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Increasing Patient Loyalty So Your Dental Practice Can Survive and Grow

By Heartland Dental

Three Ways To Increase Patient Loyalty

Of all the things that can make or break a dental practice, having a roster of loyal returning patients is perhaps the most critical thing for maintaining profitability. Patient loyalty is a general term for your patients’ willingness to visit your practice again and again, and to refer others. It is the main factor in patient retention, which itself is a crucial part of dental practice marketing.

The challenge is that patient loyalty, for a dental practice, requires much more than a good chair-side manner or a reminder that shows up in the mail every six months (though those are important, too). Patient loyalty is earned when a practice shows that it cares about its patients, listens to them, and demonstrates through its actions that they are worth the time and effort.

At Heartland Dental, we're proud to help doctors and dental practices all across the country grow their practice through administrative, financial, marketing, and other forms of business support. As the nation's largest dental support organization, we've picked up a few tricks in how to make a practice more effective—including how to increase patient loyalty. From our own experience, here are three effective ways to build loyalty with your patients.

Staying Top-of-Mind with Email Marketing

When done well, email marketing is a powerful tool to keep patients engaged and build loyalty. According to email marketing firm OptinMonster, over 90% of adults ages 25-64 use email on a daily basis; for 58% of those adults, email is their first “check” of the day, even before social media or search engines. It is also a marketing channel with one of the highest ROIs.

The trick comes with that first phrase, when done well. Many dental offices do not follow best practices when developing email blasts or newsletters. This can be counter-productive if the emails get marked as spam by recipients.

The key to effective dental office email marketing is to provide value in every email. If a patient chooses to open and read an email from your practice, that's time they're taking out of their schedule to connect with your brand—so you'd better make it worthwhile! To maximize effectiveness, try including things like:

  • Special offers from your practice
  • Links to interesting articles or stories relating to diet or dental health
  • Reminders about good oral health practices
  • Details on a “refer a friend” program
  • Any community involvement or charitable work your practice has done

One thing you should not do: Do not give out advice that could come off as patronizing. Teaching someone how to care for their body while they are in the chair for an exam or procedure is one thing. Communicating in writing to a wide audience is another. Email might not carry the right tone or context for your advice. (And if you feel you have to give advice, make it friendly, but treat your patients like adults.)

Make the format of your dental practice emails “skim friendly.” As for the format, remember: Short and sweet is ideal. Patients will likely not spend more than a minute going through your email blast or newsletter—in fact, they will most likely skim it. So make it super-clear what they will learn, and what next steps they should take. You should also make sure that your email service provider is HIPAA compliant, as patient names are considered protected health information (PHI).

Don’t forget to respond, too! Even if you send out an email blast or newsletter to a large group of patients, some number of them might respond to that email. Some patients might have questions, or may simply be prompted to set their next appointment. You should assign someone in the office to “man the inbox” so that these patient responses can be handled as quickly as possible. This, more than any other tricks of dental practice marketing, will make patients feel heard and cared about.


Engaging Dental Patients Through Social Media 

Social media is vital to any modern business, and it's also an incredibly powerful tool for building loyalty with your patients. Social media can be a great publicity tool for practices, too. While it’s true that 35% of American customers will post negative comments about companies on social media, according to the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer, close to 53% of American customers will post positive comments about companies. That’s a lot of free publicity for your practice.

For social media marketing, engagement is the name of the game: 

The first part of engagement has to do with content. You want to share, or even create, compelling posts that people are eager to like and share. So take some time to think about your customers. What do they like? What kinds of information do they share? What do they talk about when they are in the chair? What sorts of issues matter to them? Once you know your patients, you can find or create content tailored to them.

The second part of social media has to do with customer service. Once you have established your practice’s social media assets (its Facebook page, example), make sure that you have provided accurate contact information. Then monitor the channel so that you can address any incoming patient messages. Remember, roughly a third of Americans would rather contact a company via social media than by phone, and 71% of consumers say that they are likely to recommend a brand or a business when they’ve had a good social media experience.

While organic engagement is ideal—that is, growing your audience slowly and naturally by interacting with them—it is also a slow process. With larger social media networks like Facebook, it can be effective to run small paid campaigns to boost engagement and raise awareness for your dental practice. 


Rewarding Patient Loyalty While Incentivizing Referrals

For many dentists, referrals are one of the most important sources of new patients—and you can increase your referral rate by providing an incentive. Incentives come in many forms and sizes, but the general idea is to give a little "thank you" and a bonus to current patients who bring in new patients. Some ideas for incentives include:

  • A discount on their next cleaning (or even a free cleaning)
  • Another free or discounted service (for example, teeth whitening)
  • A small gift card to a local shop or restaurant
  • A small gift card to a popular chain in your area (for example, Starbucks)

There can even be incentives for patients recommending themselves! This, in essence, is what a new patient offer or deal is: A discount on services for new patients to encourage them to come in the door.

Some dentists work the incentive both ways: They will have a refer-a-friend program where both the referrer (the existing patient) and the referred (new patient) get a discount. If you do this, tell your patients—when they know that both they and their friends and family are getting a deal, it’s a huge incentive.

Rewarding patients in this way not only helps bring in more new patients, it also creates gratitude in the patients you reward and increases patient loyalty.


Contact Your Dental Support Organization

For many dentists, marketing their dental practice can feel like a hassle—and we totally understand that. Unless you're truly passionate about social media marketing, or doing personal research on your clientele, chances are you'd rather just focus on treating your patients. 

At Heartland Dental, we’ve researched best practices for dental practice marketing and patient retention so that you don’t have to be the expert. And as the nation's largest dental support organization, we can provide support in administration, finance, HR, marketing, IT, and a variety of other areas, helping make your practice run smoother and grow faster, and letting you get back to what you really love: practicing dentistry. Feel free to learn more about what we do, and if you're interested, you can find out more about affiliating with Heartland Dental.


Tags: Dental Practice Management, Heartland Dental, Increase Patient Loyalty