Customer service: How do you rate?

June 1, 2006
Ever wonder why patients reject treatment, pay late, cancel appointments, or otherwise fail to do what you want them to do? For the answer, try looking in the mirror.

Ever wonder why patients reject treatment, pay late, cancel appointments, or otherwise fail to do what you want them to do? For the answer, try looking in the mirror. A basic truth of leadership is that those who want to influence others cannot really control anyone but themselves. This is good news, because the sooner we stop blaming customers, the staff, the economy, etc., and look to ourselves to change things, the sooner we solve the mystery of the uncooperative patient. The million-dollar question then becomes: How do a dentist and team inspire patient loyalty and commitment?

Studies show that customers are unimpressed when they get what they expect to receive. According to authors Chip Bell and Ron Zemke in “Managing Knock Your Socks Off Service”: “... put away the calculator. You don’t need to solve for X in the service quality equation because the only ‘acceptable quality level’ is 100 percent. That’s the only number customers will really accept.” Another way to say this is: “Good is not good where better is expected.”

To exceed expectations, it is vital to know your customers. According to Bell and Zemke: “Start by seeing customer transactions not as a random collection of single experiences but as a relationship. Relationships in business, just as those in our personal lives, are built on knowledge, caring, and experience.”

As you embark on service improvements, note that an intimate conversation and genuine desire to accommodate a patient is fundamental for good service and a good relationship. Without this, more exotic service touches fall flat. For example, if a busy patient misses a meeting because the dentist is running 40 minutes late, a lavender-scented bib will not impress. However, if the bib comes as an extra touch underscoring overall good service, it will be appreciated. So, be sure you have the basics in place. Once you do, here’s how to kick your service up a notch to surprise and delight.

1)Go the extra mile. Caring service touches that recognize and value the patient will last long after the anesthesia wears off. One of our staff sees Dr. Greg Stump of Schaumburg, Ill. She appreciates the vibrating back massage on her dental chair, the painless injections with extra-fine needles warmed to body temperature, the lunch the practice buys her while the doctor prepares her temporaries, the premedication given to her for her next visit, saving a trip to the pharmacy, and other thoughtful touches. Remove any budget, time, or systems constraints that restrict the staff, then empower them to pamper your patients.

2)Do dentistry with people, not to them. Invite patients to become more involved with their dental care and your practice. This can include offering them promotional items to distribute to their acquaintances, or holding events in which you and your patients get to know each other better. With the help of interested patients, Dr. Tom Lewis of Ledyard, Conn., built a model railroad that chugs through his office. He launched the railroad with an open house that drew more than 100 people and a contest for patients to name the line (the “Tooth and Rail” won). Adding a touch of the familial to the relationship makes it much harder to fracture.

3)Encourage patients to recommend you. Prompt patients to notice your service and refer you. Directing their focus in this way reinforces their decision to be a patient and their commitment to quality care. For example, if you’ve just done an excellent co-diagnostic examination and “wowed” the patient, ask: “What about this visit exceeded your expectations?” When the person compliments you, ask for a referral: “We strive to give every patient a caring, high-quality dental experience, so if you know of any friends or family who would like to have the same level of service you’ve received, we would love for you to invite them to our practice.”

We’ve all had experiences of being ignored, disrespected, and anything but surprised and delighted. How would it be if your practice were the exception?

Amy Morgan is CEO and lead trainer of Pride Institute, the practice-management firm that helps dentists better their lives by mastering the business side of their practices. For additional information on Pride Institute’s seminars, management programs, and products, call (800) 925-2600 or visit

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