Can WhatsApp Benefit Your Dental Practice

 In Marketing, WhatsApp

Should your dental practice be encouraging patient communication via WhatsApp and mobile phones?

As a nation, we’ve become dubious of – and almost afraid of – phone communication from businesses. We’re so used to receiving unsolicited communications from cold callers that we often avoid picking up the phone altogether. This somewhat unsurprising shift in mentality means that service users are increasingly turning to instant messaging platforms as a means of contacting their doctor, dentist or other healthcare provider in the quickest and most inobtrusive way possible.

But is adjusting to a newly ‘switched on’ audience worthwhile?

And could communicating via mobile really make all the difference to your patient acquisition and retention rates?

Is it acceptable to communicate with patients using mobile devices?

Easy-to-use text applications like WhatsApp are widely accepted by most generations, not just Gen Y early adopters and younger patients who are stereotypically glued to their smart devices.

In 2020, reports are suggesting that people aged between 45 and 55 – often referred to as Gen X – are preferring to communicate through the written word to avoid disruption to their schedules and take back control of their time. There’s evidence to suggest it’s becoming much more socially acceptable to conduct professional services via text.

For healthcare providers, and in particular dental practices, opening up the lines of communication using technologies that people actually want to use is becoming more commercially and practically viable than ever before. Talking to existing and prospective patients via WhatsApp is more than OK – and it might even lead to a better response from your ideal customers.

What is WhatsApp Business?

The basic version of WhatsApp is familiar to many. Readily available from the Google Play Store and the Apple App store, the app has 300 million daily active users worldwide, and it’s widely considered to be a fast, convenient and secure way to stay in touch with friends, family members and now, crucially, businesses.

WhatsApp Business was launched by the app’s owners, Facebook, in January 2018 to offer better functionality to companies that want to use it as a means of contacting their customers. Like the original platform, it’s free to download, but it’s packed full of tools to make B2B communications that much simpler.

Using Whatsapp Business, you can save and reuse messages that you commonly use when speaking with customers; you can automated messages during busy periods; and you can even showcase your services via the Catalog feature, which enables your recipients to access photos and further information on everything you can offer them. WhatsApp itself will host these catalogs, so you don’t need to worry about taking up valuable storage space on either device.

What’s more, WhatsApp Business offers the same end-to-end encryption as the original app, which means your messages will remain private.

There are associated costs involved in using the app. For example, if you want multiple staff members to be able to access the same WhatsApp business account from different phones, you’ll need to purchase the WhatsApp API via one of the firm’s chosen partners. However, as long as you respond to contact within 24 hours, WhatsApp won’t charge you for its messaging service.

How can WhatsApp benefit your dental practice?

By using WhatsApp to communicate with patients, you’ll be establishing your practice as flexible, forward-thinking and adaptable to change. And, perhaps more importantly, you’ll also be saving your team a great deal of time.

When probed on the issue of phone calls, any dental receptionist will tell you that a very low percentage of outgoing calls actually get answered – and those who do pick up the phone are often not willing to speak and rarely in a position to provide your admin team with the information they need in that precise moment. Why continue using such an overtly inefficient means of communication when you could give your patients the chance to respond to your messages as and when they choose, with minimal disruption to their day?

Messaging via WhatsApp has the added bonus of adding visibility to your comms, without appearing too pushy or aggressive. The patient will see the notification pop up on their phone, but they will have the freedom to reply when they are ready to chat.

Multiple studies have also indicated that text message open rates are around the 98% mark, with 90% of messages being read within 3 minutes. Consider that email open rates typically sit at a paltry 25%, and you’ll already begin to see the powerful marketing potential of WhatsApp and similar messaging apps in a B2C setting.

Will you need to set up a practice mobile?

It’s best practice to provide staff with a dedicated business mobile that can be used for instigating and monitoring conversations via WhatsApp (and normal SMS, if this is the customer’s preference).

You don’t need to reply to every single message as soon as it comes through – but you should be on the ball during normal working hours. The best way to manage your WhatsApp inbox is to make somebody within your team responsible for all WhatsApp correspondence; this way, conversations are less likely to slip through the net, and accountability for this channel is clearly defined.

Setting up a practice mobile has other benefits, too. There’s research to suggest that calling patients from a mobile as opposed to a landline can generate better results. Tests from Ignite Growth, a dedicated healthcare marketing agency, have shown that calls made from company mobile phones at certain times of the week are 50% more likely to be answered than those made from the landline.

Remember to let your patients know that you are contactable via mobile

It’s no use investing in a company mobile or WhatsApp account if nobody knows about it! Be sure to add the instantly recognisable WhatsApp icon to your business cards, leaflets, brochures and other marketing materials to encourage them to give the app a try.   

Not ready to go fully mobile? Install WhatsApp Web instead

Switching between a desktop screen and a mobile or tablet screen can be cumbersome for staff. Thankfully, your reception team can install WhatsApp Web in their browser and manage all communications from their PC.

There’s a compelling case for communicating with dental patients via mobile messaging tools like WhatsApp. In most cases, adding this convenient new channel to your communications strategy will save time, increase productivity, and improve many patients’ experience of your practice – all for very little outlay.

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