The legacy of Sgt. Schultz

Aug. 1, 2003
In these changing times, people are looking for solid relationships and comfort close to home. Dentistry patients especially need to feel they know you and can trust you.

By Bill Blatchford

In these changing times, people are looking for solid relationships and comfort close to home. Dentistry patients especially need to feel they know you and can trust you. In "selling" dentistry to our patients, we have long held the idea that building patient trust is explaining and educating the patient on the technical aspects of treatment. Great acceptance does not result from this approach.

Sergeant Schultz on the old television comedy series, "Hogan's Heroes," had the right attitude for success in presenting dental treatment in these changing times. His most frequent response —in a fabulous German accent — was, "I know nothing."

To gain treatment acceptance from our patients, our minds need to be a blank canvas, ready for the patient to paint the picture. We must assume the attitude that "I know nothing" about this person. I am here to learn.

If you begin your treatment discussion (the time before the patient says "yes") with an answer or solution before patients are allowed to voice their concerns and priorities, you miss the whole point. The treatment presentation process is the emotional right-brained discussion where we ask patients about their dreams and desires and the benefits and results that are important to them. This is not the time for us to offer preconceived answers. We dentists are so technically trained that we frequently inhibit the treatment presentation process. We are constantly designing our ideas for a perfect smile for our new patient, the grocery clerk, the waiter, or our karate instructor. However, we trip over our own feet when we already have a picture in mind for our patient.

Lou Holtz said, "I never learn anything talking. I only learn when I ask questions." Imagine if another football great, Vince Lombardi, was a new guest in your office. Immediately, you visualize in your mind how you can change the diastema, the spacing, and his yellow teeth. Without finding out what Mr. Lombardi wants, you begin describing what you would do for him. In telling him about your plan for improving the spacing of his teeth and the diastema, he replies (with some indignation), "What do you mean, change my smile? My smile is a Lombardi smile! It is the same as my father's and my grandfather's before him. No way!" On a scale of one to 10, how are you doing on building relationships and trust?

A "Boat Sales Person of the Year" explained his success by saying, "When I see an inquiring couple, I never begin with a boat in mind." Imagine a dentist as a realtor, showing homes before determining the dreams and desires of the homebuyer. The dentist would point to the features he sees and appreciates, such as the lovely flowering cherry tree or the beautiful outdoor patio for summer dining. But by asking more questions — deeper questions — the dental-realtor might have discovered that the potential homebuyer has severe allergies to trees and bees. Without asking the right questions and allowing customers to tell you what is important to them, the sale is blown.

For patients to accept treatment, the technically-trained dentist must clear his mind.

"I know nothing" should become your mantra. Your job is to help patients uncover their agenda ... to develop a trusting relationship by staying out of the "tooth talk" while you develop a friend.

If you keep asking questions, the patient will paint a picture for you. Their answers will sound like "looking good," "younger," "whiter, straighter teeth and a more even smile," "looking better," "lasting a long time," and "feeling better" about their smile. Ask them to expand on these thoughts. Have them select an "after" picture to help them visualize their dream smile. Have them describe and share their ideas of the advantages if they "owned" that smile.

Because you began the conversation with the Sgt. Schultz attitude of "I know nothing," you allow patients to paint their own picture. They can see it, it is their idea ... and they will defend their idea. They also will resist your agenda if you put unwanted pressure on them to accept what you had in mind.

Create the opportunity for your new friends to dream into the future about their smiles. Start with "I know nothing" and your patients will fill your brain with more and better ideas than the ones you might have come up with.

By beginning with "I know nothing," you can avoid the Ricky Ricardo response from your patients: "You have a lot of 'splaining to do!

Dr. Bill Blatchford's Custom Coaching Program is now available anytime, anywhere. Utilizing 18 years of practice-management experience with over 1,100 offices, Dr. Blatchford's custom program involves minimal travel and maximum personal time with the coach, interaction with other doctors and tons of support. Leadership, systems, case presentation skills, communication and profitability are emphasized. He can be reached at (800) 578-9155 or visit his Web site at

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