What They Want.

What They Want.

I returned from a great meeting with clients recently and met my assistant to go over our plans for the coming week. If I’m in one of our offices, I like to go walking around and say hello, let people know I’m still alive and, occasionally, like I observed today, I get to see a new employee or two in training.

At our departure desk today, there was a new smiling face in training and a handful of patients checking out, all under the careful guidance of two administrative employees and their supervisor. If this new employee was paying attention, and it appears she was, then she learned a powerful lesson today about what parents want when it comes to orthodontic appointments.

Every single mom at the checkout area nicely asked for the same thing.

Most of these patients were coming back in 8-10 weeks for orthodontic adjustments and two were coming back in six months for a cleaning or observation appointment, I’m not sure, I was only in the area for 20 or 30 seconds. 100% of these moms said some variation of the same thing. When asked which day of the week works best for them, they all said, “The day that has the latest appointment time available.”

Steve Jobs has a famous quote about the customer not knowing what they want until you show it to them. This advice is cute and different. It flies in the face of consumer surveys and focus groups, but it assumes you face the same daunting task of inventing the next great technological revolution, like the iPhone.

You need not reinvent the mobile phone. Your job is not that complicated. You simply need to listen to what patients want and give it to them.

Pouring over 20,000 new patient appointment requests from last year alone for our clients and our privately-held practices; reading the transcripts from over 1,000 secret shopper tapes, the data are crystal clear: your patients and their parents want appointment times that are convenient to them, not you.

If you ignore this and fail to provide your new patients with convenient appointment times (think 5pm, 6pm, 7pm or later) within 7-10 days, they will go somewhere else and/or, if you can get them to show up, they are 400% less-likely to start treatment. * Don’t shoot the messenger.

In a new study from researchers at MIT, the journal Marketing Science reports that consumers make much simpler decisions than most marketers assume. Our brains are really good at deploying an “index strategy” or a straightforward ranking of our options. The advantage of making only slightly better decisions wouldn’t be worth it, in most product and service categories, so we quickly rank the options we believe are available to us based on simple factors like price and quality, finalizing our decision when there is a clear winner. However, when consumers are not able to clearly index their options, they get stuck and delay the decision until there is a clear winner, if ever one appears.

As the only orthodontist on the planet paying attention to this research, and as someone who fully understands its power and importance in the consumer markets of braces and clear aligners, I acutely implore you to pay attention as well.

Stop pretending like patients and parents care about the technology you use or the level of training you received as a specialist. They don’t. That might bother you but it doesn’t make it untrue. Start recording your new patient phone calls and checkout desk. You’ll hear the same thing all day long. “What’s your latest appointment?”

Pay attention and give consumers what they want, or go work for someone who will.

Worked at Burleson Orthodontics. Attended University of Missouri–Kansas City. Lives in Kansas City, Missouri.