Fees & Rules? No Thanks!!

Things that make you go hmmmm.

I recently wrote an article on The Cancellation Fee and Your Business and how this practice could actually be perpetuating the behavior it is designed to curtail. Today's experience came as a reminder of why we as a profession ought to re-evaluate our out dated, practice-crippling ideas.

While visiting an office I heard a patient ask what the total for his two crowns would be with the 5% courtesy. He was given the fee and when he took out his Visa to pay the $2,808 in fullthe office manager Mary said "Oh, I'm so sorry, we cannot offer the courtesy if you use a credit card because Dr. has to pay fees to the credit card company". The patient said he didn't have a checkbook with him (who carries a checkbook these days) nor did he have cash. Mary replied, "Would you like to put it all on your card then?" to which he replied, "No, I was hoping to take advantage of the courtesy you mention in this sign", pointing to the "We gladly offer a 5% courtesy to our patients who pay in full at the time of service" Mary stated their office policy was to offer the 5% on cash or check only. So out he walked, promising to put a check in the mail when he returned home.

Having wasted 10 minutes of time, turning down a payment of $2808 which was the amount minus the 5% of $72.00 and having the patient walk out of the door feeling less than pleased, Mary turned to me and said, "Everyone wants a discount! Do they not understand how much it costs the doctor to take credit cards"!

So let's talk about the costs of all of our rules, policies and fees. Having spent 10 minutes explaining why we couldn't accept a payment of $2808, allowed the patient to leave without collecting anything! Even if he puts the check in the mail that day, it will be a few days before the check arrives and will then require a trip to the bank to deposit it. I wonder how much of the $72.00 courtesy has just been burned up in inefficiency. Not to mention that Mr. Jones was disappointed with the inconvenience. And remember, he wasn't asking for a discount, it was posted on a notice sitting right in front of him.

This was a golden opportunity for Mary to graciously accept Mr. Jones credit card, thank him for his payment and ask him for a referral. Instead she chose to enforce a rule which most likely cost the practice the $72.00 anyway! Wouldn't it have been much more efficient to accept the payment and have the money in the bank that very day?

Circling back to the sign on the counter "We gladly offer a 5% courtesy to our patients who pay in full at the time of service"...don't we want all of our patients to pay their bills in full at the time of service? Why confuse things? And if your practice accepts insurance payments, don't you want their portion at the time of the visit? This is an archaic policy left over from the days where dentists and doctors were the bank and carried balances for their patients. Today, we have so many ways for patients to schedule comfortable payments through third-party companies, it's no longer prudent for us to carry account balances. And having the ability to accept credit cards is not only a convenience to the patient, but another way to get the money for your services deposited into your account immediately. What a gift!

Offering our patients convenience along with an excellent experience are paramount.

Below are some important tips on how to avoid the profit crippling pitfalls associated with fees, rules and policies which are not patient-centered. Today's patient is looking for a great experience delivered by dental professionals they trust. And they tell their friends.

Train your team on how to properly deliver a financial arrangement and associated payment for service. And be sure the person handling your financial arrangements is comfortable discussing finances. You don't want someone who feels badly about a $5000 bill, simply because it would be a personal hardship for her if she had were facing a bill of $5000.

Deliver your fees with confidence in their value. Who better to deliver this outstanding dentistry than your office. The fees are in alignment with the quality of the service and the experience. Be proud of that . And be gracious to those who are paying for this excellence, by thanking them and ensuring their visit went well for them.

Be very cognizant of using the word "Policy" with your patients. That simply translates to, "It's easier to fall back on a rule, than it is to evaluate a process and determine if it's really the best thing" This word throws a wall between you and whomever is trying to communicate with you. Instead, use phrases like, "I understand" and "I hear you" and "Mrs Jones, you've brought up a very good point? and "What I can do is...", and most of all... 
"Thank you for your payment. If you have a friend or family member who you feel would benefit from the services we provide, we would be honored to care for them. We would love to have more patients like you".

Invest in communication skills and office guidelines which make a patient feel fantastic about the experience rather than choosing a simple reply based on an erroneous rule that allows  them walk out saying hmmm....

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