What’s the best way to grow your dental practice? Personal referrals coming from within are most ideal. Internal marketing – gaining valuable referrals from current patient trumps all other methods because of the high trust factor people place in their friends. They trust recommendations based on personal experience. And that trust is transferred to you.
A patient gains trust in their dentist over time. This natural progression is influenced by their expectation of what they will experience plotted against their actual experience. If reality surpasses expectation, trust begins to flow. Think particularly of the phobic patient who gives you a detailed play-by-play picture of their fear and how you routinely, over time, coach them to be a relaxed, calm and loyal follower and dental missionary for your practice. It all comes from their developing trust.
Is there a blueprint for dentists to follow to ensure that the building blocks for trust are laid on a solid foundation? After 43 years of practice, 40,000 patients passing through our doors and working with 18 associate dentists, I enthusiastically say, “Yes!”
Trust is built on two pillars: 1) Character, and 2) Competence. This is what patients, and for that matter, your team and fellow dentists base their judgement. If we inspect the core components of character and competence, we discover four critical areas where you can positively influence a patient’s experience and expectations with actionable steps to build trust. Those four areas are your capability, results, intent and integrity.
Most think of competence as the ability to perform the dental tasks at hand like design perfect preps or carve nice anatomy, but it is far more involved than just what you, as the dentist, do chairside in the operatory. Certainly, capability must then be followed Building Blocks for Trust William B. Williams, DMD Power to Succeed up by actual results to demonstrate competence.
How can a dentist demonstrate capability, the first of the four keys to building trust? Acquiring skills begins the process with professional degrees (DDS or DMD) and certifications (specialty status, fellowships, masterships, diplomate status), hands-on workshops (laser participation courses), and advanced clinical training (Misch Implant Institute, LVI or Dawson Academy). Gaining knowledge by being a continual student, attending CE and reading books, articles, journals and viewing online blogs and videos will increase your capacity. Finally, the best teacher of all, experience, will propel you to your next level. Nothing can substitute for experience in helping a dentist learn to how to build trust with patients.
While these things build your capacity like a reservoir within you, the patient does not see or understand what these academic endeavors have created. They cannot read your mind nor understand the depth of your training just by looking at you. Therefore, as a dentist, you must communicate to them who you are, what you believe and your experience. You must clearly and consistently display and promote these facts to the public for them to be noticed and appreciated. This is the primary role of marketing and public relations in your practice: to bring the public’s level of recognition and knowledge about you to a sufficient level so that they feel they know and trust you before they even meet you.
We all know that actions speak louder than words. Similarly, results, the second key to building trust, mean more to patients than promises. Your academic credentials, education and experience may be important, but compared to results for the patient, not as much. People remember what you do, not what you say.
Reputation is the harbinger of results. If your reputation is good, it must be because your results have been good and your patients have been pleased in the past. The result will show up in your online reviews and in internal referrals accounting for at least 50 percent of your new patients.
Dentists, do you pass the “smell” test? Credibility is the ability to pass the small tests in the presence of the patient. Do you appear credible, is what you say credible and does your treatment approach seem credible? A patient must understand and believe in you to find you credible. If what you seem to be builds good will and is good for all concerned, you pass the “smell” test.
Finally, in regard to results, your performance must have created a positive outcome to warrant trust being maintained. Performance is the bottom line to everything. In the end, did the patient get what they came for and get what they needed? Is the smile beautiful; are the teeth comfortable and pain free? Did the treatment get delivered in a relatively painless manner? What we find is that patients value the end result far more than anything else. They buy what they feel they need and that need being fulfilled builds trust with each succeeding transaction.
Competence comes from having the skills, knowledge and experience to develop the reputation, credibility and ability to perform at a consistently high level and get excellent results.
Fortunately, it is relatively easy to display one’s reputation and build credibility these days. Online ratings, reviews, endorsements, testimonials, before and after photos, videos, books, articles, blog posts, and social media presence all contribute to your reputation and credibility foot print. Create a dynamic marketing action plan to use these to your best advantage in attracting and keeping patients in the practice. Make it happen today!
Locally, your participation in civic events, social programs, and service projects adds to the community’s perception of your reputation. The look and feel of your facility, both exterior and interior décor, its up-to-datedness, and cleanliness all matter. Crisp, neat team uniforms, professional telephone skills, and Ritz Carlton-level manners matter. It all matters. Dr. Paddy Lund calls it “the Critical Non-Essentials.” Doing the minor things right makes a major difference.
The third key to building trust is Integrity. Everyone assumes a dentist has integrity, as all professionals should. Breaking integrity down into its components — honesty, authenticity and fairness, sheds light on what patients expect and a dentist should endeavor to exhibit in all dealings with those patients.
Honesty is self-evident, a black and white issue with no room for compromise in any situation. Honesty means telling the truth, reporting the facts, and all the facts. One area where some practice management gurus fail is in the honesty area. They train the team to shade the truth about insurance just to get the patient in the door. Misleading patients is setting the stage for further bending of the rules by your team. It’s a slippery slope that does not have to be negotiated.
Fairness means playing on a level field, giving patients full disclosure, equal opportunity, clear options, and your best efforts. Judging people by their appearance, race, color, creed or credit score is not only unfair, it may be illegal. We choose to offer the best treatment to every patient and see what they say they want and can afford at that time. The best patients sometimes take years to achieve ideal oral health and their timeline may not be as rapid as we hope for them. When we are open, honest, fair, and offer them the best, they appreciate us as the dentist they can trust.
Authenticity as related to character and trust means you are who you say you are, you portray the real you to your patients, and you do not hide behind a mask. This area may be difficult for some dentists. Being oneself is always the best in the long run. Patients trust those who are real, who are consistent and who do what they say they will do.
Character consists of blending intent, the fourth key for results, with integrity. Intent focuses on your approach to a relationship. To have the most ideal doctorpatient relationship, one must be open, caring and transparent. Given these qualities, most dentists will be successful and trusted. In our practice and in our coaching dentists, we employ the New Patient Experience to show patients our openness by touring through the entire office with them, explaining the before and after photos and doctor’s certificates on the wall, while introducing them to each team member by name and how they serve our patients. We display our caring nature by highlighting our mission work overseas and locally with the Deserving Diva Makeovers. As we sit in the interview room, knee-to-knee, we are transparent with them about who we are and our background, and we attempt to find common ground to begin to build rapport and relationship.
Some will think all these character attributes come naturally or are just what people are born with. But it is not so. Truthfully, and thankfully, dentists can study and develop these positive traits along the way as they gain skills and experience. Interpersonal skills like caring, transparency and openness can be codified and established in your practice by implementing specific systems. Excellence at this level is possible and has been achieved by many practices desiring to evolve beyond average. As Omer Reed, DDS says, “If it’s been done, it’s probably possible.”
Dr. Bill Williams is a Master of the Academy of General Dentistry and the International College of Craniomandibular Orthopedics. He is a past president of the Georgia Academy of General Dentistry and traveled the USSR and Scandinavia on an AGD People To People Dental Tour in 1987.
Named the Small Business Person of the Year in 2005 by the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, he received the Ron Lamb Award from the Christian Dental Society as the Outstanding Missions Dentist in North America in 2007, having built and/ or worked in hospitals, mission outposts and clinics in Kenya, Tanzania, Haiti and Honduras. Dr. Williams has lectured at USDI, Myotronics, Bioresearch, Napili, Pentegra, The Advertising Dentist, the Misch Institute, A.A.I.D., A.A.O.S.H, and the A.G.D. as well as teaching in Japan, Italy, Canada and across the USA on TMJ, orthodontics, reconstruction, marketing and practice management.
Over his 43-year career as a dentist he has been the founder or one of the founders of the Stone Mountain Dental Group, the Atlanta Craniomandibular Society, TMJ Framework, the Solstice Research Group, Suwanee Dental Care, Web-Centric Dental Marketing and Design, Kenya Medical Outreach and Solstice Dental Advisors, the Deserving Diva Foundation, Solstice Dental Advisors and the Top Gun Dental Conferences. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Georgia School of Dentistry as well as the AAID Maxi-Course in Implant Dentistry and the Misch Implant Institute.