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The Importance of Team-Based Customer Service

Feb. 1, 2007
What is the purpose of your team? Team members can fulfill their necessary functions in order to get the office through each day, or they can do something more.
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by Roger P. Levin, DDS

What is the purpose of your team? Team members can fulfill their necessary functions in order to get the office through each day, or they can do something more. They can be ambassadors for your practice, influencing and motivating patients to accept treatment.

Your team can work for you or with you. The choice is yours.

Involving the team

Many dentists are frustrated that they cannot close more cases. There are many ways to improve case presentation, such as concentrating on the benefits of treatment and offering financial options to help pay for it. One frequently overlooked method is to bring your team more effectively into the process. Getting the entire team involved can dramatically increase case acceptance and patient satisfaction.

Based on 22 years of experience consulting to thousands of practices, Levin Group has found that many doctors try to do too much. While certain responsibilities are clearly those of the doctor, the dental team can handle many others. All too often, dentists do not think about team members being brought into the case presentation process. They should. By getting the team involved, a dentist can open more time in the schedule for productive doctor treatment and increase case acceptance.

The practice must have a road map for case presentations. Every step of the patient experience can be documented with a member of the team assigned to each step (and aided by the proper scripting). This process allows you to eliminate a phrase you do not want to hear from your team, “I didn’t know that was part of my job.” Deciding who is responsible for which tasks enables the office to run, not only more smoothly but also more profitably.

Walk in the shoes of the patient

Customer service is best understood by seeing the practice through the eyes of your patients. Let’s follow the visit of “Mrs. Jones” on a typical day in a typical dental practice. Although her appointment is about implants, it could easily apply to most case presentations ...

Mrs. Jones arrives at the dental practice for her appointment. That difficult molar of hers is getting worse, despite several root canals to try to save it. Today, she will be listening to a case presentation on dental implants. “Good morning, Mrs. Jones, how are you?” says Janet, the front desk receptionist. “Great, Janet, how are you?” replies Mrs. Jones. She has known Janet for several years and the two often chat about their children’s hobbies. Debbie, a newer member of the team, approaches with a smile to escort Mrs. Jones to the back. “I don’t know about this. I guess I’m a little nervous,” exclaims Mrs. Jones as they make their way down the hall. “I think you will definitely like what you hear about implants,” returns Debbie with a smile.

From the morning meeting, everyone on staff should know why Mrs. Jones is there and what treatment is to be presented. It is important to understand that the front desk staff should create an upbeat atmosphere when patients enter the practice by using good interpersonal skills. Patients should have a positive feeling of being welcomed and appreciated by the practice in an optimistic environment. So far, so good. Mrs. Jones has not received conflicting messages, and she feels confident after her interaction with members of the practice.

Who does what?

Mrs. Jones meets with Kelly, the treatment coordinator, who provides her with some very basic information about implants. “Good morning, Mrs. Jones,” says Dr. Smith as he enters the room with a smile a short time later to present the treatment option. “Well, what do you think of implants so far?” he asks good-naturedly. Mrs. Jones thinks for a moment. “They sound very interesting,” she replies. “I didn’t realize how good they were until Kelly explained the benefits to me.”

Mrs. Jones entered the office unsure about a procedure that was alien to her. As they speak, Dr. Smith puts Mrs. Jones at ease as he reinforces the information that Kelly has already discussed. Mrs. Jones seems to understand and appreciate the benefits, and is becoming motivated to proceed with treatment. Susie, the financial coordinator, comes in to discuss financial options. Everything is going well.

Identify who presents each part of the case. Many dental team members are excellent at preliminary case presentation and education. Dr. Smith has avoided the mistake many dentists make - spending too much time reviewing the same basic services with patients rather than having the staff review them and then allowing the doctor to provide a final overview and reinforcement.

Why do some doctors insist on doing everything? Often, they believe they must present the cases because patients expect to hear primarily from the doctor rather than someone else. Many Levin Group clients, however, have found that they save time and have far better patient satisfaction when:

  • Staff members provide the initial patient education and answer initial questions.
  • The doctor arrives later to present the treatment option and answers any additional questions.
  • What is the role of the front desk staff?Mrs. Jones makes her way to the front desk as she prepares to leave. Debbie asks Mrs. Jones about her appointment and offers several positive remarks about implants. She hands off Mrs. Jones to Janet and moves on to greet another patient. “How was your visit today?” asks Janet. “Well, I was a little unsure about dental implants. I guess I just didn’t know much about them. What do you think?” replies Mrs. Jones. “I don’t know much about them either. We don’t deal with implants that often because people complain about them being so expensive,” returns Janet. “Really? That’s good to know,” says Mrs. Jones. After a few pleasantries, Mrs. Jones says good-bye and leaves, feeling remarkably less confident about Dr. Smith’s implant presentation.And so a perfectly good case presentation crashes and burns. All of the good intentions put forth by Dr. Smith, Debbie, Kelly, and Susie have been undone by an unfortunate remark by Janet. Had Janet been better coached and trained, there is a much greater chance that Mrs. Jones would have proceeded with treatment. Unfortunately, it is quite easy for the wrong things to be said - even by staff members with the best of intentions. For all types of questions and objections, there is a need for front desk people to be prepared with responses that are upbeat, constructive, and consistent with your practice philosophy. Scripts allow for consistent information to be conveyed. They should be written for the most common questions and objections. The staff must then make a genuine effort to learn the messaging in each of the scripts. The proper response can make an incredible difference in a patient’s decision to accept or reject treatment. While patients have a great deal of respect for dentists, they often feel more comfortable with a front desk person who seems more “like them.” Typically, they feel that they will get more objective answers to questions.When patients like Mrs. Jones approach staff members for what is essentially a second opinion, a golden opportunity exists for staff members to reinforce benefits. Unfortunately, in many practices this never happens. Why? Simply ask front desk personnel. They will be more than happy to tell you why. They see themselves as too busy to launch into a discussion about treatment. Another reason is that they do not view such matters as part of their jobs. Front desk staff members will tell you their function is to get patients scheduled, collect money, and handle insurance issues - not present or reinforce treatment.Many front desk staff are not educated and trained to respond to questions. Levin Group recommends that you redefine the job of the front desk staff to include encouraging and motivating patients to have treatment. This can be done in a positive and tactful way through scripting, training, and educating your entire staff.ConclusionWithout question, a key factor in the success of any dental practice is case presentation. Even if all other systems are in place and operating efficiently, failure to master case presentation skills will restrict a practice’s growth.Rethink your case presentation by including the dental team. Team members are critical in the overall process of case presentation. Even more important is mapping out every step of case presentation from a new patient phone call to a current patient’s interest in a service or possibly several services. Every system in the practice should be documented, including case presentation. By dividing the case presentation process into multiple steps, a practice can focus on certain components as needed. Levin Group also has found that having scripts for as many steps as possible to aid the team in positive, motivating, and effective communication is a critical factor for success. We have observed that practice production increases dramatically with the addition of scripts.Does your team understand its role in case presentation? Team members who can contribute positively to the case presentation process will result in more patients saying “yes” to treatment.
    Editor’s Note: For a free sample of Levin Group scripts for powerful communication, please call (888) 973-0000 or e-mail your contact information to [email protected] with “Management Scripts” in the subject line.Roger P. Levin, DDS, is founder and CEO of Levin Group, a leading dental management consulting firm that is dedicated to improving the lives of dentists through a diverse portfolio of lifetime services and solutions. Since the company’s inception in 1985, Dr. Levin has worked to bring the business world to dentistry. Levin Group may be reached at (888) 973-0000, or at