Go Ask Fred.com

About Fred

Fred Joyal co-founded 1-800-DENTIST in 1986 to provide screened patients to member dentists while encouraging millions to visit the dentist regularly. As the company spokesman, Joyal has written and produced over 200 television and radio commercials for 1-800-DENTIST, which air more than 5,000 times a month on network television, making 1-800-DENTIST one of the top consumer brands in the nation.

Fred also hosts a blog for consumers at DentistLove.com, further promoting the importance of oral health.

Recently, he authored his first book, Everything is Marketing: The Ultimate Strategy for Dental Practice Growth, which is available for purchase on GoAskFred.com.

Monthly Archives

August 17, 2010

Patient Communication Like You’ve Never Seen It!

I’ve been on a soapbox shouting about the benefits of internal marketing for years. If you’re a dentist, there’s simply no better way to improve your recall, case acceptance and profitability than by communicating with your patients on a regular basis. But up until now, a major hurdle for many practice owners has been making the initial investment to start a marketing program. If this sounds like you, I have some great news.

Now there’s a way to send customized patient communications that doesn’t cost a dime!

I’m talking about Dental Senders — the company that redefined patient reminder programs. First of all, Dental Senders is free. That’s right, free. Other companies like Demand Force® or Smile Reminder® charge THOUSANDS of dollars for patient communications. But why pay for something when Dental Senders can do at no cost?

Dental Senders is also fully automated. The program works with your practice management software to automatically send appointment confirmations, recall reminders, birthday greetings, newsletters and more. It’s a true “set it and forget it” solution that makes you more money and saves your staff hours of work.

One of the most exciting elements of Dental Senders is the “campaigns” feature. In a nutshell, this allows you to send any message to any patient at any time. Have a new whitening special? Expanding your office hours? Just want to get patients thinking about gum disease? You can easily design a custom e-mail or text-message campaign and send it to any or all of your patients. Done right, these campaigns help keep you on your patients’ minds so they come in more regularly and accept your treatment.

There’s also a suite of additional options including phone call reminders, patient surveys, MicroSites to improve Web searches, dormant patient reactivation…I could go on and on. And new features are being added all the time. If you’re a dentist looking to generate more revenue, you owe it to yourself to try Dental Senders — remember, it’s free!

Visit www.dentalsenders.com to sign up for your free account. In just minutes, you’ll be set to start sending automated patient communications to help your practice grow.

June 21, 2010

Growing New Referrals

Word of mouth should always be your biggest source of new patients. However, if you’re interested in growing your practice, it shouldn’t be your only source. After all, once your loyal patients refer their friends and family members to you, they’re not going to be able to provide you with additional new patients. You need to start “growing” some new referrals, which means attracting some brand new patients.

These patients can arrive through any type of advertising — direct mail, referral services, the Yellow Pages — but they’re remarkably valuable because everybody that they know doesn’t know youyet. If you can get them in, give them great service and start building a relationship with them, eventually they’re going to refer people to your practice, and these people will come from an entirely new pool.

I call these valuable patients media-generated referrals, and there are some important things you always want to keep in mind when one of them calls you for an appointment.

Get them in right away. You want these patients in your chair as soon as you can fit them into your schedule. You should never schedule an appointment for them more than 48 hours after they call. These patients are often avoiders and will be doing everything they can to talk themselves out of coming in. The longer they have to wait for their appointment, the greater the chance they’ll slip back into procrastination. You don’t even need to schedule a full appointment. Have them come in for a 15 minute exam during lunch or at the end of the day.

Don’t prejudge these patients when they call. Money is always going to be an issue for them, but it’s not because they’re cheap. It’s because the average American budgets nothing for dentistry. When you tell them the cost of their treatment, media-generated referrals are always going to react with surprise. Don’t be caught off-guard by this, but you also shouldn’t be surprised when they later come up with the money if you’ve done an effective job with your case presentation. One thing that’s also true of most consumers is that if they really want something, they’ll find the money for it.

Finally, always handle media-generated referrals with care. Unlike word-of-mouth referrals, patients who come in from advertising have no tie to your office and no reason to trust you initially. You need to earn that trust by showing them that they’re important to you and that you care about their oral health. These new patients are delicate. You have to really go that extra mile for them, but converting them into a loyal patient for life means a fresh batch of new referrals and likely thousands of dollars of treatment over their lifetime.

As a practice owner, it’s important that your business is built on a solid foundation of loyal patients. But it’s only through going beyond that base and growing new referrals that your practice can really spread its wings and reach the new heights of profitability that you’re aiming for. Effective advertising can bring the new patients in, but only great marketing and service can get them to stay.

May 05, 2010

The ABCs of Advertising

Advertising is a profession, and if you’ve heard me speak or read my book, you know that I always suggest hiring a professional to create your advertising.

However, while it’s better to leave the design and creation of your ads to the pros, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know some basic advertising tips. After all, without an understanding of what makes an ad effective, you’ll have no way of evaluating whether your advertising material should be sent out into the world…or back to the drawing board. To do this, I suggest you “Remember your ABCs” and apply them to every ad you run.

A is for Authenticity. Every advertisement you run should be an authentic representation of your business. Don’t lie or exaggerate. It’s not only unethical, but it’s actually illegal, and it really doesn’t help you in the long run. When a patient discovers that the “high-tech, modern dental practice” you claimed to be in your ad hasn’t actually added a new piece of technology in over 10 years, they’re going to be pretty upset. You’re in this for the long haul, so don’t try to entice potential patients with false claims. Instead, promote the great things you do offer, whether it’s convenient evening hours, skill with uneasy patients or affordable rates.

B is for Believability. While your advertisements should be honest, they also need to be believable, so be careful with making extreme claims and statements — even if they’re grounded in truth. You may aim for providing your patients with the most pain-free dentistry available, but is it truly painless? Probably not for all people, so don’t make that claim. Most patients will be skeptical of it, and saying that you put comfort first by offering sedation will likely prove just as enticing to uneasy patients.

C is for Clarity. This is a big one. You and your team will likely spend hours poring over your ads, but most potential patients are only going to pay attention to it for a split second. If your message isn’t clear, your ad will fail to make an impact on any of them. Keep things straightforward and direct. An ad isn’t the place to explain everything you offer. Decide on one message, make a few quick points to communicate that message to the patient, and leave them with a very clear understanding of how to learn more about your practice.

That covers the ABCs, but there’s a fourth standard your ads need to meet. It’s the reason I put “Remember your ABCs” in quotes. The ABC part of it is crucial, but so is the bit about remembering.

Your ads also need to be memorable. It’s estimated that a person is exposed to an average of 6,000 ad messages a day. With that sort of competition, you really need to stand out. Be funny, be smart, be compelling, but above all else, be emotional. People are motivated by their emotions, so if you can hit on something that resonates, you’re likely to generate a much greater response.

Whether it’s a direct mail piece, a print ad, a website or a radio spot, all of your ads should be authentic, believable, clear and memorable — ABC (and M!). It sounds simple, but if your ad doesn’t include those letters, then there’s nothing left for you but Ds and Fs.

February 15, 2010

Setting the Right Atmosphere

I want you to try a little exercise. The next time you walk into your practice, pretend you’re walking into it for the very first time. You’re not a dentist, office manager, hygienist or receptionist; you’re a patient visiting the office for their initial appointment. Look around your waiting room. Does it feel homey, like a family living room, or does it feel clinical? Are your floors swept or vacuumed? Are there toys for young children to play with? Take a look at your operatories. How are your hygienists dressed? What color are their scrubs? Do they match, or is each dressed uniquely? Is your office quiet and serene or is everyone talking and laughing? What sort of music are you playing?

Make note of details like these because collectively they communicate a powerful message. Understanding this message is a crucial part of marketing, but it’s even more important to decide whether it’s appropriate for the practice you want to run.

Atmosphere is integral to any business. It’s one of the clearest identifiers of who you are and what you do there, and it can directly affect what sort of patients you draw. Like it or not, appearance matters in our society, and just as you take care of your personal appearance, you also need to take care of your practice appearance.

If you want to be seen as a cosmetic practice that caters to discriminating patients who want only the best, then your practice had better look like the best practice in the area. Invest in an interior designer and spend some money on attractive modern art. On the other hand, if you’re a pediatric practice, you want your waiting area to feel kid-friendly. Your walls and carpet should be warm and colorful, there should be cartoons on your waiting room TVs and plenty of toys for children to play with while they’re waiting (as well as magazines that will appeal to parents). Family practices should feel comfortable and relaxed. They should be clean, but the waiting room shouldn’t feel sterile. Remember, clean doesn’t always equal comfortable. If the place feels too clean, it could make families feel like they need to watch where they step and can’t relax.

Also, keep in mind that the atmosphere isn’t just the waiting room and operatories. Every member of your team is part of it as well. If you prefer that your staff conduct themselves like medical professionals and keep things serious while at work, you’re going to draw a much different clientele than if you tell them to relax, make jokes and engage your patients.

Think about the atmosphere around your practice and what it’s saying about your business, and if it’s the wrong message — change it. Your atmosphere frames the way your patients see your practice, and I don’t have to tell you how an awful frame can ruin a great picture.

January 15, 2010

How to Handle Price Shoppers

I’m sure you know the drill. A patient calls your practice and asks how much it would cost for an examination. Knowing that this patient probably needs some restorative care if he or she hasn’t seen a dentist in a while, you’re faced with a choice. You can quote the patient the price for an exam, fully aware that the cost for treatment will probably be much more than that, or you can refuse to quote a price and risk upsetting the patient.

Price shoppers are always going to be a tricky issue in dentistry. Whenever you find yourself on the phone with a shopper, try to see things from his or her point of view. If you can do that, it becomes clear that shopping for prices is a very natural thing to do. Most patients have very little information to distinguish potential dentists from each other, so they’re basing their decision on the one factor they do understand — price. You need to get them in for an appointment, but doing that without offering them a price quote can be a challenge.

The one thing you want to avoid doing is diagnosing over the phone. There’s no accurate way to do that and you may give the patient the price for a procedure that they don’t need, scaring them off in the process. You also don’t want to quote too low by giving the patient the cost of a simple exam. If you do that, you may get the patient to come in, but when additional treatment is needed and the fees end up being more than you quoted, I doubt you’ll get that patient to return. As a rule, it’s better to avoid quoting prices to price shoppers.

Instead, emphasize the quality of the practice and the concern the dentist would have over the condition of the patient’s mouth. Reassure patients that they made the right decision in calling you and that the doctor will definitely want to take a look at what’s going on in their mouths. However, without coming in, there’s no way for you to offer them a fully accurate price quote. I suggest offer them a free initial exam and making absolutely sure they understand that you’ll go over the cost of any treatment with them before you get started.

The best strategy to win over shoppers is explaining why the dentistry you offer is the best for the price in an inviting, non-threatening manner. Give them a reason to choose your practice other than low prices while also making it clear that they will never feel trapped or pressured when it comes to the cost of treatment. If you can reassure price shoppers that it’s not financially scary for them to come in and be seen, don’t be surprised when they decide they’re done shopping and are ready to make an investment in what you have to offer.