I'm your patient ...Serve me!

Any dentist or staff member who cares about his or her career should be asking, "What kind of service does the patient want?" Your income depends on it!

by Dixie D. Gillaspie

Who pays your salary? Patients do! That's right, if patients didn't pay for the services you and your staff provide, there would be no money to pay salaries. Since the only way to earn a salary is to serve the patient — and the only way to increase salaries is to better serve patients — it makes sense that any dentist or staff member who cares about their career should be asking, "What kind of service does the patient want?" While the needs of each individual patient varies, five universal factors contribute to offering superior service. Here's what patients expect from a service-oriented office:

"I want to feel welcome!"
If I don't feel welcome, I will feel left out!

Whether the patient is on the phone or in your office, each wants to feel as if she or he is your guest of honor. Make sure your greeting is more "How are you?" than "Who are you?" Use the patient's name frequently in the conversation. Avoid distractions when interacting with a patient so you can stay focused on your conversation.

Avoiding interruptions in a dental office can be difficult, but how you handle the interruptions can make all the difference. If you must change your focus to something other than the patient, smile and excuse yourself. Return as soon as possible and thank the patient for his or her patience. Be sensitive about distracting team members when they are focused on a patient — apologize, and keep it brief. When the time comes for your conversation to end, never make the patient feel rushed to leave or like he or she has stayed too long.

Vital elements: A warm voice and smile, eye contact, use of the patient's name.

"I want to feel important!"
If I don't feel important, I will feel like just one of many faceless patients!

Patients do not want to feel as if they are important only because they pay your salary. They want to feel important because they are unique individuals who you like and care about. Find something about every patient to like. Encourage your patients to feel comfortable chatting with you and make a note of the things they talk about. Read the notes other staff members have written. Remember, you are here to get to know your patients; they are not here to get to know you.

Vital elements: Interest in patients as unique individuals; inviting them to share the things that are important to them. Keep conversation about yourself to a minimum.

"I want to feel respected!"
If I don't feel respected, I will feel like you are unresponsive!

You are not here to sell or deliver dental services. You are here to help your patients enjoy the benefits of the services you provide. Even after patients have made a decision to accept the treatment you offer, they only will truly enjoy the benefit of that care if they feel that their values, desires, and needs were respected when these choices were offered. To show respect for the patients' values, desires, and needs, you must first know what they are. The best way to find out is to ask.

How well you listen to the answers your patients give you also indicates how much respect you have for them. Patients want you to listen, not only to what they say, but to how they feel. Listen to their words and their tone of voice. Pay attention to the body language and the facial expressions. Respond, but do not judge. You may be able to persuade patients to change how they think and feel, but only if they know you respect where they are coming from!

Vital elements: Open-ended questions, attention to the answers, nonjudgmental attitude.

"I want to feel benefited!"
If I don't feel benefited, I will feel like you offered me only the bare minimum!

Your patients want to feel that you have helped them solve a problem ... that their health and appearance are improved because of your services. They want to feel that their choices were validated and that they received value for their dollar. This means that you must not trivialize patient problems. Never underestimate the value of being taken seriously or having even a minor complaint handled in a caring, professional manner.

Offer extra value in the form of patient comfort, courtesies, and acknowledgements. This might include hand lotion and mouthwash in the restrooms, apologizing if you run behind and patients must wait, or a simple "thank you" for their trust.

Vital elements: Attention to details, willingness to go above and beyond, willingness to find patient-oriented solutions.

"I want to feel appreciated!"
If I don't feel like I am appreciated, I will feel like I'm being ignored!

Your patients have choices. They don't have to choose your practice and they don't have to accept your services. They don't have to keep their appointments and they don't have to pay your fees. Show your appreciation to those patients who make choices that benefit you. The feeling will be mutual!

Vital elements: A smile and a "thank you" will go a long way. Personal notes and follow-up calls are very meaningful.

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