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Marketing is all about communication. It’s about communicating the value of your products and services, and the experience of undertaking treatment at your practice. You communicate the value you provide through the quality of your marketing and the messages you choose to send to patients. 

There is no quick and easy way to market the value you provide to patients, this is often very subtle and developed over a long period as you become more confident sharing more of you, your character, your team, and the culture of the practice. 

Whilst there are many different ways to market orthodontics, there is one element that is common across all dental businesses and that is the channels by which patients can reach you to make an enquiry. 

Communication channels

A little while ago, we were contacted to work with a mixed specialist practice in one of the major cities. It does not need saying that close by, there was a high level of local competition. As part of our fact-finding process, we followed the calls to action on their website and submitted an enquiry via their website contact form. To date, we have still not been contacted to follow up on our interest in undertaking treatment.

Is this a one-off example of communication breaking down? Of course not, you would be surprised how many practices have out of date contact details or elements of their website which no longer work. But patients do not know this, they simply feel ignored and not valued, and unless they were being particularly tenacious, would likely make an enquiry elsewhere resulting in loss of valuable business to the practice.

It is always worthwhile undertaking a periodic audit of your communication channels and checking they all still work. Ask a couple of your friends or family members to contact your practice through the channels you promote and make a note of the response. Keep the enquiry really simple so something like ‘I’m interested in getting braces as an adult’ or ‘I’m interested in getting my teeth straightened’. Note the date and time of the enquiry and ask them to share with you how long it took for a response to be received along with their impression of the quality of the experience.

If you want to start improving your marketing, this is a very easy place to start as it doesn’t matter how creative and innovative your practice promotion is if you don’t effectively deal with the enquiries it generates. 

Next, start looking at your communication channels through the persona of your patients. Do your opening hours afford patients the opportunity to contact you at a time when it is convenient for them? If you don’t, it’s likely one of your competitors will. An example of this is closing the practice for lunch, something fairly common for mixed NHS/private practices. The lunch break might be the only opportunity someone has to call you so think about the merit of staggering reception cover over this time.

Social media messaging

Next, look at your social media channels. We are seeing more patients reaching out to practices via social media messaging but how is this monitored and managed in your practice? Should you respond to enquiries via social media differently than via other channels? I’m afraid the answer is yes. You need to be much more responsive on social media but the payoff is that you can also directly engage in a way that is much more likely to result in the enquiry becoming a patient.

Although communication on social media is often much more personal, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t maintain a professional approach. You should always think carefully about what you say and how you say it but it does allow you to have a better conversation which provides you with the opportunity to share more of the value of undertaking treatment at the practice, something which is difficult to do via email.

So what should you do about social media enquiries received at the weekend and in the evening? At a very minimum, you need to set up an autoresponder so that the person making the enquiry knows that their contact has been acknowledged and what might happen next. If you have time and you feel there may be a benefit in a more timely response, reach out to the contact and, as a one-off experiment, see what happens. 

You might be very surprised to find that establishing communication at a time that suits the person making the enquiry can very quickly lead to the person moving on to the next stage of the process and booking a consultation. We saw this very recently with one of our clients where an enquiry was received late on a Sunday afternoon. It was responded to fast, a conversation was started where the person felt valued resulting in an action for the treatment coordinator to contact them first thing on Monday morning. They were seen that week for a consultation and they started treatment shortly after. 

I’m certainly not suggesting you should always respond out of hours, we all need a work/life balance, but give some thought to how you can better respond to patients at a time and in a way that best suits them. Marketing is still all about communication.

This article first appeared in the March/April 2020 edition of Orthodontic Practice