It's the little things that count!

The devil, as they say, is in the details. Consistency with your patients over seemingly insignificant matters makes the difference for patients and staff alike.

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by Sandy Roth

The devil, as they say, is in the details. Consistency with your patients over seemingly insignificant matters makes the difference for patients and staff alike.

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I stress to dentists and their teams that everything they do matters. When you are in a good mood and others know it, it matters. If you are feeling crabby and it shows, that matters as well. When you strive to be knowledgeable and informed, it matters. However, when you fail to do your homework and that omission contributes to a problem that might have been avoided, it makes also a difference.

Every team member influences the success or decline of the practice. Behaviors, attitudes, spirit, functions, performance — they all add up to either a team that takes advantage of each opportunity or one that misses the mark consistently.

When you handle opportunities or deal with problems sooner rather than later, it helps your co-workers turn their attention to other issues that matter as well. When your team wastes energy and effort on interpersonal strife, it robs the group of resources that rightly belong to the practice for patient care.

Most of what I refer to involves significant, substantive issues. But the little things matter as well, for they represent the standards that govern your performance. Let's turn our attention to some of those "little things."

Many teams have begun to look at adding little touches that "add value" to their patients' experiences. You needn't go far to find a plethora of ideas: Hot towels; massage and heat pads for the dental chairs; headsets for listening to music; spa dentistry; perfumes and lotions in the washroom; water bottles engraved with your office logo; birthday cards and flowers; movie passes; and dinner gift certificates.

A practice could easily spend thousands of dollars on these niceties each year, and many do. In the last few years, I have heard several speakers use an entire three-hour program reviewing an array of ideas, gimmicks, and gadgets that promise major returns. And while I think there can be value in many of these ideas for some patients under some circumstances, I also am absolutely confident that no gimmick is compelling enough to overcome more significant omissions. A free water bottle can't mollify a patient who doesn't don't feel heard, understood, and respected. Yet little things can make a difference. Even in the most competently skilled practices, patients leave because those little things are overlooked.

So how do you make a distinction between trivialities and the significant little things that make a difference? What "little things" enhance the patient experience in an already solid practice — and could easily dislodge a good relationship if taken too lightly?

Here are my little things that matter:

Getting details right — Details do matter. Patients easily can worry about your clinical abilities if details like appointments, accounts, and other issues are not handled competently. Patients pay attention to cleanliness, clutter, and other signs that indicate attention to detail. They have a personal interest in the care that goes into the handling of their affairs. You and your team must continuously review the details and ensure that paperwork is handled accurately, accounts and insurance are processed with care, and that other aspects of patient service are managed with precision.

Promtpt acknowledgement — Just last week, I entered an airport sundry store to buy a newspaper. The clerk kept me and several other customers waiting while she engaged in a personal phone call. While she halfheartedly apologized afterwards, it didn't erase the aggravation we felt.

It may not seem like a big thing, but why should a patient ever have to wait for a simple acknowledgment of their presence? It takes so little to acknowledge a person's arrival — and it costs so much when that acknowledgment is withheld. I often wonder what's behind this type of behavior. Is it a power play? Is the employee frustrated or angry? ºAgain, the team must be vigilant to ensure that this "little thing" does not come to define the quality of care and service for patients.

Staying on time — One of the biggest complaints I hear from team members about their dentist is the tendency to run late. Few things incur a patient's anger more than a doctor's tardiness. This little thing is one that can quickly mushroom because it's disrespectful to the patient. Do whatever it takes to keep your practice on time consistently. Certainly, there will be exceptions, but never allow your practice to accept lateness as ordinary or acceptable.

Quoting accurate fees and sticking to them — Too many practices take a cavalier approach to fees and financial arrangements. Sometimes it is because team members shy away from financial discussions with patients. At other times, it's because there are no systems that ensure patients have the respect that comes from full disclosure of fees and financial expectations. Patients are entitled to know the full range of financial possibilities so they can authorize treatment.

Remembering what you promised — If you don't write it down, you will likely forget it. If you don't write it down, others won't know what you have promised. If you don't write it down, they won't know what to do. The biggest detail is writing every one of the other details down so no one is confused or runs the risk of letting a patient down. Enough said.

A final note

Consistency matters. If you choose to provide a service, make sure your systems provide a way to do it regularly and consistently. It matters.

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