By Bill Blatchford, DDS
A successful dental practice is in constant change. Change can be instigated from within. Exterior forces also can cause practices to change.
Sociologists and economists analyze the American psyche, resulting in differing opinions. Are consumers purchasing optional items or only "necessities"? Are people venturing forth, taking chances and feeling good about their futures? Are consumers feeling bold, or are they holding back?
Who knows the real answer? One thing is certain. In changing times, people are seeking comfort. They are "nesting" by staying closer to home and family. People are less willing to travel for business or pleasure. They are seeking comfort. We must demonstrate optimism, enthusiasm, and comfort in dealing with patients. The mood of the office needs to reflect the importance of comfort. It should become part of your practice culture.
Dentistry and comfort is an oxymoron to most people. Because of this, we must make an extra effort to demonstrate warmth. In our conversations with patients, we could weave in words like "partner." For example, "We'd love to be a partner with you in developing that smile." "Family" is another one of those words, as in "Wel come to our dental family," "Proud to have you as part of our dental family," or "What would your family think?"
Two other words to emphasize are "voice"and "choice," as in "We want to make sure you have a voice in planning your dental health. We think you should have a voice and a choice."
Examine the traditional label we give dental patients and change it to "clients" or "guests." The word "patient" denotes a need to fix something and puts the individual in a subservient position. Patient means "I am going to do something to you."
Another term we need to toss is "waiting room." A better term would be "welcome room" or "inspiration room." This area should be set up like a living room, with a few comfortable chairs and some hardbound books about your community origins, its history, food, or economic base.
Beautifully framed "after pictures" are soothing and inspirational. A book about the staff and doctor would be another relationship- builder. The book could include testimonial letters from other "guests."
Your initial phone conversation can convey warmth if you are "mentally available" when the phone rings. Drop all tasks and focus on the conversation. Create a four- or five-word tag line after the greeting, such as "Where beautiful smiles live." Callers who are put on hold should hear a recorded message that conveys comfort and warmth, focusing on relationships, partnerships, and goals.
Block scheduling is an excellent method of conveying comfort. Assure each guest that "You will have the doctor's undivided attention." Another way to say it is, "This time is reserved especially for you." "Roller-derby aerobic dentistry" is the antithesis of comfort. Schedule to a specific goal so last-minute emergencies don't interfere with your best patients during their important appointments.
Listening is a learned skill that conveys comfort. Ask rapport, relationship, and benefit questions, then listen carefully. Allow your guest to talk! Videotape how you listen Does your body language suggest that you are listening, or do you look tight, like an authority figure? Are you the queen of interruption? Are you boxing, hoping to make the next blow count? Nothing makes patients feel more important and comfortable than knowing you are listening to them. It is the best sales tool there is! The better you are as a listener, the greater the case acceptance you will enjoy. Listening is a gift you can give to your guests and your friends.
Changing times require a real emphasis on service and comfort. Words, ambiance, and skills combine to form your practice culture. To be successful in dentistry today requires a clear leadership path and a skilled and focused staff, all demonstrating a passion for their guests' comfort.
Dr. Bill Blatchford, a practice-management coach only to dentists, has developed a distance learning coaching program utilizing conference calls, personal phone coaching, the Internet, and email. Minimizing the travel requirements, Blatchford coaching is now available anytime and anywhere. Based in Sunriver, Ore., Dr. Blatchford is speaking at the Chicago Midwinter, Profitable Dentistry's Destin Seminar, and Discus Dental's Las Vegas Seminar in 2003. He can be reached at (800) 578-9155 or visit his Web site at www.blatchford.com.