The 10-foot rule

Oct. 1, 2001
To kick off this column on "Gems of the VIP 5-Star Practice," let's first take a look at the concept of a win/win relationship.

by Tom Orent, DMD

Welcome to extreme customer service!
To kick off this column on "Gems of the VIP 5-Star Practice," let's first take a look at the concept of a win/win relationship. Both the patient and the doctor should believe they've received more than their fair share of value. For the doctor, value comes from professional satisfaction, the joy of personal relationships, and, of course, financial compensation. Our patients perceive value through the health and beauty resulting from treatment, as well as the personal touches — the delivery of our services.

Your patients' perception is their reality! We've been instructed to "create perceived added value" — an excellent suggestion, but how do we do that? This column is dedicated to raising the bar with "Extreme Customer Service." No theory. Never conjecture. Each article will deliver a gem that has proven to be successful in my practice, the Center for Esthetic Dentistry. You might make a three-ring binder of the gems, then share them with your staff. Push service to the extreme.

The need to feel recognized
Visit a five-star hotel. One of the first things that will hit you is the incredibly consistent level of service throughout the organization. From bellhop to general manager, the entire team is on a mission of consistent, top-level customer service. As human beings, we have a need to be noticed — a need to be recognized.

It's maddening to feel ignored. At the Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons Hotel, or Nordstrom department stores, you'll never want for attention! Let's play devil's advocate for a moment. It's really busy in the dental office. Staff members are busy doing their jobs — they can't possibly cater to everyone simultaneously!

Bear in mind that "perception is reality." If each patient felt recognized and not ignored, you'd be several steps closer to the VIP 5-Star Practice. The concept is simple. Before I explain, I'll share something that happened to me while visiting a physician's office.

My first and last visit with Dr. S.
It was my first visit to Dr. S.'s medical practice. I arrived a few minutes early, anticipating the need to fill out routine paperwork. When I entered the office, there were two staff members at the desk. One was on the telephone, the other was wearing a headset, apparently transcribing the doctor's notes.

I approached the desk to say "hi." Neither looked up. The one on the phone looked down at her desk. The transcriber was focused on her keyboard. Initially, it didn't bother me — but as time passed, it became uncomfortable ... annoying ... maddening to be ignored.

I kept one eye on the clock on the back wall of the office. I stood only a foot from these folks for no less than five minutes — ignored. When I finally "interrupted" them, it was clear to me that I was not welcome. It was my first and last visit to Dr. S.

The "10-foot rule"
As long as I've been in practice, my team has always followed what I call the "10-foot rule." Anytime a team member comes within 10 feet of any of our "guests," that team member is to acknowledge the guest. If we're not involved with another guest, we'll say "hello" and introduce ourselves if we've never met. This is all part of a carefully scripted "new-patient experience."

If our focus is with another guest, then we'll at least acknowledge the newcomer. A warm smile and nod of the head can really go a long way to communicate a welcome to the waiting guest.

A future column will focus on all of the details of the new-patient experience to create added value in your practice. For now, establish your own 10-foot rule!

Dr. Tom Orent, the GEMS GUY, is a management consultant and practicing dentist. He is a founding member and past president of the New England chapter of the AACD. He has presented his "1,000 Gems SeminarsTM" in four countries and at state and national meetings in 46 states. He has lectured at numerous dental schools and is the author of four books and numerous articles on aesthetic dentistry, practice management, TMJ, and "Extreme Customer Service." Dr. Orent may be reached at (888) 880-4367, by fax at (508) 879-4811, by email at [email protected], or visit

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