In today’s competitive orthodontic marketplace, cutting fees to attract more business can be a temptation. Although discounting will work in almost every marketplace and some orthodontists will be successful in this, there is a degree of risk involved. There is a danger of building a foundation for practice success based solely on fees: your patients and their loyalty to you will be based almost exclusively on the discounted fee – so your risk of losing them to a “deeper discounter” is huge.
Very possibly you have, by discounting your fee, educated your patients to seek the cheapest treatment rather than the best service, quality and value. Discounting is not inherently bad, but it could lead to a battle for the lowest rung on the ladder.
Extended financing is a strong alternative to discounting and although it’s widely used and proven in most markets, it carries some resistance in the dental community. There is a common fear that the payments due will no longer be honored after the work has been completed. It has clearly been our experience that most people do, in fact, honor their financial commitment.
In our experience the discussion of “How much are braces?” goes much more smoothly when we are able to answer, “Only $189 a month” rather than discussing the total fee. (Obviously we do not hide the total fee from the patient, we just do not emphasize that part of the discussion.) In fact we have been able to raise our fees to be comparable to or higher than those of our competitors. People are accustomed to paying for things over time so that the affordability of monthly payments is much more attractive than a large down payment or an interest bearing loan.
However, to make this philosophy work in your office, it is important to look at the revenue stream and your net profit from the “big picture” point of view and avoid getting upset at the occasional non-payer. This istough for dentists, as we may take default personally and fail to view thecontract as a business transaction. When you trust people to do the right thing and you help get their dreams for their children, they nearly always reciprocate with their loyalty, with their financial responsibility and by referring their friends.
An additional benefit to accessible payments is the vastly enlarged pool of potential patients. In our experience, over a 10-year period using thisaccessible fee model, we were amazed at the sources of our growing patient load. We took almost 50% market share during this period (that in itself is unheard of) but what was more interesting was the source of these patients. Half of the huge patient base came directly from our competitors and the other half was clearly a result of the newly accessible marketplace that was opened up by these extended payment plans. People were attracted to us not because of the price but because they could afford to provide braces for their children.
A couple of final elements are critical to the total success of this approach. In addition to extended [and smaller] payments, there is massive additional power when no down payment is the foundation of the strategy. [There is “magic” when you say “no down payment.] The first monthly payment would be due at contract signing and the patient or parent would clearly understand that there is also no interest and no credit check.
When extended payments are coupled with the no down payment/no interest/no credit check, this packaged approach functions much better than just the extended payment schedule alone. Finally, the program will only work if the pool of potential patients is aware of it. Consistent, ambitious and totally committed marketing both in the office and directly to the public are critical. If the public does not know that you are doing this…you are not!
A great smile can be a big factor in developing confidence and self-esteem. It should not be limited to upper income levels on the one extreme or to state-based Medicaid-type programs on the other extreme. By making your fees affordable and accessible to the average middle class family, you are providing your services to a larger marketplace and enabling a greater number of patients to benefit from your skills!