The comfort zoneIndulge, pamper, persuade

Nov. 1, 2003
For most dental practices, women represent a huge potential for growth. Tap into this profitable market segment with service and amenities that relax, rejuvenate, and perform.

by Risa Simon

What was once rated as "acceptable" in customer care is now at the bottom of a tall order of guest services. Smart business enterprises realize that they can weigh in much more heavily by building relationships and providing "peace of mind" versus knowledge, expertise, or experience alone.

In fact, it is the heart-centered, soft skills that score far more points than the hard skills of knowledge. Yet, even though we have all come to realize that "no one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care," we still seem to get caught up in the task, rather than the connection experience. This is observed when individuals feel their duties are more pressing than the human being standing before them. In today's competitive marketplace, rudeness is simply not an option.

Smart, referral-based businesses understand the importance of making their guests feel important and are willing to go the extra mile for a request (even if it's outside the company's policy). If not, chances are the customer will find someone else more eager to gain their loyalty.

Over the years, we have encouraged "customer service" behaviors in healthcare with determination and vigor. However, it was not until we visited the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. that we truly witnessed these concepts in action in the medical arena. If you are not familiar with the Mayo Clinic's model, this institution offers paperless, multidisciplinary care in an environment that is on par with the elegance of Nordstroms. To name a few of their legendary trademarks, you'll find a grand piano playing soothing music on the main lobby floor, fine art lining the hallways, and an abundance of volunteers with a tremendous "can do" attitude. Moreover, all healthcare providers have been trained to listen to your needs with an extraordinary human focus.

Dentistry has embraced these trends with an even more alluring array of services that promise to indulge, relax, and rejuvenate even the most anxious patient. Since more than 35 million Americans avoid dental care due to fear of pain and discomfort, these special services have become a very valuable commodity. The goal is to indulge one's imagination through enhanced relaxation and human-focused comfort.

What women want

As extreme as it may sound, advanced practices have also shifted their focus to providing services that sophisticated women perceive as important. Yes, that's right — women! If you think you may be excluding a key group of the opposite sex — you're correct. But fear not — women are still key players, even in male dominated practices.

We know this from various consulting firms (and the Bureau of Economic Analysis) who tell us that women make up over 80 percent of all personal expenditure decisions, be they single or married! And, according to the U.S. Labor Dept. (as reported in Wall Street Journal, November, 24, 1997) women also comprise 47 percent of individuals with over $500,000 in assets. Likewise, a new study by the Federal Reserve tells us that women control 51.3 percent of the private wealth in the U.S.

On another note, the IRS tells us that females carry less debt — an admirable and attractive trait, particularly for those of us trying to gain their business. Yet, very few businesses have come to realize that these statistics are powerfully effective when applied to current marketing strategies.

Father doesn't know best

Gone are the days when "father knew best." Today, a loving husband who might have surprised his wife with a new car — without consulting her first — could end up wishing he'd done nothing at all. (Believe me, I know this from experience!) Women want to be involved in the decision-making process. It's important for them to express their desires and exercise their due diligence so that all the important details (as they perceive them to be) are addressed.

When women are on a mission to shop, the traditional "tell and sell" techniques are often counterproductive. This explains the paradigm shift to "facilitating" a solution, rather than "selling" a product or service. Men usually shop by starting their search process with independent research (ads, publications, and the Web). The male process tends to emphasize "facts and features" focused on the product or service.

In contrast, women will usually start the buying process by asking others about their experiences and look for personal opinions and perceptions. Input sought by females includes a more comprehensive and impressionistic gathering of several individual reactions and perceptions.

Women also have a higher level of expectation for "post-purchase follow-through," which becomes the most compelling reason to incorporate an environment that pampers, persuades and continually performs to their expectations. This, of course, assumes you want repeat business and positive word of mouth referrals. In any event, by catering to women you have nothing to lose. By meeting the demands of women, you'll have surpassed what men are looking for, thereby doubling your marketing effort.

What are your patients looking for?

Most people would be happy to be seen on time, but female patients go beyond that. They want to know how you achieve and control your quality. They want a tour of the facility. In fact, they think it is their duty to scrutinize your sterilization procedures and observe your cleanliness, including you and your team's attire. If your lab coats are soiled or your shoes appear dingy, or your hair always appears to be disheveled, then that same mindset might equally apply to their assumptions about the quality of dentistry you provide. Bottom line, women will take the time to do the research. They need evidence-based examples, so make sure you're providing the right image with every contact.

Think of each visit as the "first date." Female patients are watching everything you do and taking copious notes in their amazing visual female recording device — their minds. Women remember colors, shapes, and the exact words you use, so be mindful as to how you might be viewed, and communicate consistently at all times.

Women also expect a more personalized discovery interview and command great listening skills so that they feel "heard." If they don't feel you've "connected" with them in this respect, they'll simply cut their losses and go elsewhere. If, however, things do go well, they will be more open to engage in the next step and support the diagnosis and presentation process as a natural evolution of events for themselves and their family members. But if they feel they have lost that connection and no longer believe that you genuinely care about them as individuals, your initial efforts will be in vain.

One should never forget that women seem to notice more, expect more, and talk more than men. What can this mean for your practice? Well, if you are doing all the right things, women will indeed help you spread the good word and will actively refer others to your practice. Likewise, if you aren't perceived to be "up to snuff," you can bet those words will spread even faster!

Competence vs. amenities

When the patient believes that you and your team are both competently skilled and caring — then experiential amenities will boost your practice up even further! The key is to set the stage for competence through genuine, heart-felt interest before engaging in anything else. Most people don't trust "fluffy extras" until you've earned their trust the old fashion way — through merit. You must always start by building on the foundational relationship, which always begins by listening and responding to the customer's individual needs. It's always about them and for them. It's never about you. Never forget that!

To that end, we must first meet our customer's basic needs (as described in Maslow's pyramid), and then, and only then, can you effectively use special services to pump up the value.

Amenities that pamper, persuade, and perform

Have you considered adding on a few amenities to further relax your patients? How about offering your patients enhanced neck support through cervical vertebrae neck pillows, or lumbar support by placing a small, oblong pillow under their knees? Don't forget the personalized headsets or DVD movies on overhead monitors as options.

Soothing music, guided imagery, or calming sounds of nature from nearby waterfalls can also be offered, along with aromatherapy, hot rocks, paraffin hand dips, and pampering massages. take the patient to an even deeper level of relaxation. Regardless of how "spa-like" you are, you must always be cognizant of the amount of pressure that is being applied. A "nice-and-easy" touch with every finger rest or foreman cradle is crucial to the overall feeling of gentle care, particularly when someone's lip is the bearer of all weight underneath it.

Likewise, you must never forget two indispensable — and highly underestimated — comfort supplements. The first imperative aid is the "tooth pillow." The tooth pillow is the ultimate test of showcasing your relaxation effectiveness. You see, if you do a good job relaxing your patients, they can't possibly keep their mouth open on their own. The tooth pillow should be part of your standard armamentarium, even if you have no intention of offering enhanced relaxation amenities. Just the mere fact that it stabilizes the jaw and eliminates the need to incessantly repeat the lyrics to the famous tune "open-open-open, don't bite," proves that we cannot operate efficiently without it!

The second item that must never be left out is lip balm. By applying lip balm both before and after treatment, the consequences of stretching the victim's mouth from ear to ear will be long forgotten by the end of the visit. Omitting this essential "high-touch" additive will sabotage everything else you've offered. For proof, just check out the evidence-based data of your patient's bleeding, cracked lips. This, is far more memorable to the patient and far more scarring to your practice in the long run.

Remember, you don't have to do everything or remember everything on your own. Train your auxiliaries to observe and respond to your patient's comfort level accordingly. Optimize the use of special isolation and aspiration techniques that capture extraneous materials, which will prevent the patient from imagining that they are swallowing foreign materials.

All and all, never forget the order in which you offer amenities. Simon Says "Forgo the fuzzy slippers and herbal tea's until you've mastered the art of "pain-free" care, comfort positioning, and nonverbal communication". As you master the basics, be sure that your technology supports key elements in patient education and entertainment. Help the patient make informed decisions. This is not about selling as much as it is discovery and facilitation. Remember to speak from your eyes and listen with your heart and your ears. These behaviors will help you cultivate powerful testimonial machines that can produce greater results than any million-dollar advertising campaign could even begin to promise.

Think women first

We realize that women perceive, believe, and behave differently than men, but it's equally important to realize that women and men may have more in common than in variance. Yet, even a 5 percent disparity can make a huge difference, especially when it concentrates right where it matters most — on your bottom line!

Typically, women want to feel cherished — an important distinction for a marketer trying to position a service as one that delivers emotional fulfillment. Men also want to feel important and needed, but they tend to be more concerned with accomplishing the transaction at hand. They are simply working the role of "task machine."

Women, on the other hand, choose to initiate an on-going relationship. They understand the necessity to invest the time and are willing to undertake a more comprehensive process as they seek to qualify the "perfect decision" for themselves and their families.

That said, women want and need more information. Women consider more in their decision-making criteria. They investigate more options and will consult advisors for input at each stage. This is evident with the old "asking for directions" scenario. (Men just want to know the cross-streets, they'll figure out the rest on their own).

However, women are more likely to loop back to preceding stages of the process as they get additional input. They aren't too proud to ask and feel that asking is actually a sign of good research. Men, on the other hand, often see asking as a "weakness," rather than as a "strength."

Women often tend to postpone making a decision until they are positive they are not making a mistake. Conversely, men simply want to finalize the decision so they can get on to something else. To that end, a man's decision-making is fairly linear and direct. Men are more likely to stay focused on the specific task at hand while viewing each stage of the process as moving closer to the goal of finalizing the decision for a desired outcome.

Women tend to slow down the process by noticing more, remembering more, and processing more. According to a study performed by the University of Wisconsin, women notice and recollect 70 percent more detail in their environment than men. It has been said that a three-day old baby girl will watch a human face twice as long as a three-day old baby boy— (perhaps evidence that female orientation toward others appears to be hard-wired from birth!)

International studies also confirm that women can read body language and facial expressions better than men. Some people even believe that a woman's corpus callosum (the broad thick band of millions of nerve fibers that runs from the right side of the brain to the left) is more fully developed and is the primary reason that women have a propensity to be more intuitive.

If this theory is true, it may be the very reason why women are more intuitive and better equipped than men to gauge the sincerity and personal interest of others. There is no doubt that women seem to have an internal detector that tells them what is genuine and what is not. While not always right, the odds do appear to be in their favor.

That said, if you're planning to offer "above and beyond" services, you might make sure that you are truly committed and passionately driven to provide those extra services to avoid being labeled as a bogus business that can't walk the talk.

It's not about pink, perfume, or red lipstick!

Don't think for a minute that catering to women is about pink wallpaper, perfumed hallways, or framed photographs of smiling faces with red lipstick. Nor is it about handing out roses to all of your "guests." Quite the contrary.

As Stephen Covey says in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, begin with the end in mind. If you want to be perceived as a genuine and caring professional organization, then start acting like one! It's just that simple. It may be time for an environmental face-lift and some verbal skills training in "guest care." You may also need to honestly ask yourself if dentistry is undeniably your passion. If you shiver at the mere thought of the question, (or aren't moved by your answer) you may be in the wrong profession.

However, if you wish to practice in a unique environment that indulges, pampers, and persuades your patients to achieve and maintain optimum oral health for a lifetime, then you are no doubt on the right path to making a difference.

As author and speaker Dr. Wayne Dyer says, "It's never crowded on the extra mile." Hope to see you there!

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