Entire industries are being forced to rewrite their roadmaps as COVID-19 places colossal potholes in business strategies. Clinicians are being tasked with reimagining their capabilities without knowing what the post-coronavirus economy will even look like. Dentists may be feeling like Indiana Jones, standing on the edge of a precipice with an invisible bridge between them and their goal.
Staying connected to your patients during the lockdown can be the invisible bridge to reopening your practice in a successful manner. Communication gurus Steve Anderson from the Crown Council and Blake Hadley from My Social Practice are continually interacting with practices; and have noticed some common communication errors practices are making while navigating through the pandemic:
Not Answering the Phone or Saying “Closed”
The overwhelming message across the country is the dentist is closed. Patients seeking care are calling a long list of practices or even going to emergency rooms for treatment. Anderson recommends having someone available to answer all incoming calls during regular business hours to let patients know you’re available for emergencies. “You are not closed. You may be on a modified schedule, but you are not closed,” he says. “You have a legal, moral, and ethical responsibility to take care of those patients, and you’re available to them, so you’re not closed.” Anderson recommends eliminating the word “closed” and shifting to “modified schedule.”
“You are not closed. You may be on a modified schedule, but you are not closed.”
Try calling your own practice to see how your call is fielded. Was someone available? Did you get sent to voicemail? Did you get the information a patient would want?
Thinking of “Distance” Instead of “Relationships”
“All people want to know right now is that they can connect, and they can talk to you. Show them that you’re there for them,” Anderson says.
“One of the best things we’ve seen dentists doing right now is just turning on their front facing camera and just talk to their patients. Just show you’re available, that you care, that you relate with them and what’s going on right now.” Hadley says it doesn’t matter where these videos are from—home, office, backyard, it’s all the same. “Just talk to your patients. People like this type of video. I think sometime dentists think that everything has to be completely polished and the lighting has to be right before they get on video. But if you really want authenticity, just turn around your camera and talk. Just talk to your patients.”
Going Wide Instead of Narrow
The situation around COVID-19 is evolving by the day. Messaging keeps changing; and being as concise as possible can help your practice navigate the shifting conversation surrounding this pandemic.
“Don’t be alarmist, because the public is on information overload with this pandemic as-is,” Anderson says. While sharing specific protocols with a patient prior to the visit can be beneficial, he says putting every last protocol on your website can be intimidating for patients.
All quotes from Anderson and Hadley originated from the above conversation with Ultradent's Hartley Lojik. Check out their examples of suggested messaging in the video.
“You don’t need a coronavirus update on your website,” Anderson says simple messaging should win out right now and the overall message needed during this pandemic is a straightforward “We’re here.”
Sharing the Wrong Message
In a time when relationships matter more than ever, Anderson cautions against bulk emails/texts, in favor of personal phone calls. “Let them know you’ll be back with them when you’re on a more predictable schedule. The wording we’re preferring is ’predictable schedule,’ not ’normal.’ Who knows when normal is going to be?” Anderson says to consider avoiding rescheduling patients until you know what your predictable schedule will be—the fluid situation surrounding state-to-state lockdowns means you could end up rescheduling a patient two or three times before you can finally see them. “Keep the message simple. Warm, caring, and competent.”
Sharing the Wrong Voicemail Message
Connection is key when it comes to your voicemail message. Anderson says patients want other options to connect with you when they aren’t able to connect via your phone. Include a line in your voicemail telling patients to message you on social media, provide a number to text, or an email address could all work—they might not be the ideal forms of communication, but they’re better than nothing. Calling patients back in a timely manner is increasingly crucial during a pandemic.
Not Using Social Media
As people sit at home in record numbers, they’re flooding to social media to pass the time. Missing out on this wave of potential clicks could mean losing out on potential patients in the future. “Keep posting as much as you can. Whether it’s two, three times a week. We recommend three times a week if you can,” says Hadley, adding “Your videos don’t need to be polished; and showing your personal life typically resonates with your audiences. It’s OK to show what you’re doing with your family while you’re sitting on the couch. It’s ok to show that you’re watching webinars, that you’re getting CE credit, that you’re learning how to be a better dentist for your patients when you return.” Showing how you’re changing the practice to adapt to the times can also strike a chord with patients. This could be new equipment, a few new hygiene protocols, or any other changes that showcase your efforts to better your practice.
“Keep posting as much as you can. Whether it’s two, three times a week. We recommend three times a week if you can,”
Consistent posting is always important to growing a social media audience; and during this pandemic it also shows patients that someone is monitoring your accounts and is available to talk.