Soft skills for hard decisions: Helping patients say yes to dentistry

Studies show we make purchase decisions based on emotion...and then justify with reason. Here’s what that means for improving your case acceptance.

Janet Hagerman, BS, RDH

Every day your patients are faced with hard choices about the dentistry you present in your treatment plans. Will they get a crown or a new iPhone? An implant or savings for a vacation? Periodontal therapy or new clothes? In short, your patients have choices between dental services and stuff they’d rather buy. What’s a health-care professional to do?

In my experience, case acceptance for dental treatment averages only 30%–50%. This includes patients of record—those very patients with whom you’ve already created relationships. How can you become more successful helping your patients say yes to the dentistry they need? Despite our increasingly technical world, the answer could well be soft skills.

Hard skills are the technical skills required to perform a specific job. Hard skills are typically measurable, and in dentistry these include your clinical skills. Soft skills are the personal, social, and communication skills we use to relate to others. These include communication, listening, and empathy, as well as leadership and team skills. It is said that hard skills will get you the job, but soft skills will keep your job.

While hard skills are the standard of any job, it is the soft skills that empower a person to excel because these are the skills that enable you to connect with others, to relate to others, and to create winning rapport with others. These are the skills that are crucial when you are asking patients to spend their hard-earned dollars for dental treatment.

Consumers make buying decisions based on emotion and then rationalize them with logic. Yet, too often we are busy “telling” patients instead of “asking.” While dispensing clinical information in the name of patient education seems logical, it is not always effective at getting treatment acceptance. Instead, try appealing to patient emotions by learning about the values and feelings that drive their buying decisions. In other words, switch your attention to focused conversations with open-ended questions followed by empathetic active listening. Open-ended questions typically start with the words such as “what” or “how.” They require a thoughtful response. These replies hold the keys to each patient’s values, which you can then tie to their clinical needs. Using this technique means you have patients’ permission to answer their concerns and educate them.

Here are a few good open-ended questions:

• What do you know about crowns? (Or veneers, implants, periodontal disease, etc.)

• What is most important to you about your teeth?

• What is most important to you about your dentist?

• How do you feel about whitening? (Or closing that gap, etc.)

In the long run, this method will actually save you time. Your focused communication will address each patient’s specific values and concerns so you can respond appropriately.

How much needed dentistry is walking out your door? Your competition is not the dentist down the street but the hundreds of buying options that your patients are exposed to daily. In a world of ever-increasing technology, you (and your patients) will benefit from your use of soft solutions for these hard choices.

Help your patients say yes to the treatment you know they need by using these solutions. Your patients are counting on you!

Janet Hagerman, BS, RDH, is an international speaker, author, and consultant. She helps dental teams grow their greatness through improving their communication and leadership skills. Visit her website atjanethagerman.com. For consulting or speaking inquiries, contact her at janet@janethagerman.com or (678) 371-8234.

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