When I visit Dental Offices around the world I’m surprised at how many of them simply “park” their patients in a holding pen.
And then somehow wonder why they have difficulty with those valued patients at the end of the appointment.
Difficulty presenting treatment
Difficulty presenting fees
Difficulty scheduling ongoing appointments
The arrival of each patient and their subsequent waiting time presents a great opportunity for the Ultimate Dental Office to really show that patient that indeed we are truly different. Not simply different from other Dentists around, but different indeed from most other businesses around out there.
Just because we aren’t yet ready to transact with our patient, [I mean treat them], does not mean that our office cannot prepare that patient before their treatment so that they are in a state of comfort, familiarity and acceptance, as opposed to the traditional approach of “Sit there. Read a magazine. And wait until we’re ready.”
“And when we’re ready, we’ll call you. And not before.”
What then happens in this “traditional” sort of scenario is that the waiting patient starts slipping into the negative side of anticipation.
However, when the patient is concierged and attended to, and receives unexpected attention, well then, they’re in a totally different mental place than they would have expected to be…
And as such, they’re in a positive place. And when in this positive mental place they’re more likely to be more accepting and more agreeable to the treatment we have planned for today, as well as being in a more positive mind frame to discuss any subsequent treatment that we may present to them on this day.
This is because nobody likes to be ignored.
And so if we’re accidentally ignoring our “parked” patients by default, we’re simply making our lives far more difficult for ourselves when we simply do not need to be doing so.
So if your Dental Office can implement these following five simple strategies to make each arriving patient feel as though we’ve been preparing all day just for them, then you’ll go a long way towards improving some of the really important numbers at the back end of the patients’ visits.
1. Greet the patient before they introduce themselves
Easy to do. After all, we have a map.
Or rather, a schedule of who is coming to see us, what their name is and what we are going to do for them.
And if they are a regular patient of the practice, we know them, and know what they look like.
And we know what they’re like.
And everybody loves recognition.
So how difficult is it really to be waiting with anticipation for the two people arriving at two o’clock, when it says in our appointment schedule that at 2:00pm Mr. John Smith is coming for a hygiene visit and Mrs. Betty Brown is coming in to have two fillings replaced?
And so we can easily “Beat the greet” with these patients.
To “Beat the greet” we simply make sure that we are prepared in advance for the arrival of each patient, so that we can welcome them before they are forced to announce themselves.
And that’s just simply a matter of knowing in advance who’s coming in next.
And being ready…
2. Ask them how their day has been
This is a perfect question to ask from mid-morning onwards.
Because traditionally, they’re usually simply ignored at other places.
Because other Dental Offices don’t have a Customer Service plan
3. Thank them for arriving early, and explain why
If we want our patients to always arrive early for their appointments, rather than on time, or late, we need to make sure that we not only thank them, but we also must make them feel appreciated by letting them know why this indeed helps the office out.
We used to have an employee who told patients:
“You know you’re early?”
As if to say, almost, “you know you’re stupid?”
Or that’s how it sounded.
Thanking the patient for arriving early praised the patient, and encouraged this very acceptable and helpful behaviour.
We also made a point of letting as many people in our office hear that Betty had arrived early and we had thanked her. Patients hearing this soon picked up that it was indeed helpful behaviour to arrive early at our office
4. Make the act of waiting one of pleasure
Most places out there greet you like this:
“Won’t be too long. Just take a seat”
Take it where?
These are words without thought.
We always would motion towards a seat and ask the arriving patient to:
“Make yourself comfortable, Mr. Jones. I’ll go and let Dr Moffet know you’re here early, if you’ll excuse me for a moment? You never know, we may be able to get you seen earlier, if you’d like? I’ll be right back…”
5. Offer them a beverage
But don’t ask them if they’d like a coffee, because most times they’ll reply “No thank you” thinking that they’re going to be a bother.
Instead, do this.
Say to them:
“Bob, I’m just about to make myself a cup of tea. Can I make you one as well?”
In this case, Bob is far more likely to accept your offer, because if you are already going to boil the kettle, the act of making Bob a cuppa is far less bother, when you let him know that you’re already making one for yourself.
6. Discuss some upcoming event that the patient has, or maybe an event that has occurred for them since they were last in to see us
We know these patients, so it’s not easy to relate to them. After all, every time they come in they let us know about an event in their life that they’re excited about.
It’s simply up to the people in our office to make notes about what our patients talk about and share this information with other team members.
This is the collection of “Secret Service Information.” And it’s collection and later use, are important factors in differentiating your Dental Office from all the others out there that have no real idea about treating people like people.
It can be information relating to our patient, or it can be information relating to their friends or family as well.
7. Congratulate the patient on being a valued client for however many years
If it’s good enough for American Express to put it on your charge card, then it’s good enough for you to recognise your valued patients for their tenure.
And we know how long they’ve been coming, because we have their Dental chart and history.
Everybody loves to be recognised. And this is just one of those simple, easy to do ways.
Remember, it’s really quite easy to make your Dental Office stand out from the ordinary ones around you.
Because nearly all of them are just simply parking their patients until it’s time for them to be treated.
And in so doing, they’re doing themselves a dis-service.
But sometimes, when the dentist hears a horror story, they cover their ears and close their eyes and hope the scary bit goes away.
Rather than take action.
I guess it depends on the horror story, and how horrid it really is…
Here are three dental office horror stories bad enough to scare the pants off any dentist.
1. Ms. Bad Bad Attitude
Seen only this week by a friend of mine, visiting a Dental Office, while repping. Here’s what happened…
New Patient walks into the Dental Office, paperwork in hand and Miss Bad Bad Attitude Employee says, “I need your insurance card.”
Doesn’t say, “Hello”. There is no welcome, no excitement; no “We’ve been waiting all morning to meet you”? All was said with a very rude, witchy tone and the new patient looks over at my friend with a “like really?” look on his face.
My friend, who’s not just a rep, but a customer service aficionado, springs into Supergirl mode, welcomes the new patient on behalf of the office, tells him how great the doctors and team are, and how excited they are to finally get to meet him!
My friend was so upset to see this sort of behaviour.
And all she got from Ms. Bad Bad Attitude Employee was a serious eye roll.
The trouble with a story like this is two-fold.
Firstly, and sadly, there is not just this one only Ms. Bad Bad Attitude Employee in the dental world.
There are many of them out there, thinking it’s OK to be gruff, blunt, and rude towards patients.
And they behave this way because they believe on the most part, they can get away with it.
The second sad thing about this story is that if my friend had not been there, there’s a good chance, a really good chance, that the Dentist would never have known that this behaviour was ever going on in his office.
But now, thanks to my friend, the Dentist will know.
Sometimes though, Dentists don’t want to confront this sort of behaviour.
Sometimes dentists will allows this sort of attitude to exist because at other times, Ms. Bad Bad Attitude Employee is a good worker and the Dentist doesn’t want to rock the boat.
Sadly, who knows how many patients a day, a week, a month receive a big dose of bad attitude from Ms. Bad Bad Attitude Employee, and decide not to come back to see this Dentist?
Or they tell their friends, “You know the Dentist is nice, but the Office Manager? Uggh! Watch out for her.”
And that’s not a very nice word of mouth referral…
2. Ms. Sick Day
A dentist in Sydney who I know very well employed a hygienist who over the course of three years, took every sick day available, mostly as single days off.
That’s thirty sick days.
In three years.
And in the third year, each month, as one sick day accrued, so it was taken.
With total disregard to the fact that she was a service provider treating patients who had scheduled appointments some three to six months prior.
And some of these patients travelled four hours each way to visit this wonderful Dental Office.
Every time this hygienist called in sick, with a “medical condition”, which she was legally entitled to do, the practice had to go into *damage control* mode to reschedule the patients of the day who had these visits planned for months and months and months.
Sadly, despite the best efforts of the Dentist’s team, each sick day resulted in patient attrition.
There was no avoiding the fact that real people would be upset with being messed around.
And you can imagine, with a total of thirty individual days off, there’d be some patients who were sadly, multiple victims of Ms. Sick Day.
Yet because of the employment laws Down Under, the dentist was powerless to take any action, except to just sit there and cop it…thirty times.
Two of the “sick days” occurred on the Friday before Mothers’ Day, in consecutive years. Conveniently, or coincidentally, the school where the hygienist’s children attended used to hold a Mothers’ Day morning tea that day…
3. Ms. Embezzler
David Harris from Prosperident tells meetings of Dentists that the good news is that one in three dentists in the room will not be stolen from, during their practicing life.
Which means that sadly, two out of three of us will be hit, at some stage, by a thief, despite our best intentions.
Now there are certain checks and balances that Dental Practices can put in place, to reduce and prevent a great deal of embezzlement.
But if a thief gets a whiff of opportunity, sadly, they’ll take it.
The business of dentistry, by it’s very nature, creates opportunity, simply because the business owner has his back towards his business, and his employees for the majority of each and every day.
So there’s a great degree of trust given, and expected.
And although most people in the world are inherently honest and law abiding, unfortunately there are a small number who are opportunistic.
It’s never nice to read in the news about a Dental employee headed to the slammer because they stole.
But those stories are out there.
And according to David Harris, there are more cases of theft that are not reported, and more that are not even detected.
Another Dentist that I know well had an Office Manager steal a considerable amount of money from a third party, over a period of years, before she was finally detected.
And although this Dentist was not a physical victim of the crime, he and his office were indeed the victims of the betrayal of trust, the deception, and the distraction of the employee away from her expected duties while she was not only thieving, but thinking about her thieving.
It’s said that there are some things you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemies?
And my dentist friend says that that gutted feeling he felt when he discovered the embezzling is one of those things…
Hopefully, in your Office, you won’t have to deal with one or any of these Horror Stories, ever.
It’s always wise to keep your antennae up on the lookout, just to be on the safe side…
In 1997 I attended an evening presentation put on by a Dental Management Firm.
I had just come out of a very sour arrangement with my first ever Dental Coach, but I knew that a Coach was indeed what I needed.
Anyway, at this presentation the Coach said:
“We can go into a dental practice and find an employee costing that practice $200,000.00 per year”
And I said to myself:
“That’s my practice!”
In 1997 I knew that the front office employee that had worked for me for eight years was indeed working against me.
And so the coach said:
“We’ll either change her, or we’ll change her….”
And so we did.
She did not change, so we replaced her.
And things just magically improved…
You see our checkout process leading up to 1997 was so, so abrasive, that all the good work on service being done in the treatment room was being completely undone in the reception area when our valued patients were checking out, or settling up and making their ongoing appointments.
Well, they were and they were not.
They were settling up, but they were not making appointments to have their remaining treatment completed.
Because our front office person was so abrasive in nature she was scaring the patients away with her lack of care and compassion.
So how do we “frame up” our checkout procedures, to give the best result for the patient and the practice?
How indeed do we do that?
1. We begin with the end in mind.
Before the checkout process even begins, we must know in advance what we have done today for this valued patient, and with that knowledge we must then know which outcome we will want to achieve from our checkout of that patient that will give the best outcome for our patient.
With that in mind, we know the outcome we need to achieve and we work towards that outcome for our patient.
It is our role as the front office person to ensure that the patient leaves with their next appointment scheduled, and with an understanding of the consequences of delaying or putting off this necessary treatment.
If the patient leaves without an ongoing appointment we have let them down.
Understandably, they will always need further treatment, or hygiene. That’s the nature of dentistry. So they need to have that scheduled. And it is our duty of care to them to organise that next visit.
“The purpose of an appointment is to make another appointment”
2. We Are Ready For Them
As an invited guest visiting a friend’s home, nothing disappoints more, I think, than getting the feeling that our friend hasn’t really made an effort with our visit.
You know the feeling?
The lawn is not mowed. Bikes and toys and pairs of shoes adorn the front porch and doorway. The living room looks like a cyclone has just hit.
And the kitchen is full of dirty dishes….
Well maybe I exaggerate….
But if they knew we were coming, why didn’t they make an effort?
It would be so much nicer.
At our Dental Front Desk it’s the same.
We have a schedule. We know pretty well what time patients will be leaving the operatories to come sit with us in the front office and go through the checkout process.
Yet our desk is messy. We have paperwork strewn across the desk. Sometimes piled up?
Maybe some product catalogues?
Maybe we’re on the phone to a rep, or supply company?
In all these cases, we’re failing to offer an inviting environment to the departing patient.
And that’s got to weigh on their psyche, that maybe there’s a nicer place to get my teeth done than this place?
After all, they might think, that if this place is unorganized on the outside, they could very well be unorganized inside my mouth too?
3. There are no interruptions
Call it what you will, but the checkout process is indeed a business meeting, and deserves to be respected as such.
And as such, primarily, as a meeting, there should be zero interruptions to upset the flow and the purpose and the desired outcomes of the meeting.
Nobody likes to watch a movie with repeated interruptions.
We want to enjoy the film from go to whoa, in one sitting.
And it’s having that same continuity during our checkout process that raises our levels of success in trying to ensure that the patient leaves with all of the desired outcomes, especially the securing of the next appointment time.
Any distraction or interruption to the flow of our checkout process is about as welcome as a bathroom visit while on an important date.
4. Time is of no consequence
Nobody likes to feel rushed.
Or passed over.
Nobody likes to feel as if they are just a number.
So the checkout process, though purposeful, should always be relaxed.
So the patient feels as though it is a chat between long time friends. Almost like having a coffee, if you will.
So that the settling of the account, and the scheduling of the next visit, are handled with a feeling of “whatever I need to do” and “whenever he wants me”, because I’m really just visiting here with my friend.
And when you take the time to create this relationship, and this environment with your patients, it all just begins to happen effortlessly.
Yes it does….
5. Nothing is too much of a problem or a concern
Mary Kay Ash said that everybody out there is walking around with a large invisible sign on them that reads:
“Make me feel important”
And the best way to do that in the checkout situation is to let the patient feel that they are in control, while you gently “schmooze” and “romance” them into the desired treatment and necessary appointments.
We don’t want our patients ever to leave their appointment feeling like they’ve been a bother, or an interruption to our day.
To the contrary, we want them to leave feeling as though we’ve been waiting all day just to see them, as they are the most important person visiting us that day.
And when we create that perfect environment for the checkout, life becomes so much easier for us and our patients, because that seeming “tug-of-war” that they usually feel becomes non-existent.