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a blog by Chris Barrow

How and why Facebook Messenger might make your web site obsolete and improve your patient experience

Behind all the negative press on data security, the social media platforms owned by Mark Zuckerberg continue their influence in our day to day communication with each other and engagement with the world around us.

Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp dominate social engagement, appealing to different demographics – many is the dental practice I’ve met whose team are now using WhatsApp as a primary communication tool, despite its shortcomings in that respect.

In my own business, we use Slack as a team communication channel, preferring the ability to break down our conversations into individual channels, based on subject matter.

This week I’ve been looking at Facebook Workplace, which attempts to do the same – I’m not yet persuaded to change (even though the Premium version is cheaper than Slack) largely because we have a successful Slack habit and, it ain’t broke.

On a wider front, Facebook are investing huge resources into Messenger, not just as a communication channel but also as an e-commerce platform.

I’ve recently noticed a few practices who have introduced a Messenger symbol on their web site home page, as a “live chat” channel, so that prospects and patients can connect in real time with a front desk and/or TCO.

Like all live systems, it’s only as good as your ability to have a talented team member at the receiving end – I’ve never been a great fan of call-answering services (either audio or digital) as they rarely have the authenticity of an actual team member.

Last week in Milan, I was working with my client’s marketing team on researching online appointment booking through Messenger.

My Italian client already uses Messenger for live chat and a short search quickly revealed two plug-in systems to Messenger that allow for online booking. We immediately decided to investigate further – in phase 1 to make that facility available just for new patient consults.

The challenge over the medium term will be to integrate Messenger bookings with existing Practice Management Software (PMS). My Italian client uses Dentally, one of the newer companies who encourage open API access with external software.

Many of the larger and longer established PMS providers are more protective of their platforms and less inclined to allow “bolt ons” – it will be interesting to see how that changes in the years ahead (I think it must).

Here’s my prediction for 2025 (it’s an opinion – I’m not asking for a confidence vote):

  1. Web sites will be well on their way to becoming obsolete;

  2. Your first digital contact point with new and existing patients will be your Facebook Business Page;

  3. Existing patients will be invited to a private Facebook Group for your practice;

  4. Through your Facebook Messenger channel, all-comers will be able to

  5. communicate with any team member (including clinicians)

  6. book appointments

  7. receive their reminders for Dental Health Reviews

  8. read/listen to/watch their treatment plans

  9. pay for their plan and/or Fee Per Item treatment

  10. receive real-time feedback on their ongoing oral health (through integration with digital oral care devices at home)

  11. leave reviews

  12. post comments

  13. read your blogs and patient newsletters

  14. study dental health education material in a variety of formats

  15. refer friends, family and colleagues

  16. integrate with Instagram

  17. integrate with Google to maintain optimum organic search position

  18. integrate with other healthcare advisors to provide patients with a comprehensive health review, again in real time

You, the practice owner will be provided with comprehensive feedback on the facts, habits and opinions of your patients as a marketing and CRM tool.

No doubt, there will be other levels of engagement that I cannot yet imagine.

The web developer of the future will be a channel, platform and e-commerce manager.

I’m not suggesting you should scrap your web site just yet (in fact I’m currently commissioning my latest web site from the good folks at Dental Focus) but be mindful of the changes ahead.

In the New Year, I’ll be tasking my own support team to look at online prospect and client call booking through Facebook Messenger and I’ll be using one of the two applications identified in Milan to do that.

Interesting times.

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