Endo Mastery

MARKETING FOCUS: PLAN NOW FOR HOLIDAY GIFTS TO REFERRERS

It’s less than 60 days until the busy holiday season begins. Many doctors will send referrers a gift for the holidays as part of their annual marketing strategy, but they fail to make the most of the marketing opportunity. Here are some key questions and recommendations. 

Are gifts necessary or recommended?

It depends on your current marketing strategies. If you have a great marketing coordinator with a systematic approach to visiting all your referring practices throughout the year, your referrers are probably fairly well informed all year long that your practice appreciates them. It’s really a personal choice for you as part of your doctor-to-doctor relationship with the GP.

 

If you don’t have a marketing coordinator following a systematic approach, then your marketing activities throughout the year are probably quite minimal or sporadic. In that case, a year-end gift could be very important and probably advisable.

How much should you spend?

There are two camps of opinion on how much to spend. The first camp says that if you have a good marketing system where you are investing in marketing activities, including doctor-to-doctor activities (such as taking a referrer to a sports game or other activities), then a flashy gift at the end of the year is probably overkill. A personalized message along with a thoughtful gift like a nice bottle of wine or gift basket is completely suitable.

 

The other camp says that the gift should be obviously meaningful in the context of how much an individual GP referred during the year. A GP who refers 50 cases to you deserves some special recognition (and extra spending) versus a GP who refers 6 cases to you. It is a slippery slope though because once you set a precedent with a high value gift, it’s hard to back down from that in the future.

 

Overall, we lean toward having a great year-round marketing systems and then, if you do send a year-end gift, that it be modest without being extravagant.

When is the best time?

The whole point of a gift is to communicate a message to the referring doctor that you appreciate and value your relationship with them. If you wait until the second or third week of December (or later), your gift is going to get lost in the mix. It’s the busiest time of the year with their family. Everyone else (from their accountant to other specialists they refer to) are also sending gifts at the same time. Yours will be one more on the pile.

 

The best time to send this kind of gift is right around Thanksgiving or just before, which is well ahead of the masses of cards and presents from others. It gives you a head start, and your gift could very well be the first one they receive of the season. So, it will get noticed, which is what you want. Also, a gift of appreciation and gratitude ties in very nicely with the theme of Thanksgiving. That means the best time to start budgeting and planning your gifts is now, especially if you are going to try to give personalized gifts for your key referrers. It takes time for those ideas to percolate.

How should it be delivered?

If you don’t have a marketing coordinator, then you will probably need to mail gifts to your more distant referrers or have them delivered from where you ordered the gift (such as for a basket). If you have a marketing coordinator, it’s best that they hand-deliver gifts for those referrers that are a distance away.

 

For referrers that are closer to you, it is recommended that you personally visit those doctors, which is something you should do at a minimum at least once a year. It gives you a chance to connect with the GP’s front desk team, have a few minutes of face time with the doctor to generate goodwill. This is especially important if you are not face-to-face with them any other time during the year. In one day, you can probably drop in on 15 or so practices without too much effort.

Remember that 90% of marketing is teamwork

Year-end gifts can be a nice touch in a marketing system, but no gift is as influential as your practice team. What they do throughout the year by communicating with referrers and taking care of patients effortlessly guides the entire referral relationship. And a great marketing coordinator makes sure that practice-wide effort by you and your team is noticed throughout the year.

MARKETING FOCUS: 3 MISTAKES THAT LEAD TO UNHAPPY PATIENTS (AND REFERRERS)

An unhappy patient spreads their unhappiness. They report a poor experience back to their referring doctor or clutter up your Yelp and Google reviews with 1-star ratings. If you scan those reviews, most of them are the result of factors within the control of the endodontic practice. Here is what you and your team need to avoid:

Failing to address their fear

The word “specialist” generates a certain level of anxiety in every patient. Anything that requires the care of a specialist sounds complicated and serious. The phrase “root canal” generates an even higher level of concern. Root canals have a historical connotation of discomfort that no longer matches our clinical processes but endures in the public mindset as dental mythology.

 

Certainly, an endodontist’s chairside manner is vital to calm fearful patients and bring them down from their anxiety orbit. But the mistake that most practices make is assuming that it is only when the patient is in front of the doctor that their fear can be dispelled.

 

Addressing the patient’s fear needs to begin from the moment that patient calls the practice to book their appointment. It is absolutely essential the administrator receiving that call has a warm and caring demeanor. They have to project calm confidence, superb knowledge and totally informed certainty about every concern or hesitation the patient has. Reassure the patient that the doctor is the best endodontist, and they will receive treatment easily and quickly.

 

In this way, starting with the phone call, the team can telegraph calmness to the patient, so the patient feels “these people know what they are doing.” Done at the highest level, even before the patient walks in the door they will feel gratitude and privilege to be taken care of by the best.

Lack of same-day appointments

Americans are not people who like to wait in line, whether that is for a coffee, to check in at the airport or hotel, or to get a root canal. Furthermore, when they are in pain, their tolerance for any delays virtually evaporates. And with endodontic pain in particular, even one day of delay (and a sleepless night of discomfort) seems like an eternity.

 

A patient in pain wants the pain addressed immediately, and a referrer with a patient in pain wants the pain addressed immediately too. That should be the #1 awareness that your scheduler should always have. Your team needs to be adept at assessing and triaging the patient’s level of pain in the first phone call. They need to show empathy for the patient’s pain, so the patient knows their pain is your priority and you’ll take care of them as quickly as possible.

 

Then, your scheduling strategy and template needs to have the appointment openings built into every day to accommodate necessary same-day treatment emergencies. No doctor likes to see openings in their schedule, but strategically leaving time reserved for urgent care means that emergency patients will be thankful, not annoyed by waiting. Plus (importantly), when referring doctors know they can count on you for same-day treatment of pain, it is the greatest practice- and relationship-building strategy ever.

Financial surprises

Just like the word “specialist” invokes the feeling in patients that care will be complicated, it also invokes the feeling that it will be expensive. Patients need total financial clarity in advance so they can be prepared.

 

Financial clarity particularly requires your team to be experts at determining the patient’s insurance benefits for treatment, so you can give a very close estimate of their co-pay prior to the patient’s arrival. Even if the patient is just coming in for a consult, they need to be prepared for treatment on the same day, so the estimate needs to be prepared in advance.

 

Remember, if the patient is undergoing treatment at the GP concurrently, insurance limits can shift benefit payouts overnight. An expert practice administrator stays abreast of every detail for the patient. Patients truly don’t understand the ins and outs of their insurance.

 

The two biggest mistakes when it comes to finances are 1) not giving patients a co-pay estimate until they are in the practice, and 2) giving them an estimate based on inaccurate insurance information and then surprising them with a higher required co-pay when treatment is performed.

90% of marketing is teamwork

Great practice marketing is far more than just doctor-to-doctor outreach. It means involving the whole team in marketing goals and getting every individual on your team to be aware of how they influence patient and referrer satisfaction.

MARKETING FOCUS: FROM RELIEF PITCHER TO STARTING PITCHER

The starting pitcher is the star of baseball. They are the preferred choice and are entrusted to deliver the best results. As a dental specialist who relies on referrals, your goal is to be the starting pitcher for GP referrers: their preferred and trusted choice for all their endodontic referrals.

 

Relief pitchers are second choices, and they are brought in during the game when the starting pitcher needs to come off the field (if they are tired, injured, having a bad day, or for strategic reasons). Since your referrers need somewhere to refer patients (especially emergency patients), you might be their second-choice relief pitcher if their usual endodontist isn’t available … such as when they are away on vacation.

 

This is a marketing opportunity, but it’s a special one. Remember that your endodontic colleagues are not your competition. Don’t think that you are in a turf war with other endodontists for GPs in your area. When you’re called up as the relief endodontist, you don’t want to appear like you are actively campaigning to persuade the referrer and steal them from your colleague.

 

However, it is a moment to market passively, which comes down to providing a really great patient and referral experience, and then allowing the referring doctor to draw their own conclusions. You don’t have to push them in any way because if you offer an exceptional experience, the advantages of referring to your office become clear. Here are some of the ways that your office can shine:

  • Ensure your team’s communication with the referring office is warm, welcoming, professional and focused on making the referral process as easy as possible for the referrer and their patient.
  • Schedule emergency patients the same day they are referred.
  • Ensure patients have total financial clarity before they arrive so there are no surprises.
  • Provide patients an exceptionally smooth, efficient and comfortable experience so their feedback to referrers is overwhelmingly positive.
  • Speaking positively about the referring doctor to the patient.
  • Act as a clinical partner to the referring doctor in delivering quality care by reflecting the GPs treatment philosophy and supporting their treatment plan.
  • Ensure patients are appointed back in the GP office for restoration at the completion of treatment in your office.
  • Send reports, film and case documentation on a timely basis (i.e., the day the patient’s treatment is completed).
  • Obviously, provide clinically excellent care with a successful outcome.

These factors speak louder than any words or marketing ploy. Taken together, they define your brand and reputation as an endodontist. When achieved on a high and consistent basis, referrers will recognize and choose that level of quality. They will want you as their starting pitcher!

 

Your marketing coordinator should be scanning the schedule and referral reports for these kinds of patients and referrers. They should make your whole team aware so that everyone can make their best efforts when the patient arrives.

 

As a final note, one thing you can do as the doctor is find a reason to reach out to the referrer for a conversation … especially a clinical reason. Again, you don’t want to appear to be marketing, but you can begin the process of building a professional doctor-to-doctor relationship. That, ultimately, is the heart of any referral-based practice.

POPPIN’ BY TO SAY HI!

“Poppin’ by to say hi!” … that’s an easy one, and one that everyone loves. Popcorn snacks are a great favorite, and you can provide them in different ways:

• Microwavable bags
• Pre-popped snacks from the snack aisle
• Individual cellophane sleeves
• Barrels and tubs
• Different flavors
• With a movie or online rental gift card

SUMMER S’MORES

What goes better with summer than camping? And what goes better with camping than delicious s’mores? Surprise your referring offices with this summertime classic! You can package up the ingredients in a small cellophane package:

Add a tag that says “To many S’MORE good times and great patients! Thank you for your referrals!” You can also add a note about how s’mores can be made in the microwave at work (about 20 seconds).

TEAM TO TEAM
REFERRAL MARKETING

What are the chances that your GPs tell their patients, “It’s very important that you see Dr. X. They are the best endodontist in the city, and I’ve personally chosen them over all other endodontists.”

 

For some referrers, that may be true. But most of your referrers, it is likely that you are just one of several endodontists taking them to lunch. Their patients are told they need a root canal by a specialist, and it’s left to the team to give the patient all the details. In many practices, patients are asked to choose the endodontist they want … often by who is nearest to where the patient lives or works.

 

Ideally, you want to develop referral relationships so that you’re more than just one of several options. You want to be the preferred endodontist. That preference is best developed doctor to doctor, but it can take time. However, there is a backdoor into becoming the preferred endodontist, and that is through the team-to-team connection.

 

Everyone in your practice who talks to a GP team member in any capacity should remember that they are building a relationship. They are not dealing with an impersonal nameless employee that is far flung. It’s likely someone just down the street, so your team needs to be in relationship-building mode:

Projecting this kind of energy, even just on the phone, makes people feel closer to you. When it is supplemented with the goodies and pop-by marketing gifts organized by the marketing coordinator, a strong sense of goodwill and friendship develops.

 

Then, when the patient is given their endodontic specialist options, a team member might spontaneously suggest, “If I was choosing, I would definitely want to go Dr. X’s practice. The team there is incredible, and I like them a lot.”

 

That’s enough to nudge a patient’s decision in your favor since everyone else on the list are just names that they don’t know. They know something very specific about you: you have an amazing team, and you are recommended by a team member in the practice they trust to take care of them.

 

Everyone in the endodontic practice is part of your marketing team through their daily interactions with patients and referrers. It’s not just your marketing coordinator toiling alone. Always remember, 90% of growth in your practice is driven by the team.  

THE MARKETING OPPORTUNITY THAT MOST ENDO PRACTICES MISS

Referral relationships drive endodontic practices, so naturally endodontists care about developing, growing and protecting those relationships. Strong referral relationships result in steady case flow and higher productivity.

 

Your software system’s referral analysis report shows you who is referring to you and how many cases they have referred. In most endo practices, there is a familiar pattern in the referral base. At the top of the list are your top referrers who send cases regularly every month. These are the GPs with whom you have the strongest relationship. Many top referrers typically send all their endo patients to you as their preferred specialist. The rest of the list are doctors who are less predictable, from only referring the occasional case to not quite sending enough cases that you can count on every month.

 

Most endodontists pay careful attention to their top referrers because top referrers drive such a high percentage of referrals coming in. A lot of endodontists naturally focus their marketing strategies on keeping these relationships engaged and happy. At the other end of the scale, most endodontists pay careful attention to new referrers … GPs who refer for the first time.

 

What usually gets missed is identifying those existing middle to low-end referrers where there is a small but significant change in their referral patterns. Because these GPs are irregular referrers to begin with, unless you are tracking referrals over time in a way that can be compared easily with past referral levels, you often cannot see important changes.

 

For example, consider a referrer who sent you only 6 cases in the past year. Perhaps they do endo themselves, or perhaps they are “sharing the love” and dividing their referrals among a number of endodontists. Either way, to you it looks like they only refer 1 case every other month. Or they might refer two cases in a two-month period, and then you don’t hear from them for a few months.

 

Because the referral flow is so unpredictable, at what point would you identify that something is changing? What if they referred a case every month for 3 months in a row? Would that pop up on your radar instantly? It should because if they continued with that trend, it would put them in your top referrers! Maybe they’ve decided to do less endo themselves, or they’ve soured on sending referrals to one of their other endodontists. In either case, they should be targeted by you and your marketing coordinator for some one-on-one relationship building and marketing.

 

At Endo Mastery, we work with our clients to implement a referral tracking system that exposes when pattern shifts are occurring so referrers can be targeted for effective marketing. Whatever system you use, you need to be able to identify these hidden marketing opportunities. A good rule of thumb is any referral pattern that has shifted 25% or more compared to past referrals.

 

Also remember that it goes both ways. A plus 25% trend and a minus 25% trend both require marketing and relationship attention. And for your top referrers (at least one case referred monthly), you should narrow that rule to 10%, especially for downward trends. The loss of a top referrer has a significant cost to referral flow, and an early warning system when the relationship might be wavering allows you to find out what’s going on and take corrective action before it’s too late.

PEEPS SEASON

SPRING MARKETING TIP

Spring is Peeps season! They are easily available, inexpensive, fun, and effortless! Just add a cheerful label with your practice logo and a message:

Your “peeps” are always welcome in our practice!
We love helping you take care of your patients!
Happy Spring!

MARKETING TIP: THANKSGIVING MARKETING TIP

Most endodontists towards the end of year give some kind of annual appreciation gift to referrers. Usually this is delivered sometime in the holidays and close to Christmas. It’s almost sure to be lost, overlooked or under-appreciated in the busyness and abundance of everything else going on at the time.

 

We think Thanksgiving is a much better occasion for these annual referrer gifts. This is for two reasons:

1) Thanksgiving naturally fits the theme of thanking GPs for their referrals.

2) It is likely your gift will be one of the first to arrive in holiday season, and that will make it more special.

MARKETING TIP: GOOGLE MY BUSINESS SETUP

Google is one of the internet’s behemoths. It reaches so far into the lives and online activities of everyone that it is literally an online essential for every business now. You may have a great website but if you haven’t properly set up your business identity on Google, you’re missing a lot.

 

Think of it this way: Your website is like the front door of your practice on the internet. It’s how people enter your environment and get to know more about you. By comparison, your Google identity is like the sign in front of your practice that lets the world speeding by know you are even there.

 

Your Google identity builds your brand and supports your online reputation. Reputation is built in many ways. Are you easy to find? Conscientious businesses adapt to the ways people are searching for information about them. Is your information complete and up to date? Unreliable businesses are not. Do you have photos and/or videos? People want to get a look at you and get a sense of your values. What do online reviews say about you? 64% of users are likely to check online reviews before going to a business for the first time.

 

If you haven’t done so already, you need to set up your business identity and claim it on Google. Claiming is the process where you verify with Google that you are the owner of a business that they already know something about (and they do already know things about you).

 

For example, claiming and verifying your business will allow you to control how your business shows up in Google Maps. You can also do things like manage and respond to online reviews (subject to HIPAA which was discussed in a previous blog post). Here is the link to Google My Business:

 

GOOGLE MY BUSINESS

 

To help you with the process, we have found on the web a fairly thorough and complete third-party guide to setting up Google My Business. There’s a lot of information in here, and it’s written for every kind of business. However, by working through it step by step, you’ll get everything set up right and understand what you can do with Google’s My Business service.