Your patients are the heart of your practice, they are the reason you are in business. It’s important to keep them happy because happy patients are more likely to return in the future and they’re more likely to recommend you to their family and friends. Making your patients happy also means more good reviews, which will help your practice grow, and less negative reviews. You can treat your patients to new technologies and different amenities, but the best ways to make happy patients are free. Here are five things you and your staff can do, without having to spend money on tools, technology, or fancy PR packets.
1. The Power of a Smile
A man without a smiling face must not open a shop.
— Chinese proverb
The people that walk into your office often have bad days. Whether they’re frustrated with their boss at work or with their husband at home, many of your patients will be in a bad mood before they even arrive. A genuine smile can go a long way in turning their day around.
A baby’s smile can light up an entire room. A dog’s smile, as he wags his tail and prances up and down in excitement, can completely change an owner’s mood. Why? Because they are sincerely glad to see us, so we are equally as happy to see them. Don’t you want to make your patients feel that you are glad to see them? After all, they are what makes your practice thrive. More importantly, I’m sure that your patients prefer a dentist who makes them feel welcomed and will be more likely to recommend their colleagues to you.
Not a big smiler? Force yourself to smile, and hum to yourself a tune you like when no one is around. Smile at your staff and make sure your staff smiles back — foment a culture of smiling at your practice and your patients will associate your practice as one that makes them happy.
2. Let the Praise Flow
I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among my people the greatest asset I possess, and the way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement.
— Charles Schwab
Your patients don’t always get the appreciation they deserve from the workplace, from their friends, or from their family. So why not be the one who they can trust to be consistently appreciative of what they’ve accomplished? Then your practice is much more than just a medical office, it’s a place that your patient knows will make her happy. Who wouldn’t want to go to a dentist or doctor like that?
Compliment your patients on what they’re wearing. Ask them about their lives, listen to them, and find something to sincerely praise. Did he recently get a promotion at work? Did she recently get engaged? Make your patients feel important by letting them know that what they’re doing impresses other people. That’s all they want, to know that others acknowledge their work and their effort — to feel important. Be the dental practice that does that for them and they will love your business for it.
3. Be a Good Listener
Many persons call a doctor when all they want is an audience.
— Readers Digest
Do you know what irks me the most when I go see a dentist? That the doctor will talk to me, ask me questions, and then talk over me when I try to join the conversation. Of course, he’s a dentist and he needs to work on my teeth before moving on to the next patient. But, I can’t read his mind and I don’t know his intentions, and it’s a big turn off when a dentist does that to me. Maybe I’m in the wrong. But, a bad review from a patient who’s in the wrong is a bad review nonetheless.
People love to talk about themselves and they love when they have an audience that is sincerely interested in what they have to say. You don’t need to be a charming conversationalist in order to leave a good impression with your patients. You just need to listen and encourage them to talk about themselves — let your patients know that you care about them, what’s troubling them, and what they’re proud of.
As the novelist Jack Woodford wrote in Strangers in Love, “Few human beings are proof against the implied flattery of rapt attention.”
4. Address Your Patients by Their Name
I haven’t flown TWA for some time, but I’m going to start flying nothing but TWA from now on. You make me feel that your airline has become a very personalized airline and that is important to me.”
— Customer commenting on the services of Karen Kirsch, flight attendant for TWA.
Do you know what Karen Kirsch did to earn her company such praise? She learned the names of as many of her passengers as possible and made sure to use their names when serving them. You can elicit that same response for your patients by doing the same thing.
What I love the most about my current dentist, other than the fact that he does excellent dental work, is that every member of his staff knows who I am. When I walk in through the door the office manager says, “Hi Jonathan! How are you doing?” When the dental hygienist calls me in for my cleaning, she says, “Hi Jonathan! Come on back!” It makes me feel as if they care about me because they remember me even though I might see them as little as once every six months.
If you and your staff put in the work to remember your patients’ names — whether they’re returning patients or new patients —, the rewards you get in the form of patients absolutely thrilled with your service will pay your office back many times over.
5. Disputes Are Bound to Happen, the Key is How to Handle Them
Convince a man against his will, he’s of the same opinion still.
— Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Not all of your patients are going to be happy all the time, no matter what you do. Sometimes an otherwise minor, unintentional mistake by part of your staff can set a patient off. Other times patients are just frustrated that day and they take it out on you and your staff. It’s easy to react by arguing your points, but the truth is that if you’re drawn into an argument with a patient you’ve already lost it. Instead, you should listen.
The patient who berates you is venting. As much as that person is yelling at you, he or she just wants you to listen and empathize. Never say that a patient is wrong — always try to see it from their side. If they’re wrong, you can instead say, “In most cases you are right. In this case, there are a few differences. Allow me to explain…” No matter if the patient is yelling at you or even insulting you if you want to diffuse the situation it’s always important to start in a friendly manner.
When John D. Rockefeller, Jr. was faced with one of the bloodiest strikes in American history, where troops had been called in and miners killed, how do you think Rockefeller dealt with the situation? He went down to the company to meet with the miners’ representatives and gave a speech which opened with, “It is the first time I have ever had the good fortune to meet the representatives of the employees of this great company, its officers and superintendents, together, and I can assure you that I am proud to be here, and that I shall remember this gathering as long as I live.” If a titan of industry can show that kind of restraint, a doctor of your tact and charm can do so as well.
In short, when dealing with a complaint, let the patient speak — do not interrupt — and put genuine effort into seeing things from his or her side. Never say that the patient is wrong and, in fact, find points of agreement. If you’re wrong, admit it, especially before the patient mentions it. And if you want the patient to change his or her mind, do not argue, instead lead the patient through the complaint and find a way of making that person feel that your solution was his or her own idea. Doing it this way offers your practice a better chance of turning that patient’s opinion around, helping your practice grow.
Your Staff is Key to Your Patients’ Happiness
Humans are emotional creatures. We want to be loved, to feel important, to know that others care about us. If you can give your patients that, they will keep coming back to your practice and they’ll feel more inclined to go out of their way to help you by writing a review or referring others to your office. There will always be those patients who can’t be satisfied no matter what you do to appease them. They might leave you a negative review, in which case you should respond to them in the same empathic way you would in person. But, for the most part, your patients will appreciate you and your staff, and because of this your practice will succeed.