"In the not-too-distant future, the Internet will be a fundamental business tool for the laboratory simply because of the speed of communication," says Bob Cerza, general manager of Bonadent Dental Laboratories in Auburn, New York. "And we plan to be on the forefront of it."
By using their websites in creative ways, laboratories are promoting their products and services, educating the general public, offering technical assistance and business services and enhancing dentist-lab communication. While owners and managers acknowledge that their websites are certainly not replacing traditional communication methods, they provide an opportunity to offer unique value-added services and reach a vast audience.
LMT took a trip through cyberspace to learn how laboratories are using their websites as resourceful marketing tools:
Client convenience. Some laboratories are making it easier for their dentist-clients to send in cases by putting business forms on-line. Jade Dental Laboratory Group's site allows clients to print out copies of its mailing label and features coupons for 10% discounts. The dentist-client prints out a copy of the coupon then sends it in with the case. PJ's Dental Lab in Hartford, Wisconsin has its prescription form on its website for clients to print out.
Dental Domain, an e-commerce solutions provider, has combined an on-line prescription form with web technology. The Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts-based company has created an on-line prescription software application to facilitate prescription communication between labs and their clients. Created by Dr. Arnold Rosen, the company's president, a maxillofacial prosthodontist and former director of dentistry at Tufts Northeast Medical Center Hospital, the on-line prescription asks for the same comprehensive information found in a traditional prescription, but offers one clear advantage: it will not let the doctor submit an incomplete form.
If a page is unfinished, the "smart form" alerts the user with an instant message that lists exactly what information is still needed. Once the user submits the form, the information goes into the laboratory's database. The lab then gets a real-time, automatic e-mail, alerting it that a new case has been submitted. "The application eliminates data entry and gives the laboratory a jump on the work coming in," says Dr. Walter Golub, vice president of marketing and sales. "But its biggest advantage so far is a dramatic reduction in follow-up phone calls. We also anticipate a reduction in shade-related remakes, since doctors have the ability to upload images of the patient and a shade tab." As usage increases, Golub predicts that laboratories will be better able to plan their workflow and inventory needs. Americus Dental Labs, New York, New York, is the only laboratory in the industry currently using the application.
Bonadent Dental Laboratories, posts a case feedback form on its site. "Our case feedback form allows our doctors to get critical information to us quickly and easily," says Cerza. The form enables the laboratory to respond immediately if it receives a negative report. "I never e-mail the client back; I immediately get on the phone and act on it," says Cerza. And although a small amount of Bonadent's clients currently use the on-line form—a printed version is still included with all invoices—Cerza says he expects its usage to increase as more and more clients go on-line.
Laboratories with out-of-town or out-of-state clients are making shipment tracking easier by providing a link to its shipper's website. MicroDental Laboratories in Dublin, California, for example, provides a link to Airborne Express. By providing the dental office's staff with a link, you give it the freedom to track their own cases.
Product marketing. On-line product news and photos of restorative options enable the dentist to browse the information at his leisure. Issaquah Dental Lab's website features a product questionnaire through which dentists can indicate that they want more information on certain services, then submit the request electronically. In response, the lab "snail-mails" a packet of information and, if the dentist is not a current customer, also includes prescription forms.
This soft-sell approach saves time and adds an interactive element to the website, a key strategy for getting dentists to visit the site repeatedly. "It gives us the opportunity to serve a lot of out-of-town doctors without having to travel," says Pam Bainbridge, CDT, general manager of the Issaquah, Washington laboratory, who says they have gotten information requests from all over the world since putting the questionnaire on-line three years ago. The site also offers product incentives like a free diamond prep kit with a client's first all-ceramic case.
Public awareness and education. To create a greater public awareness of dental technology and treatment options, Boos Dental Lab's website features a patient resource page that explains the role of the dental laboratory and describes several available products. It also encourages the consumer to provide the dentist with the lab's contact information.
CQC Prosthodontics in Rochester, New York, takes its public information one step further. Its general public information page includes photos and a detailed, A-Z glossary of dental technology terms, materials and even job descriptions in the field. In addition, the site features descriptions of how restorations are fabricated from beginning to end.
The laboratory's goal for the glossary is twofold: to educate the public and to offer a service to their doctors. "So often doctors don't have the time to really explain to a patient what products are available in terms he can understand," says Bob Ingrassio, president. "Now doctors can refer patients to our site, where they can explore the glossary. It's a way for our laboratory to support the dental office." In 1999, the site's consumer Q&A section received between 200-300 questions from consumers all over the world.
Marketing assistance. Laboratories are also using the web to provide marketing assistance to their dentist-clients, a service especially valuable for clients without a website of their own. For example, by putting case studies on-line, Derby Dental Laboratory of Louisville, Kentucky, allows its clients to refer patients to the laboratory's site to view some of their casework. The case studies also give the laboratory the opportunity to highlight some of its work.
CQC Prosthodontics is launching its clients into cyberspace by creating dentist home-pages that link from the laboratory's website. The dentist-client provides the laboratory with the information and photos he wishes to post, then the laboratory outsources the job, paying $50 to $75 for each page created. "It's a lot of work and it's not going to bring in a dollar for us directly," says Ingrassio. "However, it is a value-added service; we're not looking for a direct return." To date, four clients have taken advantage of the free service, reports Ingrassio.
Technical and practice management assistance. Savvy laboratory owners know that one way to be valuable to their dentist-clients is to be a resource of information. Summit Dental Lab in Waco, Texas, for example, includes step-by-step shade-taking advice on its site. And, if your laboratory is experiencing recurring technical problems with a client, it may be less awkward to refer him to your site, rather than to instruct him verbally.
MicroDental Laboratories complements its printed newsletter with a quarterly on-line version, Profiles in Dentistry. Designed to teach dentists how to achieve excellent esthetics, it features technical articles, case presentations, treatment planning strategies, seminar information and product Q&A.
As an added service to its dentist-readers, Ottawa Dental Laboratory's website provides an icon for downloading Adobe Reader, the software necessary to view the Ottawa, Illinois laboratory's library of newsletters, Ottawa Quarterly.
Thayer Dental Laboratory, Mechanicsburg, PA, even includes on-line practice management and marketing articles written by owner Greg Thayer for the Pennsylvania Dental Journal, including Maximum Marketing for Minimum Dollars. And, by periodically updating and adding new articles and tips, you give your clients a reason to return to the site.
Event promotion. To advertise its in-house seminars, Dental Prosthetics in Tucson, Arizona, puts a complete course description along with a registration and billing form on its website. The dentist-attendees can either register via e-mail or print out the forms and mail them to the laboratory.
Americus Dental Lab, New York, New York posts photos of events and even provides links to the websites of some of the shows it will be attending so dentist-clients can obtain more detailed information.
Cosmetic imaging. Hans Hansen, CDT, owner of Parkview Dental Laboratory in Brisbane, California believes there is a direct correlation between the shape of a person's face and the size, shape, subtle contours and length of his teeth. He—along with two other California laboratory owners, Peter Keri, CDT, Peter Paul Dental Laboratory and Axel Altermann, Altermann Dental Laboratory and Dicom Imaging Sytems, Inc.—has incorporated this proportional analysis technique into a website offering cosmetic imaging services to dental consumers. Photos of the consumer are scanned into the computer, measurements are taken and calculated and then before-and-after photos are sent to the consumer either via e-mail or regular mail.
Initially, they offered the service only to clients' patients; all of the people who have used the $200 service have had the work performed. The partners are now in the process of launching an advertising campaign to promote the service to the general public. "People have two concerns before committing to cosmetic work. First is the price, and second is 'how am I going to look?'," says Hansen. He and his two partners expect to see a real boom in business from consumers across the country once radio and print ads are launched. "We are not seeking additional work or new accounts; the objective is to generate public awareness of the importance of a person's smile as it relates to his image, self esteem and quality of life."
On-line personnel recruitment. As more and more job hunters turn to the Internet, laboratories are also using their websites as a recruiting tool. Thayer Dental Laboratory's website features a career section that provides the company's background, benefits package and an on-line employment form for prospective employees to complete and e-mail directly to the laboratory. "If a technician is impressed by our site and thinks our laboratory might be a good place for his future, the on-line form is a convenient way for him to make contact," says Thayer.
And, there's no denying that the Internet reaches a much larger audience than a typical print ad. However, says Thayer, that fact can also be a drawback: the laboratory receives resumes from all over the country and the expense of moving the person may not be cost efficient. Of the 15 to 20 qualified responses the laboratory has received, it has interviewed seven applicants, but not hired anyone yet. The applicants were either at a lower skill level than necessary for the position or lived too far away.
Laboratory owners on the forefront of the Internet revolution are experiencing its benefits and they—along with experts—only expect it to get better. "The truly revolutionary impact of the Internet is just beginning to be felt," writes Peter Drucker in the October 1999 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. "In the mental geography of e-commerce, distance has been eliminated. There is only one economy and only one market. The competition is not local anymore—it knows no boundaries."
For example, Thayer Dental Laboratory has increased its out-of-state clients by approximately 6% in the past three years, an increase that owner Greg Thayer directly attributes to the lab's website. "The site allows a dentist in Austin, Texas, for instance, to seek a new laboratory anywhere in the country," he says. "A dentist can read about our specialized implant procedures and the fact that we have a dentist on staff, which makes him feel comfortable sending that first case to us."
And, by year's end, CQC's Ingrassio expects that the laboratory and some of its clients will be e-mailing images back and forth to speed up and enhance case communication. "If we have a problem or just want to make a point on a complex case, we can e-mail the image or post it on our website, then talk about the case as if we're together," says Ingrassio. "There's a big, big future for that."
See the sites
Following is a list of the website addresses referenced in this article that are still current as of January 2004:
- Americus Dental Lab, New York, New York: http://www.americuslab.com
- Bonadent Dental Laboratories, Auburn, New York: http://www.bonadent.com
- CQC Prosthodontics, Rochester, New York: http://www.cqcinc.com
- Dental Domain, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts: http://www.dentaldomain.com
- Issaquah Dental Lab in Issaquah, Washington: http://www.issaquah-dl.com
- MicroDental Laboratories, Dublin, California: http://www.microdental.com
- Ottawa Dental Laboratory, Ottawa, Illinois: http://www.ottawadentallab.com
- PJ's Dental Lab in Hartford, Wisconsin: http://www.pjsdental.com
- Summit Dental Lab, Waco, Texas: http://summit-dental.com
- Thayer Dental Laboratory, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania: http://www.thayerdental.com