On several occasions recently, I have heard practice owners describe the financial performance of their business in 2010 as like “falling off a cliff”. At Breathe Business, our coaches report that in 2010, after a difficult summer, many practices saw an uplift in sales during October and November, only to see their appointment books laid waste by the bad weather in December.
This week, some of The Breathe Team have been analysing data on a number of private practices, comparing their individual turnover and profit in 2010 to that in 2009.
The results are disappointing (for the owners) but not unexpected.
Average fall in turnover, 12%
Average fall in profit, 37%
The owners of these practices know they have to do something radical, and quickly, if they are to turn their situation around. They will need effective marketing tactics together with a seamless lead conversion and sales process for both new and existing clients in order to improve their businesses.
However, for most of the Breathe clients the performance of their practices makes for much better reading. They have either maintained their gross fees year on year during 2010, or they increased their gross fees last year and they are maintaining this in early 2011.
For practices that have the skills and support to do this, I recommend that the owners, Keep Calm And Carry On! (This message was on a poster produced by the British Government at the outbreak of World War 2 in 1939. It was intended to raise the morale of the British public under the threat of impending invasion.)
For everybody else, I have distilled the characteristics below of the practices we work with which continue to do well, despite the gloomy prognostications of politicians and the press.
Here are Breathe Business’s Top 10 Strategies for maintaining and growing your private practice during difficult times.
1. Provide exceptional client service. (Have your team look for reasons to go the extra mile.)
The Radisson Hotel Group’s core service philosophy is, “Yes I Can” and the Radisson team’s lapel badges bearing this message leave their clients in no doubt that nothing will be too much trouble for their guests. That’s exactly the same attitude your clients want from you and your team. You are aiming for your team to over-deliver and exceed your clients’ expectations, surprising them with the amount of care you are willing to provide. The days of the grumpy, bored, texting support team are over!
2. Look after your existing clients as if they were old friends.
It’s very common for new patients to get more attention from you and your team than clients you have known for a long time. Best described by the phrase; “better in the courtship than the marriage!” Now is the time to find a moment to say a heartfelt thank you to your existing clients for their continuing support and loyalty.
3. Add to the value of your services.
Politicians and the press are constantly reminding us that we are living through a time of austerity. The effect on all of us is to reign in our spending and to check on the value of all that we buy. Your clients will want to feel confident that your fees are appropriate for the services they receive and, in our current economic climate, they will be more willing to compare your fees to those of your competition and other service providers. They will make judgments about things they understand such as: How long they spent with the dentist for their check up, how long they were kept waiting and the quality of their experience with your reception team.
4. Provide longer, more convenient opening hours.
For many practices, particularly those in cities, the days of opening from 0900-1730, with an hour closed for lunch, are long gone. This 1980’s way of providing dentistry, with a customary half day closing every week, may suit you and your team, but it no longer suits many of your busy clients. We are all busy now and taking time off during the day to go to the dentist is a luxury less and less people can afford. If you don’t provide a choice of out of office hours appointments, you can bet your competitors will.
5. Be passionate about what you provide.
The fastest way to prejudice your reputation for excellent customer service is for you or any of your team to appear ambivalent. All of you are on stage at all times and regardless of how any of you feel, you have to put on a great show. Passion is attractive and infectious. Your clients want to be around and buy from a team who love what they do.
6. Make it an absolute rule that your client experience is always comfortable and never painful.
Be clear about this, it’s not negotiable. Fear of pain is the number one reason people stay away from dental practices, so make sure that everyone on your team reassures your clients all the time. This is truly the “elephant in the room” conversation and so don’t avoid it! You must be 100% confident that no one on your clinical team ever hurts any of your clients. If you have a hygienist, associate or even a nurse who you suspect is clumsy when handling patients, they have to stop or leave. Have everyone on your team do everything in their power to make the clients’ experience at your practice comfortable.
7. Make it really easy for your clients to pay!
Just as high street retailers provide many ways for their customers to pay for their goods, so must you. Offer: Interest free credit, interest bearing credit, discounts for upfront payments (yes, your fees will have to take the hit) and simple, structured deposits and pay as you go options. Be completely transparent in your pricing.
8. Offer a wide range of services, even if they are not all provided under your roof!
Now the internet has democratised information, your clients have some strong opinions about what they want. Don’t restrict your treatment menus to what you and your team can supply, be prepared to refer to trusted colleagues for services that you don’t (yet) provide.
9. Have The Best Membership Scheme.
Create a compelling Membership Scheme with significant advantages for your patients when they join. Such a scheme will clearly reward their loyalty and fill your hygiene diaries.
10. Implement all of these tactics!
Many practice owners pay lip service to some or all of these tactics. However, they hold back from implementing all of them, often waiting to see what everyone else on their patch will do. So, you may find there is a window of opportunity for you to lead rather than follow. Become an early adopter rather than a follower.
Taken separately, these tactics constitute small changes. Implemented together, they may constitute a revolution in the way you do business and they will help future proof your practice.
Simon Hocken Director of Coaching, Breathe Business
For more guidance on running a successful practice, contact the Breathe team on 0845 299 7209 or firstname.lastname@example.org