Insights from the Outside: Exceeding Patient Expectations

The Insights from the Outside Panel is a group of doctorpreneurs from multiple healthcare disciplines including dentistry, audiology, ophthalmology and veterinary medicine. Recently, the panel expanded to include practice administrators and office managers – professionals on the front line who are often the ones responsible for guiding the patient from treatment recommendations to acceptance. The newest member to the panel is Michael Cruz, a practice administrator in a rapidly growing dental practice in Las Vegas, Nevada. Michael was busy making a name for himself in the marketing and advertising world when his wife decided to start her own practice about seven years ago. Michael stepped in to help her get the practice off the ground and fell in love with healthcare. And, as he said, he must be doing something right because she hasn’t fired him yet. In this column we’d like to introduce you to Michael to learn how he has catapulted growth by applying marketing and advertising principles to his wife’s dental practice.

Launching a start-up with no experience in healthcare had to be an exciting challenge for you. Can you share with us what your growth has been and why you think you’ve achieved this level of success?

Mr. Cruz: We have been fortunate enough to grow by leaps and bounds. We started small and have been managing double-digit growth year over year. The reason for our growth is our focus on the patient experience. We look at everything from the patient’s perspective – absolutely everything. We are there to care for our patients – and take care of our patients. Here’s the distinction: every aspect of their time in our practice has been strategically determined. In marketing and advertising, you are most successful when you surprise, delight and inspire your target audience. For example, we hear a patient talking about having difficulty making a reservation at a popular restaurant. We took care of her, which means we went the extra mile and made that reservation happen for her. From warm blankets to a signature scent (so we don’t smell like a dental office), we have literally walked in our patients’ shoes.

What out of the box ideas have you brought from your previous career into the practice?

Mr. Cruz: When I was in advertising, we always had an end goal in mind. We knew what we wanted to have happen. I think you always have to start with the goal and strategy. One of our goals is to be talked about on social media and to get those amazing reviews and comments. Not just the “I love my dentist,” or “had a good experience” kind of comments. We wanted authentic comments that were detailed because they are more impactful and powerful. Why? Because the data says online reviews are changing the way patients choose their providers. According to the 2018 NRC Market Insights study, 83.3% of people trusted online reviews more than personal recommendations. The study also found 59.9% said they selected a doctor based on positive reviews and 60.8% avoided doctors based on negative reviews. That’s why we go the extra mile – because it surprises and delights people and they want to tell others about it. For example, we wanted to show patients our appreciation and we didn’t want to do a gift card (too impersonal) or a gift basket. We wanted to do something unique. So we rented out a local theater and were able to do an advanced screening of the blockbuster Avengers movie. We had 300 tickets. We had a game where patients had to take a picture of something related to the Avengers and tag #Deevengers, because our practice name is Dee for Dentist, and post it on social media. If you did, you got two tickets. We packed the theater.

What has been the outcome of these efforts?

Mr. Cruz: Attracting and retaining patients! We ask patients why they came to us, and it’s really about reviews. With all the really great reviews, we know patients coming in the door have high expectations – expectations we must meet every single time. Of course you can’t please everyone, but you can do everything in your power to try.

What advice can you give to anyone wanting to accelerate their growth?

Mr. Cruz: Don’t reinvent the wheel. Look for people’s character, not their job experience. Read a LOT of books. The creative people in marketing and advertising find inspiration literally everywhere. They are always looking for it. I think that’s a big piece of advice because you can find inspiration everywhere – from restaurants to retail. Everyone is trying to deliver experiences that stand out and create long-term customer or patient advocates. I even look at window displays for inspiration and ideas to help us enhance our practice environment. Be flexible and change with the market. Social media is a game changer. Don’t resist it, embrace it and make it work for you. And keep your eye out for the next big game changer because I guarantee you, one is coming.

Can you share any “missteps” you took so our readers can also learn from your mistakes?

Mr. Cruz: Well, I must be doing something right, but still my wife still tries to fire me almost on a daily basis. When we first started off, I had to learn the front office all by myself and I realized that I am certainly not someone you would want to hire for that position. But having experienced it first hand, I know just how critical filling that position with someone qualified is. Of course, there were great ideas we had that didn’t produce the great results we expected. But I feel you never fail; you’re just given the opportunity to learn. For example, when we opened the practice, we added the CareCredit credit card as a payment option. We just did it because everyone accepts it and they are the market leader. For three years, we didn’t really use it. We personally don’t use credit much, so we projected this behavior onto our patients and just thought few would want it. Then, a lightbulb went on and we realized we weren’t being fair to people. It’s up to them how they want to pay and if paying monthly works for their family, then it’s the best payment option for them. Our job is to give them every opportunity to get the care they need, not restrict their options.

Do you think healthcare is now your long-term career?

Mr. Cruz: No. I think it’s my life-long passion. There is really no greater feeling than truly helping someone. I loved advertising, but it’s not the same. When someone looks you in the eyes and says, “Thanks, you changed my life,” it impacts you. I don’t think I will ever get tired of it.    

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