Boutique customer service

June 1, 2001
Customer service is the most widely discussed management discipline today. Unfortunately, most of what is said is more lip service than customer service.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA

Customer service is the most widely discussed management discipline today. Unfortunately, most of what is said is more lip service than customer service. Walk into any store or restaurant, and there is a good chance that some aspect of your experience will not meet your expectations. The reason? Poor customer service.

Where has all the service gone?

Customer service was far superior in the first half of the last century. People were simply more courteous and had a strong desire to relate. Every customer interaction mattered.

Dental offices still fit that mold. Most are solo practices or small partnerships that maintain highly personal relationships. The fact that patients refer to their doctors as "my dentist" is a clue about how personal the treatment experience is. Add the fact that we provide services often associated with some discomfort, and you can understand why patients have an absolute need to believe in and trust us. This trust results in an expectation to be treated in a certain manner.

Boutique customer service ensures that you are providing your patients with consistently positive experiences. Most practices have about a 15 percent turnover rate; however, the boutique philosophy virtually ensures retention of your entire patient base, as well as increasing your referrals. Boutique customer service involves not just meeting patient expectations, but exceeding them.

The concept

Every doctor knows that staffing is critical to practice success. Most dentists look for individuals who have some idea of dental terminology and some level of training. However, no matter how experienced, individuals do not automatically have proper training in manners or relationship development. Consequently, some patients find their experiences are OK - but not superior. Because of moderate customer service, patients are less likely to accept treatment and recommend the practice to others.

Boutique customer service begins with the staff. It requires more from your team than being nice or well-mannered. Boutique customer service is accomplished by providing team training in communication, patient interaction, and interpersonal relationship development. It is a system that must apply to each patient during each visit.

Dentistry is not an inexpensive service and is seldom completely covered by insurance. When patients must pay out of their own pockets, they revert back to consumer mode. They evaluate their experience to determine if they are getting their money's worth. Dentistry has an extremely low priority when it comes to spending discretionary income. A trip to Nordstrom's or buying a new car feels far better than a trip to the dentist. Outstanding customer service can help change a patient's outlook.

The steps required to implement boutique customer service extend far beyond the scope of this column. However, as we tell our clients, some of the categories you must evaluate include

  • New patient phone calls
  • Orientation
  • Relationship development
  • Skilled communication
  • Education
  • Patient materials and samples
  • Follow-up

Each item has a number of steps to follow daily. If your practice has not reached the boutique level of customer service, it is time to give the matter serious thought. Simply having a nice office team is not sufficient. The practices that will excel in a downward economy are those that provide enhanced customer service.

The true key to long-term success in dentistry is customer service. The benefits are endless: happier and more satisfied patients, less stress, increased referrals, and a happier office environment.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA, president and CEO of The Levin Group and the Levin Advanced Learning Institute, provides worldwide leadership in dental management for general dentists and specialists. Contact The Levin Group at (410) 654-1234.

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