5 Practice Experts on Retaining New Dental Patients

In this insights-packed post, we chat with five experts on how dental practices can deliver a dazzling experience to retain new dental patients.

Researching ways to retain new dental patients isn't the rosiest of projects. You’ll find stats that highlight how big a challenge attrition can be, like “An average dental practice loses more than 20% of their patients.” You may even come across downright depressing proclamations regarding patient loyalty, like “The day a new patient books an appointment is the beginning of the end.

But who says all the doom and gloom is 100% fact and fate? Can’t super-creative, ultra-committed teams like yours do something to retain new dental patients and chop down that attrition rate? Absolutely!

We know so — and so do five leading practice-management experts that we interviewed about the topic:

We interviewed these growth gurus, asking them not only for easy-to-start tips, but also nuggets of wisdom that can transform your entire team’s mindset about retaining new patients!

Below is a transcript of our interviews, which we edited for clarity and brevity —  enjoy!

With retention being hard these days, do dental practices need to "wow" a new dental patient before they ever see the doctor?

Gene St. Louis: A patient’s first impression all starts with their very first interaction with the practice. That first impression sets the tone for the entire relationship. It establishes expectations, and it is the best opportunity to influence future behavior.

Genevieve Poppe: One of the most important aspects to setting the stage with new patients is connecting with them during the first interaction. (And there is a big difference between being polite and building a real connection.) For example, during a phone call, the team can use open-ended questions early in the conversation. Many new patient calls involve only a series of yes-no questions and information gathering. That can make your practice sound transactional. Giving patients the chance to feel heard and understood provides much greater value.

A patient’s first impression of the practice all starts with the very first interaction. And that first impression sets the tone for the entire relationship.
Gene St. Louis

Deana Zost: The period before a new patient arrives to the dental practice is hugely important! During that stretch of time, the patient can change their mind (or have their mind changed) at any moment prior to coming in. A friend may recommend they use their doctor, or the new patient may even subconsciously look for a reason to delay the visit, perhaps due to fear. "Wowing" the patient before the appointment can help prevent that.

As the saying goes, you have only one chance to make a good first impression.
Janet Soda

Janet Soda: It's important to develop a relationship with the new patient from the start, and reassure them that they have selected the right office. For example, explaining how their insurance plan will work and what the out-of-pocket estimate is can reduce a lot of the barriers that keep patients from coming in.

Judy Kay Mausolf: Preparing to make a first and lasting impression is critical. Review the entire new patient appointment as a team, and look for anything that could make a patient feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. When making decisions regarding the new patient appointment, establish the practice processes on the best interests of the patient, the practice, and the team.

What type of experiences do new dental patients expect nowadays?

Gene St. Louis: Patients compare your office to every other office they have ever been at as a patient. Past experiences drive their expectations and feelings. So, your team has an opportunity to show them how your office is different from every other experience they have ever had in the past.

Genevieve Poppe: Sadly, patients have come to expect very little. The good news is, this gives us a great opportunity to differentiate with service before the first appointment. Imagine if you followed up the first conversation with a personal note when sending your new patient their welcome packet. Those small touches, the ones that make people feel like you "get them," really build patient loyalty.

For example, I once witnessed a dental team member including a recipe for beet pancakes with new patient paperwork. She had a conversation with a new patient about their mutual love for beets. Imagine the impact of this situation. Not only did she learn something unique about the caller, she demonstrated that she was listening and that she cared in one simple gesture. It was brilliant.

It is the small touches, the ones that make people feel like you "get them," that really build patient loyalty.
Genevieve Poppe

Deana Zost: In most of our profession, patients have low expectations. They may expect a busy, not-so-engaged office to greet them. Maybe the calls they made to find the right practice set the bar low. Perhaps the lack of online presence, especially social media, contributes to it. Or possibly medical care they've received creates a low expectation. But we will see the winds of change address this side of the new patient experience very soon — if it isn't already underway.

Janet Soda: Too often the first question the dental team asks is “Do you have insurance?” This really translates to “We are most concerned about how you will pay us.” But what new patients really want is rapport. I recommend finding out what the patient’s needs are prior to asking for transactional items, like their payment method.

We will see the winds of change address new patients' experiences with practices very soon — if it isn't already underway.
Deana Zost

Judy Kay Mausolf: We create expectations with touchpoints, like your website, social media, business card, and the initial call. Nowadays, these touchpoints must clearly and consistently reflect what a new patient can expect when they visit the practice. If you say your practice has high technology, then every aspect of your practice has to include high technology. Your patients will lose trust if they see inconsistency.

What are some best practices a practice can follow to meet those expectations?

Gene St. Louis: Having electronic forms on the website, as well as on a kiosk or tablet in the office, are ways to make the appointment more convenient. A tour of the office and a review the intake forms before doctor comes into the treatment room are also essentials.

Genevieve Poppe: I recommend keeping an eye on accommodating new patient appointments. If you can keep a new-patient wait to under two weeks, you are much more likely to retain them. Also, more generally, shifting the team's mindset on the importance of new patients' experience. Dental teams can easily get stuck in a "busy mindset." They can get hung up on the many steps involved in new patient setup. Unfortunately, without any intention to do so, they can rush the new patient's experience, and miss out on setting the stage for a long-term patient relationship.

Be realistic about what you can do consistently. Consistency is key in managing expectations
Judy Kay Mausolf

Deana Zost: Online forms! After our new patients came in and received an office tour, they always expressed how glad they were that they did not have to fill out paperwork (I had it automated through our website.) They'd say, “Wow, I wish my physician was like this!" I would also recommend a very culture-proud social media presence, and, honestly, just being plain nice to people.

Janet Soda: Three come to mind. First, discover what the patient needs or wants and what their past experience has been. Second, offer simple, convenient online registration to prevent appointment delays. Third, research their insurance plan prior to their visit. This makes talking with them about insurance easier, and it helps prevent appointment delays.

When our new patients saw they did not have to fill out paperwork manually, they'd say, “Wow, I wish my physician was like this!”Deana Zost

Judy Kay Mausolf: Manage expectations by always doing what you said you would. If your practice underpromises and overdelivers, you will always exceed new patients’ expectations. In other words, be realistic about what you can do consistently. Consistency is key in managing expectations. Establish as a team in a team meeting setting clear processes for the new patient experience to get everyone on the same page. Practice verbal skills, role playing, and the physical walkthrough to get the entire team confident to deliver.

Last question: What’s one special thing that a dental practice can do to stand out to new patients?

Gene St. Louis: A call after the patient is scheduled by someone from the team, like the treatment coordinator or dental assistant. When a team member calls to introduce themself and welcome the new patient to the practice, the patient knows that the team is excited to meet them and will be prepared for their appointment.

Genevieve Poppe: Big or small, practices are still grown one patient at a time, so consider investing in training for your phone. Investing in phone skills goes beyond lead conversion. A team that is trained to connect and express genuine interest in each caller is impacting the practice in a much more significant way.

Big or small, practices are still grown one patient at a time.
Genevieve Poppe

Deana Zost:  A personal call from the doctor the day before! I call it the “I can't wait to meet you" call!

Janet Soda: Thank the patient for choosing your office, and assure them that they have chosen the right office and that their care is your top priority.

Judy Kay Mausolf: When the doctor calls the new patient before their appointment to tell them they are looking forward to meeting them.

Now Go Dazzle!

That was a ton of useful tips and inspiring philosophies! To recap, here are some of the takeaways distilled from our interviews with the practice experts:

  • Prioritize relationship-building with new patients over collecting information, initially
  • Use open-ended questions to build rapport
  • Establish processes to deliver an unforgettable welcome to new patients
  • Manage expectations by always doing what you said you would
  • Be realistic about what you can do consistently
  • Add personal touches (like the beet recipe) as often as possible
  • Offer convenience, like online forms, whenever possible
  • Get new patients in the office in two weeks or less
  • Have a team member, especially the doctor, call the new patient before the appointment

For more practical tips, check out 11 Simple Ways to Dazzle New Dental Patients. This free guide breaks down 11 practical ideas that will leave a lasting impression on new patients so they make your practice their practice for good!

For each idea, you'll find a brief summary of how to complete it and what you'll need to do it. Get your copy today!

Learn more about how RevenueWell improves case acceptance and creates more close-knit relationships between dentists and their patients.