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a blog by Chris Barrow

Our COVID-19 comeback - a practice manager's story

On my return for holiday this week I was so inspired by the weekly update from Cara Dearing, practice manager at Christchurch Dental in Ipswich, that I asked her to share their story with you.

I’d been itching for Chris to return from his travels, with July being our first full month back I was bursting to tell him how it had gone.

Pre COVID-19 we didn’t hit our target every month, if we did it would be too easy right?

We didn’t adjust our monthly target to reflect a COVID-19 comeback, we left it as was, we need to hit a certain amount each month to be a success and now, more than ever we need that to be the case after 3 months of very reduced cash flow into the practice.

Looking back to July 2019 we were under target by £4160, but the same month this year, our first full month back after lockdown we were just £1537 under target and I’m thrilled.

We usually work Saturday mornings, but these didn’t start back until 18th July, it’s highly likely that if we’d been doing Saturdays before mid-July, we would have hit target.

Given that there has been so much talk around the business comeback and the length of time that it will take us to recover after the lockdown period (due to lost diary time from fallow periods), I’m really chuffed with this result..

However, we are by no means out of the woods, we have 11 weeks of reduced income to makeup on. This is only the beginning.

We are back to offering a full service and are taking on new clients, we have seen a considerable increase in the number of new clients. Almost double the normal amount in fact and many of these new clients need large treatment plans.

During the lockdown period people haven’t spent as much money as they haven’t been able to go anywhere, some have been unable to go on holiday and as such they have available cash that they wouldn’t have previously had. Some have chosen to save theirs for when a second wave comes and there is no furlough scheme to rely on, others are choosing to spend this spare cash on their teeth.

So how did we do it?

· We have a great team behind us, each and every member of staff is ‘on the bus’, they work hard and they want to see the business succeed, the energy we get from our team gives us strength to move forward and the faith that we are leading well. I’ve been with the practice 4 years and the team we have currently is second to none. Chris says it all the time but I echo him when I say if the team aren’t on the bus, get them off! They should be working with you more than ever in this current climate.

· Communication and transparency within the team is important, share your vision with your team and share your numbers. Each dentist should have a daily target to hit and the numbers should be shared throughout the team. If you are still paying your associates a set percentage I would seriously reconsider and put them onto a sliding scale. This does 2 things; it actually covers your running costs and it stops associates becoming lazy and we don’t want lazy associates in this current climate.

· Zoning is the big one and I think the key to success, if you can get that right, you’re laughing. There is so much talk around fallow time and the business being unviable because of it, make it work! We are a 3-surgery practice, our fallow started as an hour, but mid-July reduced due to installation of large extractors which have increased the air changes in the room dramatically. During the fallow time the book is zoned such that the dentist will carry out a video consultation so we maximise all available time, when there was an hour fallow we allowed for 2 video consults, now there is a shorter fallow plus clean down time we have zoned the book for one video consult. Pre COVID-19 we had a range of zones, but these have been simplified to ‘Video consults’ ‘AGP’ and Non AGP’. If you have a free surgery utilise it to go between rooms so you have no down time. If you are doing 8am-8pm split shifts, has this even increased your operating hours?

· The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the shift to digital. We carry out video consults for all new clients now, this separates the time wasters from the serious clients. We also carry out our options meetings and Invisalign reviews digitally. Clients love it as it can be booked at a time to suit them and they can sit in the comfort of their own home. Digital is the way forward!

· If you don’t already have a patient-first mindset when it comes to marketing then this needs to shift, think about the new treatment plan objections post COVID-19 and overcome them. Even if you are an established practice, the COVID-19 reboot may force you to think more like a new practice in terms of marketing. Strategies of retaining clients may shift to attracting new clients, in our case we have ramped up the new patients due to the high demand but retaining existing patients is still of great importance. We need to look after our loyal clients. Word of mouth and client referrals may need to be supplemented more with digital marketing. Every practice will be different here. If you do need to scale back in marketing, be smart about how you do it, and what you sacrifice. Carefully consider and monitor the return on investment (ROI) for any marketing you decide to keep. Emotions are running high, and will continue to do so for quite some time. Heavily self-promotional messaging may not resonate well with clients, but empathy and sincerity will. Take time to review your current messaging and consider how your clients may react differently to it in a post-COVID environment.

· Stay on brand, this is extremely important right now, you need to have a good brand and be on point, this will be the difference between ‘wowing’ the new clients so much so that they want to stay with you and losing them because you cut corners due to a stressful day.

· Positive mental attitude – glass half full is not the attitude to have right now, make it work, many of you are practice owners who will naturally be worried about your business but share your concerns, be positive and with a positive attitude and a good manager (of course) behind you, you can do this!

I don’t think we are over this and if a second wave and/or a recession comes we are likely to see a dip but for now, we will continue to work hard with our amazing team to try and recover what we have lost over 11 weeks. Good Luck all. We can do this!

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