The other week my wife and I dined at a local restaurant for lunch where we were taken aback by the waitress and the familiarity that she assumed when talking with us and checking in on us throughout our visit there.
What do I mean?
“How are you guys going?”
“Would you guys like any cracked pepper at all?”
To me, the term “You guys” is too familiar and too soon.
Frankly, I detest its use, and feel that it needs to be banished.
How should we address our patients?
My rule at the Dental practice was to address all customers with courtesy and respect until instructed by the customer to use less formal salutations.
And that should be the same anywhere else really.
When a patient arrived for their first visit, our front office team always addressed them by their title [Mr. or Mrs.] and by their last name until told by the patient to call them something else.
It’s simple common courtesy.
This formal means of greeting each patient was also particular to each patient and to each team member.
And there was to be no familiarity taken here until permission was given by the patient.
By this I mean that there were patients who allowed me to call them by their first names but preferred my younger team members to address them as Mr. Brown or as Mrs. Jones.
Familiarity was never assumed.
It was only taken once the patient had granted permission.
When we spoke about a patient to another team member, be the conversation one between dentist and hygienist or dental assistant and front office person, the patient was always spoken of as “Mr. Jones” or “Mrs. Brown”
Our aim was to demonstrate maximum respect for our valued customer.
By over-denominating, rather than assuming familiarity, we maintained the bar of respect at a very healthy position.
Whenever familiarity is falsely assumed, the bar of respect is lowered and can never regain its original earned position.
Assumed familiarity can in this way be an unwanted relationship killer.
As much as I am an Australian, I dislike the use of the word “mate”.
I find its use in conversation to be at best presumptive and at worst an expression of downright laziness to cover up the speaker’s failure to remember the name of the person with whom they are speaking.
When someone calls me “mate” it is not a title I have requested from them so I believe an assumption of laziness has crept into our relationship rather than a comfortable familiarity.
Your patients will appreciate and respect your politeness in calling them by their proper names until granted permission to be more familiar.
One person speaking and one person not is called a monologue.
Or a lecture.
These are not fun to deliver and are certainly no fun to be on the receiving end of either.
The art of conversation is therefore a process that occurs between two people where both feel a benefit of having been involved in the conversation.
A conversation should have purpose.
It should conclude with a result.
A result of significance.
Otherwise it is simply fluff.
In the Dental Office a great team know how to divert their conversations from fluff to purpose.
Conversations about weather are fluff.
You cannot change the weather.
Weather is just what it is.
In the dental office you do not want to be known as “the weather girl.”
“Please don’t put me with that dental assistant. All she ever talks about is the weather.”
Is this someone in your dental office?
“Hasn’t it been hot?”
“How about all this snow?”
“I wish it would stop raining.”
These are statements of fluff.
We can’t change the weather.
What if our patient brings up the weather?
When our patient brings up the weather this is our opportunity to segway our conversation back to discuss something about the patient.
The purpose of conversation with our patient is to find out more about our patient.
We want to be able to relate better with all our patients, so we need to divert our conversations back to talking about the patient as best we can at every opportunity.
Get the patient talking about their favourite topic: Themselves.
This is simple.
Everybody loves to talk about themselves.
Talking about ourselves in the Dental Office is fluff.
As employees in a dental office we need to be mindful that we should not be talking about ourselves, but rather, we should be talking about our patients at every opportunity.
It’s a true skill to be able to divert the conversation back to talking about the patient.
But it’s a skill that can be learned and easily mastered.
Patients will feel very relaxed when they are talking about themselves.
It puts the patient at ease.
And time passes more easily for the patient it seems.
When they talk about themselves they appear less worried about the passing of time.
When patients are left unattended, or are talking about topics banal, they tend to be more concerned about punctuality.
The subject of time is fluff.
“I can’t believe it’s almost Christmas.”
“I can’t believe how quickly the year has gone.”
As a dentist, I’m a scientist.
And as far as I know, the earth does not speed up, and then slow down, as it revolves around the sun.
It travels at a constant speed.
And it rotates on it’s own axis at a constant speed.
This means, that a week now, in December, is exactly the same amount of time, as a week in March.
And an hour this week takes exactly the same amount of time to pass as an hour did back in April.
Time is a constant.
So when a patient says to you that they can’t believe it’s only three weeks to Christmas, you need to say something like this:
“Sounds like you’ve been busy? Have you finished your Christmas shopping?”
“How do you spend Christmas?”
“Are you going away at Christmas?”
These gentle questions deflect the conversation away from the fluff and back to our most important topic, the patient.
We can learn so much more about the patient when we are listening to the patient talking about themselves, rather than us just prattling on about ourselves, or fluff.
When we hear the patient talking about themselves it’s important to take note of what they say so that we can relay our conversations to other team members who may be able to use these topics to discuss with the patient at a later time during the appointment or at a subsequent appointment.
Patients will find you interesting if you are *INTERESTED* in them.
It’s that simple.
If you can ask the patient questions that divert the conversation back to talking about the patient, the patients will feel that you are the most interesting person they have met in a long time.
Don’t know what to ask the patient to talk about?
There are four topics you can ask that will have the person you are speaking with talking for hours.
Ask your patients about their family.
“Do you have any brothers and sisters?”
“Do they live nearby?”
This topic is easy to get the patients talking on.
“What do you do for a living?”
“Do you work nearby?”
“Have you been there long?”
“You must really like that?”
The topic of occupation is such an easy one to have your patients talking about.
“What do you have planned for the weekend?”
“What’s that book you’re reading?”
“What are you knitting?”
“Do you play [that sport] yourself?”
“Sounds like you spend a lot of time [doing that]?”
Everybody has ways of passing time.
Reading. Watching movies. Exercising. Hobbies.
Dreams or Desires.
“What do you want to do when you finish school?”
“Have you ever been to see the pyramids?”
“Have you ever been on a cruise?”
Everybody has a “bucket list” of sorts.
“My husband and I have been planning this trip for ages.”
It’s simply a matter of us having our radars up and listening for topics that the patient mentions that we can get them expanding upon.
“That sounds interesting…”
“Tell me more…”
Keeping the patient talking about their favourite topic will have them raving about the service at your office.
Everybody has a story to tell.
An interesting story to tell.
It’s our job to draw those stories out of our patients.
When we master that skill, we will be the most interesting person they will have met in a long long time.
Because unless you are a charity, and you are giving your dentistry away, you are involved in an economic transaction or exchange.
You’re involved in an exchange of a good, or service, for a financial value.
What is sales?
Some definitions, according to Wikipedia:
A sale is the exchange of a commodity or money as the price of a good or a service.
A person who sells, or transacts goods or service on behalf of a business owner is still known as a salesman
A person expressing an interest in acquiring the offered item of value is referred to as a potential buyer, prospective customer or prospect.
Buying and selling are understood to be two sides of the same “coin” or transaction.
Both seller and buyer engage in a process of negotiation to consummate the exchange of values.
For a business to survive, it needs to make sales that generate enough money to be more than its expenses and costs.
A dental business needs to have enough customers paying enough money that is collectively greater in total than the sum costs of running that business.
DENTISTRY IS SALES.
Dentistry is therefore, sales.
And we are involved in the process of selling.
The three types of transactions
To me there are only three types of transactions:
Money or a service or a good is transacted without any expectation of receiving something tangible in return.
The exchange of a good or a service for the receipt of either money or a good or a service of agreed value.
This is a normal everyday transaction.
You want a loaf of bread? You exchange a dollar value for that product.
You perform labour? You receive either a dollar value or goods or favour in exchange for that labour.
A penalty is a transaction where one person is forced to surrender their money against their will.
This can be in the form of a fine, or a taxation.
By law, one person must pass their money to another person or organisation, without receiving a direct benefit.
LIKE I SAID, DENTISTRY IS SALES.
Dentistry is sales.
And we are, by definition, involved in the process of selling.
The types of Dental Sales:
1. Needs based sales.
This is where the customer has pain, or discomfort, that needs to be dealt with.
Or they have something broken, that is not causing discomfort, that needs repair or restoration.
2. Benefit based sales.
This is where the customer has no pain or discomfort. Nor do they have anything broken.
This is where treatment is proposed for prevention of a problem, or for improvement of an appearance.
It is similar to purchasing new tyres to prevent your car having an accident on the worn tyres it has.
It is buying pest control, so termites do not eat your house down.
3. Pleasure based sales.
This is where the customer purchases a dental product or process for the emotional benefit they receive from owning that improvement.
This is cosmetic dentistry. It is whitening.
It is treatment unrelated to a mechanical or restorative need.
It is where you purchase a new coat of paint for the inside of your house to give the appearance a “lift”. The house does not need the paint for any other reason other than it will look better with the new paint.
SO WHERE DO WE FIT IN AS DENTISTS?
Needs based dentistry
If you provide your dentistry by servicing from one disaster to another, then you are purely a needs based dentist.
And that’s your choice.
You are like a plumber who repairs blocked drains and broken guttering.
You are mending problems.
You are not preventing problems or solving future problems before they occur.
You are mending, and not replacing.
Benefit based dentistry
If you are solving future problems before they occur, you are preventing problems and so you are providing dentistry on a benefit-based programme.
“If we restore these teeth with crowns or inlays they will not fall apart, and nor are they likely to crack…”
“If we remove this decay while it is small then there is less likelihood of it spreading and reaching the nerve in your tooth…”
This is the way that I practiced dentistry.
I treated for future benefit.
I was not a cosmetic dentist.
I treated for prevention of serious consequences.
My obligation was to ensure that the patient went ahead with the transaction, for their own benefit.
If they did not go ahead, then I had let that patient down because they were leaving with a liability that I had not fully explained to them.
I had not given them a rock solid understanding of the dire consequences of inaction, delay and ignoring.
I had let them down.
It was as if I had allowed my wife to drive around with my children in a car with well worn down tyres.
If I patched a tooth rather than fixed it properly, it was as if I’d repaired a hole in my neighbour’s roof with newspaper rather than with tiles.
Was I selling?
Who needs teeth anyway?
After all, your patients could buy a blender?
Blenders are cheaper.
Blenders are a little clumsy and awkward when you go out to dinner at a restaurant….
My obligation to my patients was that they accepted and received the treatment that was best for them and their teeth.
Not second best.
If they chose anything other than best then I had let them down.