Some dentists I know have difficulty talking to patients.
I don’t know if its because they just get engrossed in the moment.
Do they simply get into the dental “zone”, and drift off into the technicalities of what they are doing?
Or is it that they simply don’t like treating patients that live, eat, and breathe?
Would these dentists rather treat a typodont?
When I finished my working contract for the purchasers of my Dental Practice I remember one sprightly octogenarian, who we had been treating some sixteen years.
Kath asked to see me, to personally thank me for all the care and concern that we’d shared with her over those sixteen years, and how we’d always made her feel welcome.
I thanked her, and reminded her that she would have also received excellent care from her previous Dentist, who had treated her for a very long time before merging his practice with mine in 1998.
Kath replied dismissively, “Oh no. All he ever used to say was ‘Open wide’ and then when the appointment was over he’d say ‘That’s it then’.”.
Kath continued, “and that was all he’d ever say in all the years I saw him”.
I was horrified.
I was shocked that a business relationship could be built on so little conversation and interaction.
I’ve always believed that if you want people to keep coming back and doing business with you you need to be likeable and you need to be interesting.
And silence won’t cut it, I’m sorry.
I believe that throughout the appointment time with the dentist the patient needs to be reminded that the dentist really does care for their well-being.
To do this the dentist needs to connect and nurture a relationship throughout that appointment time.
Here are some of the simple things we used to do to connect with our patients at each and every one of their treatment appointments.
1. The dentist needs to make regular connections with the patient.
The dentist needs to “check-in” with the patient. By this I mean that the dentist needs to make sure the patient is going along OK.
The dentist needs to regularly speak with the patient and ask them closed loop “yes momentum” questions.
“Everything going OK for you there Margaret?”
The dentist needs to let the patient know that they are being, and behaving like, a very good patient.
“Margaret, you’re such a good patient!!”
Don’t just simply think it.
2. Regular touches.
I used to always preface a question or a comment with a gentle touch on the patient’s shoulder.
I found that by connecting with a “touch” firstly, I would alert the patient and prepare them for conversation, as their mind may have drifted or wandered during the treatment appointment.
The gentle, yet specific shoulder touch used to prepare the patient for the conversation.
3. Straighten the patient’s bib.
We used to always use large 8-ply white bibs that covered the patient’s upper abdomen from shoulder to shoulder.
Our bibs were much larger and much thicker than most dental bibs. [There’s a point of difference right there!!]
As such these bibs were easy to place and arrange on the patient in an orderly position.
And every time we straightened the bib we’d let the patient know,
“Margaret, I’m just straightening up your bib here for you.”
What this subliminally told Margaret was that the dentist is a neat freak.
And that’s a good thing.
Margaret would believe then that if he needs everything to be neat and orderly outside the mouth then this attention to detail will probably apply to what he’s going to do for her inside of her mouth.
4. Gentle wiping of the face.
Nobody likes to feel they have remnants of anything plastered across their face.
So why not gently and professionally wipe the delicate areas of the patient’s face to maintain an air of professional tidiness?
Patients just love this one!
5. Small warm wheat bags.
Small warm wheat bags that can be warmed in the microwave are a great pacifier for patients of all shapes and sizes.
Regularly checking on the temperature of the wheat bag and rewarming or replacing the cooler wheat bag is another great way to check-in with your patient.
6. Flavoured lip balms.
Flavoured lip balms you can offer your patients so that they can prevent cracked lips is a really great way of connecting.
Always offer a variety of flavours, and always allow the patient to keep the lip balm at the completion of the appointment.
This is a very simple use of Cialdini’s Principle of Reciprocity in action here.
Your giving of the lip balm immediately has the patient liking you more than if you never gave them one. Or never even offered them one.
[As an aside, always have the lip balm bear your practice name and contact details]
Remember, small children spell “LOVE” T.I.M.E.
And patients will spell it exactly the same way.
The more time and times that you can consistently spend with your patients, the more successful you will be in retaining those patients in your practice.
This is because nobody wants to feel like they are just a number.
Everybody craves attention and recognition.
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