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WOW!

May 1, 2006
How to get THAT reaction from patients

How to get THAT reaction from patients

Top-performing dental practices always depend on one factor - the exemplary customer service they provide. Despite any future changes in dentistry, the nature of patients is not likely to change.

Patients select offices where they are treated well

There is an old saying that everyone wants to feel special. Businesses that translate this into reality for their customers tend to be highly successful. For example, despite the prominence of large, warehouse-like discount stores that have opened throughout the United States, many mid-level and boutique stores are doing brisk business. People who spend money in these specialty shops report that they often feel more comfortable shopping where they have personal relationships with the business proprietors. Dental practitioners can learn a lesson from this example.

“WOW” every patient

Part of the Levin Group Method is a simple philosophy - “WOW” every patient. The goal is for every patient to say “wow” upon departure from his or her dentist’s office. Patients can be impressed and amazed by the service they receive, courtesy of the dental team, excellence of the doctor, beauty of the décor, and attentiveness to their needs. Dentists can design customer service systems so that patients cannot help but be impressed. Many businesses have such poor customer service that a dental office can easily stand out.

Maintaining high levels of customer service for the long term is difficult. Even a bastion of customer service such as Nordstrom, a major department store that built its reputation on the level of service provided to customers, has found maintaining excellence is challenging. Then how can a dental practice with limited resources sustain long-term customer service?

Levin Group experience indicates that the main way to sustain customer service is through step-by-step, documented business systems. Systems should not be created merely to get excellent clinical results for patients. A great crown or bridge case alone will not wow patients. In fact, many patients resent that they face such a significant expenditure for dental care. Patients don’t exclaim that they had originally resented paying for their crowns or bridges, but now think they were worth the investment once they noticed the perfect margins on the final restorations. Remember, most patients think dentistry is expensive. As a result, they would rather use their discretionary income on vacations or new cars rather than dental treatment.

Getting WOW

Levin Group Method dictates that WOW is an essential component of practice management. Getting WOW is not as simple as just being nice to patients. Getting WOW is about step-by-step systems where each step integrates into a comprehensive, positive customer service experience. Every step of the system should be analyzed through the technical factor of providing dentistry and also for the level of impact on the customer service experience. As an example, scheduling is a technical activity. The goal is to get the patient scheduled for the right amount of time. Many scheduling coordinators view that as their complete job.

Levin Group believes that the job of the dental team is not complete unless the patient is highly satisfied.

To accomplish this, the patient must be scheduled for the right amount of time when it’s convenient for the patient, and with the proper communication, value, and interpersonal relationship.

If the systems merely indicate that the patient will be scheduled for the appropriate amount of time to complete treatment, the patient might accept the appointment yet not be satisfied with the quality of service. The patient could cancel; people rarely inconvenience themselves for appointments they do not value. Doctors who still think patients should come when they are scheduled are destined for disappointment. A more appropriate approach is to schedule patients for the right amount of time and have a positive interaction with the scheduling coordinator. For example:

Use appropriate scripting to determine if proposed appointment are convenient for patients.

Use a patient’s name at least three times.

Give patients a minimum of two choices in appointments. This way, they can think about which is a better choice rather than what might be the ideal choice that might not be available.

Tell patients to call in advance if they have questions about their appointments.

Thank patients for coming.

Tell patients that you look forward to their next visits.

This is not a step-by-step system, but concepts of how the technical aspect of scheduling can be turned into a positive, WOW-level experience while the staff maintains control of the schedule. This must be done for every step of every process in a dental practice.

In 20 years of serving specialty and general practices, Levin Group has not recommended any step of a dental management system without considering its impact on customer service. This is how you get WOW!

Why systems?

Systems ensure outstanding service because they create a high level of consistency for the team. In addition to the ability to train new team members in significantly less time than most practices experience, business systems build in the WOW factor. If a front desk person or an assistant understands that there are exact steps to follow with scripts for each practice activity, a higher chance exists that this person will incorporate all of the steps, resulting in excellent customer service. By following the steps, every patient receives the same treatment with consistent attention to quality.

Improving customer service requires a systemized approach. Customer service efforts should be formulated into a system that is repeated for every patient, every hour, every day. Outline the steps of customer service in your office so that all employees know what you want to happen for your patients every time. When you provide high levels of customer service, patients can easily see a value in the money they spend, which makes it easier for practices to justify fees.

How can you improve your customer service? Here are a few suggestions:

Do not make patients wait. When a doctor does not keep appointment times, patients think the practice provides poor customer service no matter what other conditions might exist.

Provide refreshments. Offer juice, coffee, or soda in a refreshment area for guests waiting for patients.

Update your office décor. Put up new wall hangings, rearrange the furniture, or add new lamps or vases. Make sure your restrooms are tidy.

Provide staff members with clear job descriptions. Knowing exactly what is required of them will make staff members less stressed and friendlier to patients. Develop phone scripts so that your staff members are prepared when they answer the phone. This will make for clearer, easier interaction with patients as often as possible to update your practice with training.

Greet patients warmly in the treatment area. Whether meeting you for an evaluation or your hygienist for a recare appointment, patients need to feel welcomed in the treatment area. A smile or a handshake will achieve this goal.

Give new patients clear instructions to your office. Some patients may become frustrated just getting to your office. Are you on a busy street or an unmarked side road? Will your patients have to pay for parking? If so, does your office validate? Give clear instructions and directions to patients when they call to avoid negative reactions.

Give patients something to remember your office. Pens, key chains, and notepads are just a few mementos you can give patients to keep your practice on their minds.

Patient expectations are influenced by variables including age, gender, mood, the weather, past dental experiences, or any additional factors over which you have no control. Nevertheless, doctors can surprise patients by giving them superior treatment. You must set yourself apart from other dentists who your patients could see. Customer service is not about simply being nice. It’s about making every interaction with every patient a pleasurable experience. By consistently providing high levels of customer service, you will help your practice find success.

Unhappy patients

Even with step-by-step systems and an outstanding staff, you will encounter unsatisfied patients. Whether it is their personality type, anxiety, or that they are just unhappy is irrelevant. Doctors have to deal with them.

There are many ways to deal with unhappy patients. All fall into effective communication and conflict resolution. The best approach is to proactively manage the interaction with challenging patients to gain compliance with practice policies while securing as positive an experience for the patients as possible. This process can signify many action plans, yet all require planning, flexibility, and excellent verbal skills on the team’s part. For example, if the patient demands an appointment that is unavailable, find the next best appointment. If the patient is unhappy with the fee, reinforce the value for the procedure, and reiterate the different payment options that are available. If the patient violates office policy, develop separate scripting and use these in conversations with the patient in the right setting to make it understood that this is not acceptable and needs to be rectified. However, even these conversations aim at satisfying the patient and achieve excellent customer service, so they must be positive in their approaches.

View patient complaints as opportunities to make practice improvements. Stay positive, speak slower, smile, and look for every opportunity to offer help and satisfy patients. The goal of working in a service business is to successfully manage every type of personality. In this case, you might not receive a WOW from the patient, but you could spare the practice some bad local PR.

Summary

Getting WOW is not as easy as most doctors think. It is not about simply being nice, but rather about ironclad systems that allow teams to be effectively trained to provide outstanding technical and customer related service. An exceptional customer experience what a service business is all about, isn’t it?

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Roger P. Levin, DDS, is founder and CEO of Levin Group, Inc., a leading dental practice-management consulting firm that provides a comprehensive suite of lifetime services to its clients and partners. Since 1985, Levin Group has embraced one single mission - to improve the lives of dentists. For more than 20 years, Levin Group has helped thousands of general and specialty practices reduce stress, increase productivity, and implement data-driven systems. Levin Group may be reached at (888) 973-0000, or at www.levingroup.com.

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