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Treatment Presentation: It’s not what You Say, it’s what You Ask

Recently, I’ve been bombarded with questions from my dental clients asking my thoughts on various promotion-based marketing campaigns, in-house discount plans, and various insurance programs. When I probe a little deeper, I’ve found that the common thread for this line of questioning is that the practices feel their patients are no longer as concerned about quality of care or quality of product and service, but only in getting the lowest possible price. It's not true, patients want great dentistry and are willing to pay for it, but you must learn to ask great questions during your pre-clinical interview so you can link their "desires" to your services in the treatment presentation.

Understand the Difference Between Value and Price
Personally, I don’t believe that your patients are always looking for the lowest price. I believe they are looking for the best value.

What’s the difference? Price is what they pay for the product or service. Value is the patient’s interpretation of how the product or services being presented will make a difference in their life.

Your patients want to experience the feeling that the money they’re investing in this purchase is a fair exchange for the product or service they’re getting in return. In every industry, people make purchases based on emotion and justify with logic (“I really want to make this purchase, I feel it’s a good value. I think this is a fair price”).

The tricky thing about value is that it is an expectation that is formulated in the mind of the patient by the patient. You can’t add value, you can’t present value, you can’t create value, you can only present features and possible benefits (price, etc.) and the patient has to interpret in their mind if it has value.

However, you can learn to ask the patient great questions that have them formulate value in their own mind and express that to you.

Asking Values Questions
Every patient health history form has questions about a patient’s “smile.” “Do you like your smile? What don’t you like about your smile?” or some variation on the theme.

First of all, scrap those questions. Ask this instead, “If you could change one thing about your smile, what would it be?” Asking the question in this format makes it a positive discussion and forces the patient to look at possibilities for their smile in the future.

Not only that, but it’s open-ended, which is intended to let them think it through before the patient even sits down in the chair.

Before you have a conversation with the patient, look over his or her answer to the question on the form. As everyone’s gauge for value is a personal one, now you have a starting point for a conversation that will really matter to the patient.

Let’s say that the patient wrote on the form that she would like her smile to be whiter. Rather than sitting down with her and immediately launching into a description of the whitening options, ask her further questions about her goals.

You might ask, “Anne, why is it important to you to have a whiter smile?” She might answer that she travels a lot for work, and she drinks coffee nearly every day. She might say that she meets with a lot of business people for her job and she knows that she’ll feel more confident when she has a bright, beautiful smile.

She’s just given you a lot of information about what’s important to her, personally. Now you can respond by saying, “Great, Anne. When’s your next business trip?” She’ll say that she’s leaving in a week, to which you can reply, “Let’s make sure that you’re always confident in your meetings. Since you’re leaving in a week, we have chair side whitening that can be done in an hour and whiten your smile by as much as five shades right away.”

Now I’m putting together the pieces based on her values system and offering her an option based on what she wants. Any dentist knows that there are many ways to whiten teeth, and the price can range from $600-$800 for chair side to $13 for over-the-counter whitening. Since I know that Anne will need her whitening to be effective and fast, chair side would likely be the best option for her.

It’s my job to hear the patient and give her a solution that fits what she wants. Price becomes less of an issue when a patient has decided that something needs to happen versus me telling her that she should do it.

When a Patient Leaves for Price
Many dentists I know have had patients leave their practice, stating price as an issue. Most often, those patients come back because the level of service they received from the discount practice was not what they expected.

Has this happened to you? When I ask this question in my seminars, generally about 80% of the dentists in the room raise their hands.

It can be frustrating when a patient cites price as her reason for leaving (because you know that you have hired the best team, you use the best materials, and you’re dedicated to her dental health), but there is a great way to handle it. You might say, “You know, Anne, if you go over there and you don’t feel you’re getting the care that you’re used to, you’re always welcome back here.”

When Anne does come back, it’s a great time to ask her why she came back. Nine times out of ten she’ll say that she didn’t get the service she was used to at the discount dental office. Also, find out what else she gained from spending a little more money with you – what are the long-term benefits of doing business with you, and how does this offset the initial investment?

This is all information you can use when faced with price objections in the future.

Don’t be Afraid to Go Deep
If you change your mindset about price and value and start asking your patients values questions starting today, you will see a change in your practice without having to offer steep discounts or freebies. It’s not about manipulation or deception, it’s about connecting with your patients on a level that shows them you actually care about their lives. You want them to not only have the best dental care possible, but you also want their lives to be better for it.

So, what’s important to them?
The truth is, most practices are afraid to have meaningful, in-depth conversations with their patients – but the ones that win this game are the ones that are willing to “go there” with a patient. You can’t be afraid, you have to be willing to go there.

Are you consistently asking values questions in your practice? What sorts of questions do you ask your patients to help them perceive value? Leave a comment below to add your thoughts.

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