By Josh Crockett, contributing writer

May 18, 2017 -- It's no secret that getting new patients leads is an investment -- worthwhile, but an investment nonetheless. One of the best ways to maximize that investment is to focus on retaining patients. How? By improving their experience from the moment they first arrive to when you say goodbye at the end of their appointment.

Industry research shows a correlation between customer satisfaction and referrals. When you do all you can to ensure patients have an exceptional visit at your office, you're not only increasing the likelihood that they'll return, but you're also increasing the possibility that they'll refer you to their friends and families.

Here are seven ways to help make your patients' experiences at your office so great that they'll want to come back:

Josh Crockett
Josh Crockett is the sales director at Practice Cafe.

1. Complete a "preflight" check for first appointments

It can be hard to reverse a first impression. If you have only one shot to convince someone to be a regular patient at your practice, you need to make sure everything goes off without a hitch.

Will patients have an easy time finding your office and parking? Give people the directions and information they'll need ahead of time to limit their stress.

Once someone arrives, is the paperwork process smooth? Patients should already know what paperwork will be required at their first visit and confirm insurance beforehand.

2. Help patients feel welcome

You don't want your patients to feel as if they could get the same experience anywhere else. Instead, your team should make an effort to stand out from impersonal, clinical offices and treat patients like family.

When patients come to the front desk to check in, are they greeted with a smile or, better yet, by name? Do you make them feel comfortable to take advantage of any amenities? You can say things such as, "Feel free to grab a water bottle while you wait," or "There are toothbrushes and toothpaste in the restroom through that door if you need them." That way they'll feel welcome.

3. Spruce up your lobby

Minimizing the amount of time patients have to wait around in the lobby is important, but you still want those few minutes to be enjoyable ones.

Do patients have ample and comfortable seating? Do they have something pleasant to look at, such as a painting or water feature? Promotional materials are OK as long as they're tasteful and not the main attraction. Instead, consider a family or personal photo of the dentist displayed on the wall or a side table. A low-maintenance houseplant and warm lighting also are nice touches.

If you treat families, do you have accommodations for kids? A dedicated play area is wonderful, but if you don't have the space, a basket of books and a few quiet toys are sometimes all it takes to make a parent feel as if you thought of them and their child. If you work at a pediatric dental practice, consider adding something that anchors children to the practice, like an office mascot or a stuffed animal with a name.

4. Pay attention to the transition from lobby to operatory

“When it comes to patient retention, the difference is in the details.”

Many people forget that guiding the patient from the reception area to the treatment room is still a chance to make a good impression.

Does the team member escorting patients smile and speak comfortingly? Do they provide an introduction to the hygienist? It's also helpful for people if their hygienist wears a name tag. Is there a place for people to put their bag or other personal items that's not on the floor?

5. Be friendly, but don't make things awkward

Many people appreciate a friendly hygienist who takes the time to get to know them. That being said, patients don't like to be asked questions when someone is working in their mouth, making it difficult to answer. Make the effort to create a personal connection with each patient, but don't overdo it to the point where people feel like they need to talk with instruments in their mouth.

6. Make doctor time feel like a value

It truly takes a team to care for a dental patient, but many people see their time with the dentist as a major factor in whether they're getting their money's worth.

Does the dentist take a moment to converse before jumping into the exam? Don't forget to ask questions, listen, and have an honest evaluation of chairside manner. If your team leaves personal notes about each patient in their file, this could be a great jumping-off point for conversation. Does it feel as if the dentist is rushing to get to the next appointment? Dentists should focus on the patient at hand and not treat him or her like just another number.

7. Ensure that checkout feels easy and gracious

Checkout is the last touch in a visit, so you want to make sure this leaves patients feeling positive and well taken care of.

Do you guide them to the checkout area and say what will happen next so there's no confusion? Clarify with a statement such as, "So-and-so will take care of your checkout," or "You're all set to go!" You can also mention things like, "Feel free to grab a beverage or one of those goodies on your way out!"

If people need to pay or discuss financial arrangements, is that area sufficiently private? And don't forget to express thanks and tell patients you look forward to seeing them again as they leave your office. A handwritten thank-you note sent in the mail is a simple old-fashioned gesture that can mean a lot.

When it comes to patient retention, the difference is in the details. By improving the patient experience from start to finish, you're helping to retain patients from your marketing efforts and increasing the likelihood of referrals from satisfied customers.

Josh Crockett is the sales director at Practice Cafe, a custom dental marketing company. For more information on his company and their services, visit or email

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

Copyright © 2017

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