Why text appointment reminders are the perfect solution for dental practices
Dentists are no strangers to the need to remind clients about appointment times and dates. The right solution to the cost and annoyance of missed appointments was in the past difficult to find. Postal reminders were costly, took up a disproportionate amount of staff time and were often ignored; phone reminders were viewed as a nuisance, and intrusion and email reminders too often ended up in junk or spam folders.
In answer to this issue, SMS appointment reminders are becoming increasingly popular. We live busy lives and can struggle to fit things into our tight schedules, so it's small wonder that we sometimes forget what we are supposed to be doing. Reminders can come in many forms, but the text message reminder is currently proving the most successful.
Buying a software solution for appointment reminders is a big step for any business to take, but the initial costs and staff training implications may be less than you would expect. Before you start your research, here are some key reasons why text appointment reminders are the perfect solution for dental practices.
The right tool
Text messages are the right appointment reminder tool because:
- They are quick to send and immediate to pick up
- We are far less likely to ignore a text message than another form of communication
- On average, we look at our phones 85 times a day, so are likely to view a text reminder more than once
- The average time it takes us to read a text message is a speedy 3 minutes
- Transferring text reminders to calendars is a quick and easy process
- If necessary, a verbal or text response to the reminder can be immediate, even on the go.
Most dentists report issues with missed appointments. In order to calculate the amount of money lost by these, you will need to multiply the number of hours missed by the hourly costs of staff manning the sessions. If you then add on the rent and power costs for each session, you might be surprised by how much your surgery will save by installing effective appointment reminder software.
For a larger dental surgery, staff costs can be high, so managing staff rotas and task allocations are of key importance for both efficiency and staff satisfaction. An overloaded workforce can lead to unnecessary staff sickness and absence. In a smaller surgery, the issues are the same but maybe even more important, as staff absence could lead to the inability to perform some dental procedures. By choosing the right appointment reminder system, you will not only save money on lost appointments, you will ensure a happy and fulfilled staff.
By selecting the correct reminder software, you can set the times of text reminders to suit your practice needs. If you want to send reminders on the day of an appointment, you will need to bear in mind the distance your clients will be travelling. As this can be varied, you might decide that your clients would be better served by a previous day or beginning of the week appointment reminder. There are also other, more general factors to take into account: for example, studies suggest that Mondays, public holidays, weekends and the rush hour are all times when reminders run the risk of being ignored. This is an important decision - we would suggest a trial followed by the consideration of some customer feedback.
By using an SMS reminder system you will make it easy for customers to respond to your message. The best way to do this is to opt for a system which provides a text response service, with which customers can indicate their acknowledgement of a reminder immediately and easily.
Today's dental client is busy and expects to experience a smooth and professional system from initial appointment all the way through to diagnosis and treatment. It stands to reason that a surgery, which routinely sends out appointment reminders, will create a better impression than one that takes a hit and miss approach to appointment control.
Long term appointments
For clients with good dental health, appointments are usually made 6 or 12 months ahead. Put this together with the fact that most clients will not immediately enter dates into an electronic format and you have a recipe for a forgotten appointment. Good intentions aside, it is easy to see why an appointment card might get lost or forgotten. It might be worth considering an immediate SMS message at the time the appointment is made: by doing this, you will ensure that your clients' appointments are already in their electronic system and therefore more likely to make it onto their personal calendars.
Missing or arriving late for a dental appointment can be a stressful experience. Many people find visiting the dentist enough of a strain without the added worry of not being there at the right time. Stress and embarrassment both cause the release of stress hormones, which can enhance anxiety about procedures and adversely affect perceptions of pain. It is negative experiences like this that can lead to client dissatisfaction and may even cause moves to another practice. Most clients report appreciation of a systematic and well-organised appointment reminder system.
Part of every day life
SMS appointment reminders are becoming an expected part of everyday life. Many schools, doctors' surgeries, hair salons and personal coaches are using them to help their clients to keep track of where they need to be, on which date and at which time. This is of significance for two reasons:
- The increased use of electronic reminders will lead to acceptance and therefore a reduced perception of nuisance
- As clients become more used to electronic reminders, they will expect to receive them. Appointments that are not indicated in this way will risk being missed.
Setting the tone for your business
A good quality appointment reminder system will allow you to choose a tone and style that reflects your brand. Appointments should be always be communicated in a clear and concise manner, but the message should help clients to feel at ease and reassure them that they can contact the practice to question an appointment should they need to. Some aspects of tone you might want to consider include:
- The salutation ('Hi' for a relaxed, friendly approach, but maybe 'Good morning/afternoon' for a more formal one)
- The date layout (number-only dates can cause confusion for some people but make for shorter messages)
- The time format (24 hour times are less open to misinterpretation but some people do find them difficult to understand)
- Contact information (try to make it as easy as possible for a client to get in touch about their appointment)
- Additional information (this should be kept to a minimum and always read after the important appointment information).
The possibility of sales
There can be no doubt that SMS appointment reminders offer the opportunity to deliver sales messages right to your clients. However, this must be approached with caution, as unsolicited sales methods are not generally popular and any message that you do use should be short, subtle and infrequent. Do not be tempted to use customer details for sales messages unless you have their express permission to do so.
All client data is valuable. Even if it is not going to be used for sales, an accurate and up-to-date list of customer contact numbers will be useful when it comes to rearranging appointments, contacting for results or dealing with emergency situations. Time saved trying to get in contact with customers represents money saved by your practice.
Security and accuracy
We all understand business obligations under the Data Protection Act. A good SMS messaging system will offer an encrypted and password protected data storage solution. Setting up an automatic system will also mean that customer details are accurate; this removes the possibility of operator error when entering phone numbers.
The advantages of SMS appointment reminder systems to both small and larger dental practices are clear. The first step for any practice considering installation would be to calculate the real cost of missed appointments. Once this has been ascertained, we predict a rise in the adoption of automatic systems. The days of objection to push technology being used in this way are on their way out. Today's dental customer is busy, is electronically savvy and prefers a system that fits in with their existing personal organisation methods.