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For a productive, fulfilled staff, treat employees like customers

Jan. 19, 2022
Today's staffing shortage is no small matter, and many dentists are scrambling not only to hire new talent, but also to retain staff. The key, says Roger Levin, is to treat your staff more like customers.

Dentistry is currently experiencing a staffing crisis. There is a shortage of qualified (and even unqualified) dental staff, which has created a revolution in dental staffing. Whenever a revolution occurs, new approaches, strategies, and systems must be put in place to overcome the issue. In this case, the issue consists of two parts. The first part is recruiting, hiring, and compensating new staff members. But equally important is the second part, which is to retain current staff. This article will focus on retaining staff, which will help practices avoid losing time, effort, expense, and revenue.

Levin Group’s latest information shows that the loss of a single key team member can decrease practice revenue by $50,000–$100,000. The solution? Treat your current team members like customers, not employees. Rethink what it means to be a team member  We have been advising our clients to adopt a new approach regarding their current staff. The days of simple transactional employment (i.e., “I pay you, you do work”) has come to an end. There are many aspects to what we consider an employee revolution, some of which are not clearly understood. But we do know that team members want more than a paycheck. We recommend implementing the following strategies in an effort to retain staff and treat them like customers:

Create an enjoyable, satisfying environment

Design an internal customer service plan that will have team members looking forward to coming to the office and being long-term employees. We advise practices to implement surprise lunches in the office, dinner gift certificates for team members and their families, random bonuses for a job well done, and group activities every quarter that foster positive relationships among team members. These activities are all designed to treat the team as customers, not employees who need to be motivated to work harder. We always want to create a positive and fun environment for our customers.

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Implement documented, proven, step-by-step systems

You may not think of implementing leading-edge, highly efficient systems as a customer service strategy for your staff, but no one wants to work in a chaotic, stressful environment where they don’t feel like they’re contributing at a high level. Team members today want to make a difference in addition to enjoying their work and the practice environment. Without documented, proven, step-by-step systems that serve as instructional guides for the team, the practice will suffer over time. In addition, when new team members are hired, the systems become the training manuals and guides for these individuals to train quickly and take the pressure off current staff. 

It’s also important to include the team in feedback loops on the systems you’ve implemented. Team members want to be heard and they often have very good ideas. By asking them to look for ways to make day-to-day practice easier, increase efficiency, and improve processes, you’re gaining commitment and encouraging staff longevity. You want to begin to create what is known as “ownership mentality” on the part of the team, and that can only happen when you begin to treat them as customers and equals.

Consider providing longevity bonuses

This was unheard of just a year or two ago. Now we are recommending that practices consider longevity bonuses for team members as part of their compensation package. These bonuses can be paid at one year, three years, five years, 10 years, 15 years, and 20 years. The longer the staff member stays, the higher the bonus. The amount should be communicated in advance so team members know what they would be walking away from if they leave. Keep in mind that the bonus must be significant enough to motivate a team member to stay. Don’t worry, though—the amount of the bonus pales in comparison to the amount of lost revenue should a team member leave. In addition, long-term team members who benefit from active training and excellent systems will help increase practice revenue every year and keep stress at a low level. Longevity bonuses recognize loyalty just like airline or credit card points. Customers like that!

Don’t be discouraged by rising overhead

We currently estimate that with increases in staff compensation, practice overhead will rise anywhere from 5%–8%. This may sound daunting, but we also know that almost every practice has a 30%–50% growth potential in revenue (within approximately three years) if it continually upgrades its systems. The same systems, efficiency, and training that are now essential to retain team members will be instrumental in practice growth. Be aware that this will not happen by simply making a few minor improvements or upgrading one system. A comprehensive update of all major practice systems is necessary to generate a revenue increase significant enough to offset higher overhead.

 Staffing is now the most critical issue facing dentistry. It’s a complex subject with hundreds of contributing factors ranging from recruiting, hiring, and compensation to training, motivating, leading, and retaining current employees. Treating staff members as customers is now an essential practice if your goal is to retain your current team. A positive environment, leading-edge systems, longevity bonuses, and revenue growth can all lead to creating and retaining a loyal team. The above recommendations will help to increase staff longevity in almost any practice.

Editor's note: This article appeared in the January 2022 print edition of Dental Economics.

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