

It’s essential to complete all of these steps, preferably in that order, if you want to be consistently successful.

The four steps in more detail

Step 1 – build rapport. This is about getting to know more about the patient. Asking for their name is a good start! You could then ask how they heard about your practice. If they know someone who is already one of your patients, then that might be a good indicator they’re the right type of patient for you.

Everyone likes to be addressed personally, so, once you have been given their name, use it during the conversation. It helps to make people feel you’re interested in them. Given the access problems for patients at the moment, it may be that this person has already tried ringing a number of other practices asking for NHS treatment and just been told ‘no’. So, rather than saying you don’t offer NHS services, it’s better to try something along the lines of ’We act independently of the NHS. However, we may be able to help you. Can I ask a few questions to see if we can?’

By using this type of response, you’re keeping the conversation open which gives you a chance to find out more about the person. If, on all their other calls they’ve just been told ‘no, sorry’ they’ll probably appreciate someone offering to help them.

Step 2 – establish the nature of their problem or need. This is where you demonstrate you’re genuinely interested in finding out how you can help them. When you ask a question, listen carefully and empathetically to their answers. You may be the only practice that has taken this approach, as it’s possible they have been turned down by a number of other practices and possibly their own original NHS Practice.

Step 3 – offer a solution. Once you have got to the root of their problem, you can then go to the third part of the sales structure, offering a solution. This could take many forms. If they’re in pain or need help quickly, then you might offer an emergency appointment. If they just want to register with a new practice, the appointment could be for a consultation. Next, let them know the fee they’ll be charged and what that will include.

At this point you may want to talk about membership plans. You can let them know how it can make their oral healthcare more affordable by spreading the cost and outline what their monthly fee will entitle them to. Not everyone is genned up about dental plans, especially if they’ve previously been NHS patients. If you get a positive response to all this, move on to step 4.

Step 4 – gain commitment. Ask the patient if they want to make an appointment. Some will say yes, some will decline and continue to try to find an NHS practice. However, if they decline, they probably weren’t the right patient for you.

Although it doesn’t work every time, some of the practices I work with are now getting 35-40% acceptance of new patients. On top of that, several have seen a 300% increase in plan patients and new patients for their practice. Over time, those monthly fees add up to a tidy sum, so it’s essential your front of house team members have been trained to handle these types of calls so they don’t let these opportunities slip away.

About Ashley

Ashley Latter is an industry-renowned dental business consultant. He specialises in delivering the Ethical Sales and Communication Programme, creating a World Class Patient Journey, Creating a High Performance Team and also works with a very forward thinking group of dentists and orthodontists on the Serious Players Club, which is an entrepreneur group.

He has spoken at most of the major conferences in the UK, including those of the BDA, BACD, British Orthodontic Conferences and the ADI Conference.

He is also the author of three books: ‘You are worth it’, ‘The Dental Practice Jugglers’ and ‘Don’t wait for the Tooth Fairy’.


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