When patients shop around for a new dentist, they tend to look for credentials, accolades, and longevity. Nashua, N.H.-based dentist Stephen Ura has all of the above: He’s maintained a private practice, the Center for Dental Excellence, for more than 20 years; he holds a Mastership award from the Academy of General Dentistry; and he’s been named “Best Dentist” by New Hampshire Magazine multiple times.
When Ura is looking for new patients, however, he counts on word-of-mouth referrals. His best leads, he says, come from existing clientele. “The relationship between the dentist and the client is very close. There needs to be a mutual comfort level, and the client must have the needed trust and confidence,” he explains. “When our own clients refer their friends and family to us, these people come to us having an increased level of comfort rather than finding us in the phone book or online.”
Of course, customers generally don’t spread the word unless a business impresses them. One thing you notice as soon as you walk into The Center for Dental Excellence is the staff’s pleasant, yet professional attitude. That’s no accident: Ura built his team from the ground up with an eye toward pleasing people. After meeting with a consultant who told him that companies like Disney and The Ritz-Carlton maintain a constant level of service due to a defined corporate culture, Ura and his wife, Suzanne, decided to apply the same techniques to their smaller operation.
The core tenet of The Center for Dental Excellence’s corporate culture is a healthy mind-set. The practice sees no clients on Fridays, partly to allow the staff to continue their education. Ura believes it’s also important take time off to recharge your mental and physical batteries.
He also calls his customers “clients,” not “patients.” Patients are sick people who doctors help to get better, he explains, whereas the client is an ongoing relationship.
“We work to hire people who fit our vision of the desired corporate culture,” Ura says. “Once it is there, it is much easier to keep, since if someone new comes in and doesn’t fit the culture, it is quickly evident.”
To continue improving its service, the Center for Dental Excellence uses follow-up surveys (which include a gentle request for referrals). Ura shows his appreciation to clients who refer new customers by sending them a thank-you note, which often contain some sort of gift card. The Center for Dental Excellence prominently displays client testimonials on its website, and Ura hopes to expand his Facebook activity in 2012. Ura credits his online presence and small traditional media advertising campaign to increasing referral rates.
“We found we needed to use external advertising to let our existing clients know we are still taking new clients,” he says. “We had heard in the past that people thought we were busy and therefore not taking any more new clients.”
Ura’s techniques have proved effective: 50 to 75 percent of the practice’s new clients schedule an appointment at the urging of a smiling friend.