Building up your client base

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building your client base
Photo: yacobchuk 123rf

The first step towards building a community of clients involves building trust. But how do you do that with people who don’t already know you? Daniel Warren investigates

Some dentists assume that process involves opening a surgery and waiting for people to walk in the door. Those dentists will get fewer patients than the ones who realise that a patient has to get to know you, then get to trust you, before they ever book an appointment.

“Going to the dentist isn’t the same as popping into a shop to buy groceries,” says Mark Brown of content agency Engage Content. “A potential patient has to know and trust you if they’re going to let you play around in their mouth with lots of scary looking metallic instruments.”

The process you go through to build up that trust before they ever get to the chair involves showing them who you are, why you can and should be trusted, and how they can easily book an appointment.

A reasonable assumption is you should just start with clients who know you already. But how many people do you know? The answer is about 150. That’s Dunbar’s number—first proposed by anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who said that, based on our brain size, that’s the maximum number of people we can maintain a stable relationship with.

“It’s not enough people to sustain a normal dental practice,” says Brown. “You have to know more—or more people have to know you.”

Pleased to meet you, hope you guessed my name

To reach a larger community, Brown says, you’ve first got to figure out who is in that community. You can define your community by location (people who live in your suburb), or by age and gender, or by interests.

For example, you might say you want to talk to 35-year-old women with families. That is a profile of someone who would have an influence over a number of other potential patients (their children, their spouses, and their social networks). So if that’s your target market, now you have to figure out how to meet them.

“There’s two ways you get to know someone—talking to them, and listening to them,” says Brown. “If you only do one of those, you’re not going to succeed. For example, you might offer a cosmetic service which you really love. But if your potential patients aren’t interested in aesthetic dentistry, it’s hard to establish a relationship with them. Because every time you advertise your cosmetic services, they’ll ignore you.”

Once you know the interests of your potential clients, you have to let them get to know you. This is what you use social media, and your website, for. 

Going to the dentist isn’t the same as popping into a shop to buy groceries. A potential patient has to know and trust you if they’re going to let you play around in their mouth with lots of scary looking metallic instruments. 

Mark Brown, Engage Content

A Facebook or Instagram page, and a blog on your website, gives you the opportunity to spread good health information to a group of people so they can start to know you.

“This is the first step in relationship building,” says Brown. “You offer something to them. Once these people see you have something intelligent to say and something worthwhile to offer them, you have started to build a relationship. The way to stuff that up is to immediately try to sell them something.”

Knowing me, knowing you

As an oral health professional, you have something really worthwhile to offer people that will genuinely enhance and improve their lives. You have expertise. You have studied for a long time to know what you do.

“But potential clients don’t know that. They don’t know you’re an expert,” says Brown. “And trust is a big issue for evaluating any healthcare provider. As it should be. You don’t gain people’s trust by hanging your degree on the wall. You don’t gain it by telling them you know everything, and they don’t have to worry. You show them.”

Brown advises you write a blog on your website about things your clients want to know. Tell them their options for different treatments. Explain what you’re doing when you poke around someone’s mouth with a scary-looking instrument. Send them a newsletter once every month where, among other details, you give them a link to an article you’ve done, or a video, just giving them some solid, general information about oral health.

Too much information

A standard concern dentists have about communicating with clients is spamming. It’s a valid concern, Brown adds. You don’t want to send messages to people who don’t want to hear from you.

“To build a relationship with a patient, it has to be two-sided,” he adds. “They have to want to hear from you. If they really hate the idea of getting a newsletter from you, and they tell you, that’s actually great—it means you can stop sending it to them, and save you (and them) the stress of hearing from you. Those patients will make up their own minds if and when they want to come in. So let them.

“But for everyone else, you are building up their trust in you. By maintaining a regular point of contact, you will sometimes jolt them into action when they may have otherwise forgotten. Just the fact that you are trying to maintain contact builds your relationship, and their trust.”

Just because someone knows, likes and trusts you doesn’t mean they are going to pick up the phone tomorrow and make an appointment. There are a number of factors that will make that happen. It might be a dental emergency, or a desire to look good for a special occasion, or a conversation with a friend.

Whatever the case, they are far more likely to make an appointment with you if you have built that relationship with them. You increase the chance of that happening if you are regularly showing them that you know your stuff. They are less likely to do that if you’re not on their radar.  

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