There’s an old Native American saying about not judging a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins. It’s also wise not to make assumptions about your business until you see your practice through your patients’ eyes.
That’s actually easier said than done. You can ask your patients their opinions about how you’re doing, but you may not always get accurate information. Why? Because patients may not tell you exactly what they think, even if they have a concern or complaint. They’re more likely to try to maintain a good relationship with you. So they try to be helpful and tell you what they think you WANT to hear, rather than what you need to hear.
So sometimes you have to be indirect if you want to get the whole story about patient perceptions. You have to look for situations where your patients are communicating with you about other things, but where they’re giving you accurate information about your practice.
The classic example of indirection is when a survey leader asked women to comment on a perfume sample. In exchange for their input, they could pick a scarf as a gift from a collection on a nearby table.
The survey leader got excellent information—about scarves. The women were telling him what they thought he wanted to hear about the perfume, but since the scarf was a personal choice, they were going to exactly the item they wanted.
So how do you go—indirectly—about getting a true feel about what patients think about your practice? One step is to hire an outside service to survey your patients. The patients think the research firm is conducting the survey, not you, so they are more forthcoming with information. Set up a questionnaire that asks about your practice, along with other dentists or other professional services that patients may be familiar with. Don’t ask yes or no questions—instead, ask questions where they rate your service, location, staff, and other factors based on a one to five scale. Have the firm conduct the survey, either by telephone or mail, and look at the results.
In addition, have the survey ask this question (again on the one to five scale): How likely would you be to recommend this dentist to a friend or relative?
This is considered the most important question in surveying. The people who would recommend you to a friend or relative are active promoters of your business. The more people who do so, the higher your net promoter score and the more likely your business is to succeed.
There are some other ways you can get a feel for what patients think of your practice. Look at services like Angie’s List or Yelp to see what people have been saying. Keep in mind that often, people who are unhappy are more likely to use these services. But make note of everything, and see if you can find a correlation between comments and problems that might be occurring.
Also look at your practice records and see if there are any patterns regarding problem areas within the practice. If you’ve been having a lot of insurance claim issues, for example, this may be affecting how your patients see your practice.
It never hurts to ask patients directly for their thoughts. But often, you don’t get the information you need. By using resources such as online forums and customer surveys like Demand Force, you can get information you need to improve your practice.
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