Shaz Memon explains why Whatsapp could help change the way your practice communicates with patients.

The way in which we communicate is constantly changing. This change is powered by technology that creates new and ever-increasing digital opportunities to interact.

As business owners we must meet the needs of the changing habits of an ‘always switched on’ audience. They prefer to communicate at a pace they dictate.

As a practice you may have some direct and active marketing costs such as Facebook campaigns, dental SEO, pay per click, print media and more. You also have non-direct marketing investments. This includes your practice signage, established time in the locality, word of mouth referral and much more bringing you a steady flow of inbound leads.

Most practices are quite poor at following up leads that enquired but then went cold. They are too busy dealing with engaged leads so cannot invest the time to nurture leads that haven’t replied. What if you could convert leads you are already receiving, just by broadening the way you communicate with potential patients? This could increase your turnover and give you a better return on your marketing investment. Correction, this does give you better return on your marketing investment!

Phone-call ‘phobics’

Indeed, there has been much discussion about a generation of phone-call ‘phobics’ who opt to control when, how and with whom they engage.

The so-called Generation Mute, although glued to smartphones, is choosing to send messages, voice notes or share images, rather than speak on the phone. Gen Mute isn’t just referring hipsters. Gen Xers (typically those born 1965 to 1980) are actively becoming averse to incoming phone calls at a schedule not dictated by them.

This has inevitably resulted in the decline of the phone call – no longer fit for purpose in our busy schedules. It is widely considered inefficient, presumptuous and disruptive. Additionally, cold calls have made us all alert to time wasters and ‘unnecessary’ phone calls. Plus, the written word allows us to respond to communications at a time to suit us.

With these changes come shifts in the social acceptability of certain online platforms. Apps once solely focused on a younger audience, such as Instagram and Whatsapp, are fast becoming reliant communication tools.

Digitalisation has forever altered the way we ‘speak’ with each other – both personally and professionally. It has redefined communication boundaries, with messaging part of the commercial arena.

With a primary aim to target potential patients where they ‘hang out’, then Whatsapp is the perfect opportunity for practices to reach out to those who have enquired. Particularly when you consider there are now more than 1.6 billion users worldwide. From a patient’s perspective, you would certainly stand out as a practice if you were able to communicate on a platform most love to use.

Whatsapp Business

Whatsapp’s history began in 2009. For the uninitiated, it allows users to send texts and voice messages, make voice and video calls and share media, such as images, videos, documents, user locations and so on. It’s also free to download and, as a result, has garnered enormous universal appeal.

Other statistics worth considering are as follows:

  • The average user checks Whatsapp more than 23 times per day
  • 58% of users access Whatsapp several times per day
  • Whatsapp’s the third most downloaded Android app in the world.

But the real attraction for dental practices is the app’s development of its commercial capabilities. Honed to help practices reach out to potential patients, Whatsapp Business now boasts three million users.

Whatsapp Business helps business owners have a strong digital presence and communicate more efficiently with customers – and on familiar ‘turf’. Added features from the consumer version include tools to respond to customers. For example being able to set an automatic greeting dictating your opening hours and what to expect in terms of a response time.

Arguably, what the app offers is an acceptable alternative to the traditional telephone call. Quick, easy to use and encrypted, Whatsapp provides straightforward communication opportunities without tying up people in lengthy, time-consuming conversations. I recommend promoting your ‘Whatsapp’ number on your website, and via your dental website designer, adding a code onto your site which displays the famous green Whatsapp icon, enabling patients to choose to communicate with your practice instantly.

Whatsapp Business – what’s in it for you?

  1. A free-to-download app – and it’s built with the small business owner in mind
  2. Communicate with patients for free and quickly – it offers immediacy for patients looking for fast interaction
  3. Mobile storefront – the Catalogs feature enables practices to showcase their services. It’s great for sharing images and you can direct interested parties to a full catalogue within the app, without them having to be redirected to a website Learn more
  4. Quick replies – save and reuse messages you use frequently. Produce message templates in order to swiftly deal with commonly asked questions Learn more
  5. Label chats – organise contacts or chats so you can easily find them again Learn more
  6. Automated messages – if you are unable to answer immediately send an immediate answer so your patients know when to expect a response
  7. Setting away messages – to turn on automatically outside of your practice opening hours Learn more
  8. Privacy and security – Whatsapp offers both end-to-end encryption, which ensures only you and the person you’re communicating with can read what’s sent, and nobody in between
  9. A further reach – available on phones all around the world!

Pierce through the ‘noise’

As technology is rapidly updated, businesses continue to not only seek ways of monopolising the digital platforms available, but also fit with their audience preferences.

Interestingly, this has coincided in the shift in dynamic towards a more patient-centred dental environment. Dental practices should be mindful to reflect this in any dialogue between them and potential clients. These clients are looking to control the pace of ‘conversation’ outside of the clinical setting.

Derek Uittenbroek of Ignite Growth, who specialises in attracting patients via Facebook states: ‘The way people communicate and consume information is changing, and this applies to patients, too. People want information on-demand, in their own time and on their own terms – so much so, that 50% of consumers will buy from the first company that responds.

‘And when people check their smartphones 47 times per day on average (Deloitte), there is no better way to follow-up with a prospective patient than with a messaging tool like Whatsapp.’

Messages, whether by Whatsapp, text or Facebook messenger, pierce through the ‘noise’. Messages appear straight on the home screen of the recipient’s phone – where it is most likely to capture their attention.

Derek adds: ‘It’s easy to discount this as just another trend for the Snapchat generation. But, when you consider that millennials are now the largest generation and hold the most spending power, it’s obvious why messaging in any guise should form a key part of you dental marketing strategy.’

For this reason, Derek advises all practices to get a practice mobile. As he notes: ‘It’s just about playing the odds in your favour. Why would you email when less than 25% of emails get opened?’

Professional communication

For some principals and practice managers, it can feel that messaging doesn’t quite portray the right image or they may think it’s not a ‘professional’ communication option. But Derek argues that these perceptions are somewhat outdated.

He uses the following as an example.

‘A practice we work with has treated more than 100 Invisalign cases this year. Two thirds of these leads coming through open days and messaging played a huge part in this. In fact, about 85-90% of bookings come in via Facebook Messenger with a text, Whatsapp and, of course, phone call follow up.

‘To think that more than two thirds of their Invisalign cases have come through a messaging platform is astounding. It goes to show that it can play a big role in a practice’s communications (and treatment revenue).’

The key point here is that the practice had chosen an omni-channel approach. In essence, it is mixing up its communication tools, rather than leaving it to chance that it will reach an audience with one of the above.

Derek explains: ‘If you’ve spent any time at all at the front desk or following up with enquiries, you’ll know that generally speaking, millennials hate talking on the phone. You’ll also know that less than 20-30% of phone calls are actually answered. Firstly, that’s a lot of wasted time. Secondly, if that’s your only mode of follow-up, then you are losing patients to another practice!’

A practice mobile

At another practice, the team received a negative comment on one of their Facebook posts from a patient disgruntled that the treatment was cheaper elsewhere. The practice messaged the patient directly and won her over for Invisalign treatment. She then referred her brother, which resulted in a £10k restorative case.

Ignite Growth conducted its own testing and discovered that calls made from a practice mobile can, at certain times of the week, enjoy a 50% higher answer rate than calls made from the practice landline

Additionally, various studies have shown that text message open rates are around 98%. With 90% of them read within three minutes of receiving a message. Email open rates generally less than 25%.

You don’t need to be open 24 hours if you now have Whatsapp at your practice. But you can respond the very next day instantly ensuring filters don’t block messages!

Top tips

  • Get a separate practice mobile and install Whatsapp. I would recommend a phone with a large screen, long battery life, a heavy-duty case and nothing too expensive. Recycle an old phone or buy a sim-free phone from somewhere like Argos. Please note, however, that Whatsapp will no longer be available on Windows Phones, devices on iOS 8 and older (iPhone 4 and earlier) and Android devices on versions 2.3.7 and older, such as the Samsung Galaxy S2 series and earlier
  • Once your phone is set up, the reception team can login to Whatsapp Web from the browser on a computer. Whatsapp Web allows you to use Whatsapp from a computer. This makes it extremely easy to integrate it into your existing workflow without having to spend time ‘texting’ on your phone
  • Appoint someone on your team to be responsible and accountable for the practice mobile. So responses to new enquiries are quick and nothing slips through the net
  • Promote your Whatsapp number on your website and business cards. Mark it with the famous green app icon
  • Use the same mobile number for contacting patients by SMS who may not use Whatsapp.

If you don’t want to receive inbound phone calls to the number, you can set a permanent voicemail stating that the practice number is the best number to call. However, if a dedicated person is responsible for the phone, there isn’t any need to do so.

Downloading Whatsapp Business

Whatsapp Business is a free-to-download app similar to the consumer version ‘Whatsapp Messenger’.

  1. Download Whatsapp Business from Google Play store or Apple App store.
  2. Verify your business phone number (the one you wish to use to communicate with patients)
  3. Set your business name
  4. Build your profile. Tap more options  > Settings > Business settings > Profile.

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