A website, telephone number, and email address are no longer enough to capture leads. The pandemic has shifted consumer communication styles, making it imperative to offer them the means to communicate with you virtually and on their schedule.

By Leon Klempner, DDS and Amy Epstein, MBA

We can come out of this pandemic changed and ready to tackle the future as we tap into what we have learned over the last year.

Even before we had to adapt to the new way of doing business after Covid-19 struck in 2020, the patient experience had already begun evolving. As a matter of fact, the pandemic only expedited the process of change, rocketing communication and the burden of legitimizing your practice (through trust-building and education) into the digital realm.

Most practices at a minimum have a website. That web page along with a telephone number and email address just aren’t enough anymore. You have to be communicating on multiple channels all at once and capturing leads through those channels in a smart way that funnels qualified patients right to your front desk. Do not continue to rely on outdated modes of communication, especially now that consumers have had months to get used to the ease and speed at which businesses can communicate with them virtually, and on their schedules.

Facebook and Instagram Are Not Enough

A report published by the U.S. Small Business Administration says that small companies spend 7-8% of total revenue on marketing. For a practice bringing in $1 million a year in revenue that translates to $70,000 a year in marketing spend. It’s no longer adequate to simply have a Facebook or Instagram page and appoint a staff member to post occasionally thinking you are realistically marketing your practice to the right audience.

Digital Marketing Checklist

Any digital marketing checklist of the essential components of a comprehensive digital marketing campaign designed for maximum return on investment includes:

  • a lead generation funnel,
  • an optimized website that converts visitors into patients via a good call-to-action,
  • a reputation management system that will help you control what is said about you online,
  • a complete and up-to-date Google Business listing,
  • paid advertising on Google as well as social media platforms,
  • and a content campaign that educates and builds trust in potential clients.

An effective marketing funnel will nurture potential patients through multiple online channels and direct them to your website to engage with a representative of your team for a consultation through one of the many patient acquisition programs available. And your website cannot be a static calling card. It needs to work hand in hand with your marketing program to easily convert patients. Nowadays, people do not take the time or energy to engage with a phone call or a web form, then wait in a parking lot to come into your office for a consultation just to find out if they are an aligner candidate. You must have the research available on the website for next generation patients to figure out what you offer.

Consumers Don’t Just Want Straight Teeth; They Want to Feel Like You Care

Recent studies support this. About half of consumers believe that companies must transform how they engage with them and almost 70% place their experience with a company on par with the services it provides, meaning a patient is not just going to choose your practice because you will give them braces to straighten their teeth. They also want to feel like you care about them and that you respect their lifestyle, which can vary from alternative to hectic.

Today, the patient experience rarely, if ever, begins in-office (and again Covid made the in-person experience a rarer thing, only done when necessary). Packed waiting rooms with a mix of patients and new cases waiting to be seen during your practice’s limited hours of business are a thing of the past. Tools to perform virtual consultations, digital treatment monitoring, and communication through HIPAA-compliant text messages are being used by orthodontists nationwide right now, and not just to limit the number of people in the office at one time. These tools are being put in place permanently because patients see them as convenient. They have adapted to a new world. So should you.

The 5-Minute Window to Capture a New Patient

Response time is also highly valued by consumers and unfortunately, time is not on your side. Studies show that the ideal timeframe to respond to an inquiry is 5 minutes. After the first 5 minutes, the odds of capturing a new patient drops by 80% after they send you an inquiry. That’s right, an hour is too long, and a day is an eternity. You must have lightning-fast reflexes in the digital marketing game and you need to be actively monitoring inbound communications on every platform. Automation processes built into your marketing platform can also help you capture potential patients quickly. And don’t forget to add a number that is textable to your online business listings (including Google Business), on your social media accounts, and your website. Some studies have shown that texting a customer within 5 minutes is 21 times more effective in conversion than calling after 30 minutes.

Buying Decisions are Made Without Face-to-Face Contact

If you worry about taking the personal touch out of your patient conversion process, don’t. Even pre-Covid, 60% of buying decisions were made before a consumer spoke with an actual human. That percentage has probably only grown higher as we seek ways to avoid face-to-face contact and work on our own schedules, often not the same times your front desk is in the office.

We are not suggesting that by doing all this you can replace in-office visits and go full-on virtual, but the next generation is already using online tools to get answers they want; they might as well get them from you on channels you own. What we propose is a patient acquisition strategy and a chance to provide the next generation a way to minimize what they perceive as wasteful visits to the office before they are ready to buy. What we are not doing is replacing the most important parts of the consultation process, the taking of diagnostic records and discussing the best treatment planning options. That said, adoption of digital has accelerated exponentially since Covid forced us to rethink how we engage with patients and that is not going away, ever. OP

Leon Klempner, DDS and Amy Epstein, MBA are co-founders of People & Practice, a digital marketing consultancy exclusively for orthodontists. They also host The Survival Guide for Orthodontists, a podcast dedicated to making you the authority in orthodontics to prospective new patients in your community. People & Practice builds trust in your practice online to help you get new patients in a digital era by convincing them (before even meeting you) that you’re the practice to choose. For more information or a free marketing analysis call 888-866-DOCS or email [email protected].