Near the end of every year, I get a lot of calls about patient reactivation. Last month was definitely not an exception. Everyone wants to know what they should do, how to do it, and what to say. First of all, reactivation may be one of the most difficult systems to implement while at the same time being the most important. Take a moment and think through each of these questions. If you think about it, your first marketing dollar should be spent on getting and keeping your current patients happy and showing up, not on some new mailing or web site strategy.
• Why do I get these calls at the end of the year?
For most of the doctors I speak with, they just realized that this past year was no better than the year before, and the year before really sucked. So, through desperation they grasp at what they hope will turn a lackluster performance into a winning year, and it won’t. As a note, reactivation should be done year round as a “drip” campaign to continually bring everyone possible back into the flock. Wouldn’t it be pretty stupid for a dairy farmer to go hunting for his lost cows just once a year? I know from living on a farm that I have to monitor my livestock every day. If I don’t they could wander off, be stolen, be injured, or die by the work of predators in the area. It’s my job as the owner to make sure that this doesn’t happen. It’s your job as the dentist and owner of your business to do the same thing. This is not a once a year strategy but an everyday system of garnering feedback and reactivating every patient that you can.
• Will you appear needy, or will you turn this into an opportunity to learn and grow your practice?
The trouble with reactivation is that it usually falls to the new hire who has the least ability, and poorest idea of what they are trying to accomplish. Your goal should be to find out why they fell off the recall and see how you can help them get back on. This may be the one time that you have to patch up a botched relationship and mend fences. Far too often it ends up making you look needy and confirming the patient’s already poor opinion of you and the office. You have to end up looking concerned and compassionate while providing a “needed service” that they “want”. What happens most of the time is that you come off looking like it’s only about the money, not about the patient’s health.
• Why do patients fall off of recall and need to be reactivated?
1. Your systems were so poor that they never got on the recall system following an emergency or treatment visit. Every patient should be directed to hygiene follow up visits to maintain their health. Poor systems create a black hole that allows patients to disappear into your computer innards or chart rack never to be heard from again.
2. The patients don’t like you. Patients are talking, and if you consistently see the back of their heads while they head down the street for a second opinion, then you are missing the fact that they are saying they don’t like you or your office. Again, systems can mitigate staffing and doctor problems. Systems are the heart of every successful practice I know. Knowing that if you are not growing you are not meeting your patient’s needs is a no brainer. Once you plateau, it is time to move it up a notch in services and systems. The common method of reactivation will only be an interruption in their busy day making the contact offensive and intrusive.
3. They forgot. It happens, patients forget to make the appointment and they disappear and don’t surface for a couple of years. Reactivation definitely works here.
4. They can’t afford you. You fail in bundling your fees, or you try to sell everyone you know on sleep apnea or some other course you just took in order to compensate for running off most of your patients. It’s the old hammer and nail strategy to business growth. True consumerism is giving the patient what they want, when they want it, at a price they can afford.
Most offices start the reactivation process by calling a group of patients that have not been in for a couple of years. My suggestion is to take anyone who hasn’t been in for 6 months or so. Start with the low hanging fruit and work back from there. It will be a smaller sampling and these people will be more likely to have just forgotten to schedule a visit.
The second suggestion I will make is to not call them first. Sure, there is some office out there with the super star front desk that can pull this off, but most likely you will just alienate the patient while looking needy. I would draft a reactivation letter and send it first, and then follow it up with a call with a particular script I will give you. In crafting this letter, you will need to consider several things:
1. The letter should not be obvious that it is from a dentist. Put your return address but not your name. Patients are more likely to open a letter that looks personal rather than a business/marketing piece.
2. The more personal the letter looks the more likely it will be opened. Make it look like an invitation or hand-write “personal” on the outside. Letters that are hand addressed with a first class stamp will get opened before any other type of letter.
3. Be sure to type (or have printed): “Address Correction Requested” just under where you place the stamp. The post office will be required to return the letter with the corrected address. They will charge you about what a first class stamp will cost. In this way, you are creating an up to date database with current addresses. What good does it do to send anything through the mail if it never arrives to the party it was addressed to? You could in some instances be sending reactivation and monthly statements to a phantom address and the patient never receives it.
4. Lumpy envelopes get opened before a flat ones do. Put a magnet or piece of sugar free gum, something that will pique their curiosity to explore further.
5. Craft the message to fit one page or less. If you need help just email me and I will send you a copy of ours.
6. The patients will always read the first line and also any PS you place in the letter so you have to make them count.
7. Make an obscene offer. Keep in mind that this letter is supposed to compensate for something you have done wrong, the patients inability to fit your services into their budget, and to reclaim those patients who through your poor systems or their not valuing your services to come back home. You want them to act and act now. It is called “direct response marketing”. Think of a “cleaning, exam, x-rays, and consultation” for $59.00. It has to be so “obscene” that everyone is thinking that they couldn’t afford not to take advantage of this even if they don’t like you.
8. Follow the letter up in about a week to 10 days with a call. Now you are just checking to make sure they received the letter. The script would be: “Hello Mrs. Jones, this is Kathy at Dr. Abernathy’s office. I was just calling to see if you received the letter we sent 5 days ago.” Make sure if they bite, that you don’t forget to ask if anyone else in the family would like to take advantage of this offer.
9. Only send out a few letters each day. In this way you will eliminate getting too many calls at once that could overload the front desk. In addition, it will allow the follow up calls to be done a few each day. That means that it might take several months to go through your complete list.
10. Capacity. You MUST have cleaning appointments available within 5 to 10 days during peak demand times (7-9am, 3-5pm, and Saturdays) for this to work. If you don’t have these peak demand times available in hygiene, none of your marketing will work.
11. Finally and most importantly, understand that if they do come back, make sure that you listen, and try and give the patients what they want, not what you want. Your goal in life, when it comes to giving patients what they want, is for every patient to show up, pay for their treatment, and refer everyone they know. If you’re not getting this, you and your systems are broken. We can fix them. Just give us a call.
Michael Abernathy, DDS