Plenty of dental practices are sinking time, energy, and marketing dollars into acquiring new patients. However, getting them in for their first appointment is just the first step. It’s common for dental practices to fall victim to the leaky bucket theory, filling up a bucket with too many holes. If you haven’t got systems in place to keep those patients returning, you won’t reap any of the rewards.
It requires effort and time to build and nurture strong patient relationships. With planning and proactive processes, it can be much easier for your team to develop those connections.
Here’s five ways you can keep patients coming back to your practice long term.
1. Focus on the Patient Experience
Patients are more likely to engage with practices that offer a great and unique experience.
You wouldn’t keep going back to a shop that treats you poorly or makes it difficult to purchase. On the other hand, if you have a regular coffee shop that makes an effort to greet you with a smile and remember your name, you’ll likely come back often. And that’s just a morning coffee! Your patients are trusting you with their health, so they’ll appreciate the efforts you make to ensure it’s a comfortable and easy experience for them.
Patient experience isn’t all about friendly faces. In fact, the patient journey starts before they even step into your practice. Making it easy to find your practice, a convenient booking process, and clear information about what to expect all plays a role. And it keeps going after their appointment is finished, with reminders and a good follow up process to make sure every step is convenient for them.
Practices that focus too much on profitability tend to lose sight of their regular patients, even though they probably make up 80% of your revenue. Giving your patients an excellent experience will keep them coming back and make sure they’re providing you with an exceptional patient lifetime value.
2. Make it Easy to Return
If you’re waiting for your patients to book themselves in, you’re probably missing opportunities and falling behind on care. When a patient finishes their course of treatment, they might get the feeling that there’s no ‘next step’. It’s up to your team to be proactive about bringing patients back in for their next appointment and maintaining the right frequency of care.
Ideally, your patients will book their next visit before they leave the office. If they don’t, it’s important to have systems and protocols in place to bring them back for their regular check up. Proactively reaching out to them shows that you care about their wellbeing and gives them a clear expectation of regular care. It also encourages them to be proactive about maintaining their own oral health.
Keep a strong focus on growth and building systems early on, and you will feel the stress starting to lower as you gain ground.
3. Encourage Referrals and Reviews
We briefly discussed how a positive patient experience can increase your chances of referrals, but there’s a way you can make that process even more productive. If you actually ask your patients to refer your practice, they are more inclined to do it. It might simply not have crossed their mind.
It’s also a good idea to thank patients for referrals. If the restrictions in your state allow, you could offer a small gift or a discount on their next service. If not, simply acknowledging their referral with a thank you at their next appointment can provide a sense of satisfaction and loyalty.
Remember, referrals don’t need to be direct. Encouraging patients to leave positive reviews for your practice gives them a way to refer you to the wider community. It won’t carry as much weight as a referral from a friend, but it’s definitely valuable to your practice.
4. Offer Incentives
Special offers are so often used to bring in new patients, but it can be a great way to retain your existing patients too. It’s important to reward loyalty and continue to foster that great connection.
You can use seasonal special offers to encourage uptake of a particular service or just to encourage patients to come back more often. Look for opportunities for special promotions in your practice. It might be a particular time of year where appointments slow down and you can launch an offer to fill up those gaps in your calendar. It could be a service you think has potential to appeal to more patients, but they’re not currently aware of it.
Remember, your offers and incentives don’t always need to be monetary discounts. For example, some practices offer free cases with every custom-fitted mouthguard during footy season, whilst others offer free take home whitening kits to patients who regularly come back for their hygiene appointments. It could even be sending coffee or movie vouchers to your patients on their birthdays! A simple token of acknowledgement and appreciation can go a long way in maintaining a strong ongoing relationship with your patients.
5. Educate Patients
Do your patients know how often they should be coming in for a check-up and clean? Do they know the different options available to them for cosmetic dentistry? Educating your patients can empower them to be more proactive with their oral health. The better they can understand, the more receptive they’ll be to treatment plans and additional services.
You can educate your patients with video content on your social media, website, or a regular newsletter Creating original content is a great way to connect with patients and build trust in your expertise. Education for patients will be most effective from a trusted voice, like the dentists, hygienists, and specialists.
Communicating with them regularly about their oral health and the services you offer will foster a strong sense of loyalty to your practice. It also means that you’ll be top of mind when they or someone they know needs dental treatment.
Time to Make it Happen
These strategies will be most effective if you can get the whole team on board. Consider how they can help at each step of the patient journey and the stages that these strategies will be most effective. Making a conscious effort to retain loyal patients will help your practice grow with the right foundations.