A colleague of mine, who is also a dental consultant, called me the other day with one of those "you won't believe what just happened" conversation starters.
Turns out she realized her own routine dental visit was past due, so she filled out a contact form on her dentist's website and waited, thinking she would get a call soon. By the time she realized she hadn't heard back from the dental practice, almost two weeks had passed.
She called the office to follow-up, and here's where the "you won't believe it" part of the story comes in.
"They told me they don't check emails that come through their website. In fact, they don't know how to check emails that come through their website," she told me.
She was speechless and with good reason.
The value of a new patient
A big part of my job is to advise practices on ways to acquire new patients and retain existing ones. Let's look at the numbers for each. Industry sources estimate that the lifetime value of an existing patient is anywhere from $8,000 to $45,000. For the sake of argument, let's call it $20,000.
Getting back to the practice that doesn't answer emails from its website, we can confidently predict that if my friend's email went unanswered, chances are good many others are as well. We can only guess, but if 25 emails were not returned, and in those 25 emails were 10 potential new patients and 15 existing patients, the potential lost revenue at our lowest estimate is $200,000 (25 x $8,000). At the more realistic number of $20,000 in lifetime value, and assuming our existing patient has been with us roughly half of his or her expected lifetime, we are looking at lost revenue in the neighborhood of $350,000 ($10,000 x 15 existing = $150,000 plus $20,000 x 10 new = $200,000).
If you're scratching your head at the numbers, which certainly vary by practice and region, just think of it this way: Do you really want to lose any patients, regardless of their value to the practice, because your staff doesn't return emails?
Is this happening in your practice?
If so, it's likely because Google, Yelp, websites, and social media aren't a comfortable fit for many dental practices. However, understanding them is necessary -- even vital -- to running a successful dental practice in the age of the internet.
Your next team meeting would be a good place to ask if people are responding to your Facebook page and not getting a reply. Does your team know how to retrieve emails? Are people posting good (or bad) reviews and not hearing from you? All of these pose potentially serious pitfalls in terms of acquiring new and retaining long-term patients.
Jan Keller has more than 25 years of experience in dentistry as an office manager and a software trainer. She is a member of the Speaking Consulting Network and the Academy of Dental Management Consultants. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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