Honesty: the Key to Changing Patients’ Thinking about “Dentists” – Part I

What do you think of when you hear the words “dentist’s office”?

As a dentist, you probably don’t see the words as intimidating at all – but to the average person there’s often an automatic negative reaction – whether it be because of a bad experience as a child, a phobia, or just fear of the unknown. This leads to many people putting off dental care, and being extremely hesitant about making an appointment or following through with treatment.

The mysteriousness of the typical dental office doesn’t help. A patient calls to make an appointment and asks what might be involved – and gets what they feel is a run-around. “Well, we can’t say without actually seeing you, sir- the dentist will need to evaluate you.”

This leads to more feelings of doubt and distrust, even though the practice appointment scheduler isn’t trying to dissemble; there’s no way a diagnosis can be made over the phone, but the patient still feels unsure and wary.

So, how does your practice overcome this overwhelming knee jerk reaction to the idea of visiting the dentist, and convince patients that a trip to your office is something to be welcomed rather than feared?

The answer is simple – honesty.

In his spectacular Ted Talk “The Honest Economy,” Marcus Sheridan talks about how CarMax revolutionized the world of used car sales when they managed to convince consumers to let go of their negative pre-conception of a “used car salesman” (oily, sleazy, and out to trick you).

CarMax accepted that their entire industry up to that point had been run incorrectly, and set about changing the approach to make consumers trust them – by providing trustworthy, verifiable information about the vehicles, their pricing, accident and maintenance histories, a five day return policy, and so on. Used car buyers now see CarMax as honest and trustworthy.

Even McDonalds was able to turn their image of being “unhealthy fast food” around by starting to include the caloric content of each value meal right on the menu board under the pricing. Of course, the caloric content of the food is still the same – that is to say, not exactly healthy – but the perceived honesty of the company makes consumers more likely to say they “trust” McDonalds and they are more likely to visit the restaurant because it has “earned” their trust.

Dentists can adopt this “honest economy” approach for dentistry. Rather than being afraid to answer questions over the phone, on your website, or through your social media pages, answer them – in great detail! – instead. You can do this through several approaches:

Ÿ  Your team. Whoever answers the phone or fronts the reception area should be able to discuss possibilities of treatment and pricing openly and honestly with patients. Have printed materials available for waiting patients to peruse and don’t be afraid to talk about “ifs”.

Ÿ  Your website. You can answer so many questions right on your site, including the cost of procedures, the recovery time, the methods you use to keep patients comfortable and the type of pain management you provide.

Ÿ  Social Media. You can constantly share information and tips on your Facebook Page. The more information you give your potential patients, the more likely they are to trust you.

Let’s talk about the cost of care for a minute. Since dental insurance is hard to come by, and hasn’t kept pace with the actual cost of care (meaning out of pocket costs even for the insured) this is often one a chief concern for patients.

Many dentists don’t want to share any cost of care information, even in conjecture, before an appointment – because what if the patient thinks the amount is too high and calls another dentist? Alternately, what if you quote a lower estimate to sound competitive, and when you actually see the patient  they require much more work than expected and they feel that you weren’t honest?

The short answer to this is that, as Fred Joyal eloquently points out in his own treatise on transparency, if your dental practice is competing solely on price, you’re definitely doing it wrong. Your practice doesn’t just offer procedure “A” for cost “B”. You have to include “C” – that elusive something that your practice offers – but your competitor doesn’t. “C” is what your brand is all about.

Sometimes, “C” is as simple as just being willing to TALK to your patients. If they feel like they are getting a ballpark idea of the cost of their various options, even with the understanding that a dentist will have to see their mouth to make an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan, they appreciate the honesty and transparency.

In our next post, we’ll look at ways to utilize this approach of honesty in all aspects of your practice, including your content creation and social media plan

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