from good to great!

March 1, 2003
The right people doing the right things the right way is the key to success for any dental practice.

by Danny Tse, DMD and Dr. Jerry Willbur

In today's dynamic dental climate, standing still is not an option. However, with so much information swirling around, it can be difficult to choose a path that leads to success. The key is not simply to grow, but to grow in the right direction. Formulating your path is what will distinguish a good dentist from a truly great dentist.

What do we mean by great dentistry? We mean a 90 percent treatment plan acceptance delivered by an enthusiastic and effective team. We mean going from a brand-new practice to a million-dollar practice with low overhead in one year. We mean making a dramatic impact in the quality of oral health for our citizens. We mean less stress and more income. There is a practical and proven pathway to this great dentistry.

The formula

A simple and proven formula exists that can help dentists build the practice of their dreams: "High Tech +High Touch = High Trust." Without high trust, your patients will not accept your treatment plans. And, if they don't accept your treatment plans, they won't improve their dental health. An office with a high rate of treatment plan acceptance will see fewer patients, serve them better, and still grow.

Of course, "simple" does not always mean "easy." The finest in cutting-edge dental technology will do you no good unless patients experience the acceptance, compassion, and clear communications that a high-touch approach produces.

However, by following a strategy for success based on this formula, numerous dentists have put it all together quickly, effectively, and profitably. Dr. Roy Nakai's article, "Controlling the Chaotic Storm in Paperless Dentistry" (Dental Economics, September 2002) covered our approach to high technology in the dental practice. Therefore, this article will focus on the other essential component to a successful practice: high touch.

The high-touch component

In his best selling book Good to Great, author Jim Collins continues the research he started at Stanford University on what makes organizations successful for the long term. Technology, Collins learned, is important, but it is not the driving factor. The real driving force behind performance and customer value creation are what we call "high-touch" components. Truly successful companies all had three things in common: 1) They hired the right people; 2) They did the right things; 3) They provided good, effective management and led them the right way. In our many years in dentistry, we have noted that these same three factors are the hallmarks of great dentistry. The good news about these three factors is that, while they may not be part of your DNA, they can be learned.

The right people

It all begins with hiring and keeping the right people. But what do we mean by the term "right people?" Many people have ability, but it's the right attitude that is critical for success. When a group of individuals work closely together, as is frequently the case in a dental office, one bad apple can spoil the whole bushel. Quite simply, you need to get the right people on the team, and the wrong people off.

According to the book, Topgrading by Dr. Bradford Smart, an "A" player is one who qualifies among the top 10 percent of those available for a position. You won't have a chance of attracting these people unless you carefully define your employment criteria. Dentists must develop a talent template that details the desired attributes. We have determined that high-tech/high-touch teams need people with a blend of specific traits, including:

• Extrovert: Warm; likes to meet people
• Integrity: Trustworthy, conscientious, and honest
• Customer-service oriented: Helpful, nurturing, and willing to serve.
• Technology-oriented: Sees technology as a helpful tool that frees the caregivers to spend more time with customers
• A continuous learner: Flexible, highly inquisitive, and open to new experiences

Once we determined these traits, we designed questions that made candidates explain how they exhibited them. For example, for continuous learning, we asked potential employees to share one new thing they had learned in the last month. For customer service orientation, we asked them to give an actual example of when they had provided good service to a customer. Later in the interview, we recommend that managers ask candidates to give an example of how they handled a difficult customer. We suggest you ask everyone the same questions and follow a strict pattern throughout the process. This type of talent template plus a targeted, patterned interview will give you a definite edge when it comes to hiring quality employees. You are looking for superstars, and superstars recognize and appreciate this unique approach.

The right things

Once you have the right people, it's critical that you teach them to do the right things. We emphasize excellent customer service heavily. Most dental offices offer a high level of clinical care. But patients can't truly evaluate clinical techniques. What they judge instead is the compassion, communications, cleanliness, and customer service skills of your office. Offices must emphasize practicing continuous quality improvement on the clinical side; they also need to place an equally strong emphasis on doing the right things that impact customer enthusiasm.

First impressions are critical, and a personal yet efficient introduction to your office is essential. One of the greatest advantages of the paperless digital environment is that it streamlines the front office. Your carefully front desk team can focus on making customers feel relaxed and welcome. The digital practice will have current customer records available at the touch of a key. Employees can lead new patients through a friendly but structured discussion to obtain all the data needed to begin treatment.

As we mentioned previously, another important skill for employees is an enthusiasm for learning, especially computer skills. To complete the high-tech/high-touch/high-trust cycle, you need a staff that embraces computers completely. Nothing stresses a patient like a staff member fumbling with a computer. While not everyone you hire has to be a computer whiz, be alert to the candidate who has zero experience. Someone who lacks experience of any kind in our computer-saturated society is probably adverse to technology.

When regular customers visit your digital office, your team should review their files and pictures in advance and then greet them by name. Your team should strive to remember customer preferences and should be aware of any special needs or requests. Then, the team can focus on making customers feel completely at home. The digital system alerts the team in back that the patient is here so that they can greet patients by name and escort them to the treatment room. Once there, they can pull up patient records and previous digital images to refresh them about their conditions and treatment status.

Another key "right thing" we suggest is measuring and achieving a 90 percent level of treatment plan acceptance. Successful treatment plan acceptance is based on the patient's entire experience. A cluttered office or even a messy entrance influences their decision. A too-busy or rushed greeting makes patients feel stressed. A clinical team that seems rushed or unwilling to listen makes patients uncomfortable. High-tech minus high-touch can rattle patients. A compassionate, caring, communicating team in a clean and efficient surrounding builds an environment of trust. We even stress using the right terminology to build trust. You need to get your team to avoid using dental jargon and instead use customer-friendly terms to make the high touch approach work.

The right way

Once you have the right people doing the right things, the key is keeping them going the right way. Outstanding leaders understand they must provide clear and concise direction to their teams. The "right" direction includes a compelling vision and a concise, consistently communicated set of core values. Leaders must set an example by adhering to these values in their everyday approach to work and living. "Do as I say, not as I do" simply won't wash with the smart, competent staff you've hired.

We have a clear set of values we consistently communicate and live at the Master Dentist Institute, and a compelling vision that provides drive and direction for our people. Our core values are:

• Do all things with integrity.
• Deliver the highest quality and service.
• Do the right things right, enthusiastically.
• Develop and grow all our people.
• Deliver value to our customers.

These are not just slogans on the wall; they are standards that we practice every day. We suggest that all dentists identify their core values and then use them to recruit the best talent, make decisions, and decide who really deserves promotions or compensation increases. A high performer who trashes your values will destroy your high trust-environment. No office can afford to lose the investment of time and effort that goes into building a trusting relationship.

Dentists must stress to their teams that realizing a vision means applying its core values daily to their jobs. What can they each contribute toward reaching this vision?

Without a consistent set of core values and a compelling vision, dentists will have a difficult time keeping the right people properly focused on doing the right things. Values and vision will provide you with a disciplined approach to doing dentistry. Like banks to a river, they give you and your team structure, drive, and direction and will channel you toward success.

Equally important is to have a system that measures performance improvement. We spend a great deal of time helping dental teams develop key performance indicators (KPI's) that measure their progress toward practice goals. This is yet another instance where a fully digital office is helpful. However, the key is not just collecting data for data's sake. You must understand those vital few things that really drive performance and create value for your customers. You also need to really zero in on customer perceptions. Three key questions we suggest you ask each customer are:

• Did we meet your needs today?
• Will you refer us to your friends and family?
• Will you consider us as your permanent personal dental office?

Equally important is measuring the leading indicators that produce customer enthusiasm. Closely monitor your staff's satisfaction to determine how enthusiastic they are about their work, as well as their efficiency and effectiveness. A wise saying states that when the team is happy, the customer is happy. We know from experience that customers are seldom treated better than the employees!

Organizations that go from good to great know three key things. As Leonard Berry states in "Discovering The Soul of Service," great organizations create customer loyalty when:

• They take a long-term perspective. They know the tremendous value of a long-term customer.
• They carefully select, continuously train, actively retain, and motivate their employees.
• They take a zero defection mentality toward customer service.

Blending high-tech with a high-touch approach creates a high trust environment where patients accept treatment and enthusiastically refer your practice to their family and friends. Using this approach can transform good practices into great ones without increasing overhead.

Getting the right people to do the right things the right way must be built into everything you do. A fully digital office makes this process much easier. However, even a traditional or low-tech office can, with work and patience, build a high trust environment using the high touch approach. But even the most elaborate high-tech office won't succeed without the foundation of high touch. Growing from good to great dentistry is possible. Just follow the formula: High-tech + high-touch = high trust.

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