Patient fears and finances and how to address them

Twelve months is a long time to go between checkups.

When I haven’t seen a dental patient for over a year, I update their records, perhaps do new bitewing radiographs, and conduct a clinical exam and hygiene session.

Digging deeper, I always question why my patient hasn’t been in touch.


In most cases, the issues are fear, finances, or time.

When it comes to fear, I recommend offering a sedation option. There are many viable ones including oral, inhalation, intravenous, or general anesthesia. Having these as options in your practice not only allows your patients choices to make their visit a less stressful one, but also allows you to grow and expand your patient base.

If the patient has financial concerns, an evaluation of the plans your office accepts is in order. Although each has ramifications with regards to cost, time and financial factors to your organization, they should be reviewed with an eye towards the potential upside of being able to accept more clients. Methods of non-plan payment should also be evaluated ranging from credit cards to credit companies adept at handling dental payments.

If time is the issue and it prevents your patients from seeking care, then maybe it’s time to review your operating hours. The more you can do that allows for flexible service schedules such as evenings and weekends underscores your commitment to exceptional care and service.

To talk to me about how to turn your dental practice into a customer-focused dynamo, please get in touch.

A patient in distress is your opportunity to shine in customer care

Here’s the scenario: a new patient calls your office with an issue that needs attention.

If they’re calling because of an emergency, your staff should treat it like one. First of all appreciate they chose you over a competitor. Maybe it was your website, advertising, or word of mouth. But they chose you and it’s your job to let them know it was a smart call on their part by delivering excellent service.

customer-service-and-dental-practicesOnce they’ve told you or your staff the issue as they see it, work to be both empathetic and clinical by asking them to quantify their pain on a scale from zero to ten.

Once your office  has an idea of how much discomfort they are in, they next goal is to get a location. This will help the front-desk coordinator estimate the time needed for an appointment and, perhaps, even the seriousness of the problem.

Is this an issue that has come on suddenly or has it progressively gotten worse over time? The answer to this question provides clues as to their current circumstances regarding income and benefit coverage.

Someone  with a pain level of ten that has endured for more than a few days has likely been holding off on care and treatment due to fear or finances.

This isn’t always the case. Extremely busy individuals will often put off care and treatment as long as possible because they believe treatment to be an inconvenience that will eat up valuable time.

Others have nothing but time, but lack the financial resources to obtain care. Still others are somewhere in the middle, wise enough to understand they require care and treatment but hope their issues will resolve on their own.

In all cases, I recommend you offer a patient either the option to come in immediately or sometime that day. This is an important concept to understand. I am well aware that you may not be able to accommodate Mr. or Ms. Smith on a particular day. However, experience has taught me that most people want to have their pain acknowledged and an offer to see them as soon as possible, while rarely accepted, is an important part of the customer experience.

Getting someone through your the door is for an initial assessment is different than fixing the problem immediately. In the most cases, having someone come in for evaluation of his or her chief complaint, taking a radiograph, and coming up with the diagnosis, treatment plan, and perhaps prescriptions are all that will be needed. The actual care can be done on another day.

If the chief complaint is severe, in most cases your well-trained staff should be able to temporarily alleviate discomfort by, if in the case of an abscess, opening the tooth and allowing for drainage. Your team should be able to extract the tooth or provide some type of temporary or long-lasting restoration. For offices that avoid specialty care, a prescription and referral often are all that is necessary to provide steller service.

I’m a firm believer that for a general dental practice, the more specialty care you deliver the better your overall service and care will be. Although most dentists feel that it’s simpler and less stressful to delegate specialty care out to specialists, it is my belief that most general dentists should be able to provide over 90 percent of all treatment as long as adequate effort and training are present.

The tremendous goodwill that you create by helping Mr. and Ms. Smith with a quick radiograph and referral slip cannot be overstated. In today’s environment, increased specialization has created an almost impossible scenario for patients to receive any kind of treatment from start to finish on the same day. While this lowers expectations of “quick fixes” it also results in inconvenience and increased costs to patients. If you can manage to “do more” you will see immediate service improvements and more profitability as your word-of-mouth referrals increase.

The goal of your dental practice should be to create what I refer to as “raving fans,” who support your practice and are so satisfied with your care and service that they cannot help but tell family, friends, and associates.

I would be happy to discuss how to turn your dental practice into a service dynamo. Please contact me for a quick chat about improving your bottom line and patient outcomes with excellent customer service.

I would be happy to discuss how to turn your dental practice into a service dynamo. Please contact me for a quick chat about improving your bottom line and patient outcomes with excellent customer service.

Dental Practices can’t just phone it in

Your front line team members are the first client/customer facing representatives anyone comes into contact with when they call or enter your dental practice. Hopefully you’ve trained them to be both empathetic and professional. Let’s say you’ve gone a step further and they are also well – versed on best practices surrounding customer care. That’s it, you’re done!

Not so fast.

What happens where they’re engaged with a real life customer and the phone rings? Is your answering system as good as your staff? If not, then you have a big hole that needs a filling.

First off, the phone should be answered within four rings. If staff are too busy to do so, let it go to the answering system. Nobody wants to hear, “this is Dr. Smith’s office. I’m going to have to put you on hold.”

If it isn’t possible for any member of your team to grab that phone call within four rings, your message has to be the next best thing to speaking to a real person.

First, the answering system should allow patients a choice. They should be allowed to leave their name and phone number along with a request or question.  Alternately, the caller should be able to opt to stay on the line and wait. But if they do so, it is vitally important they are reminded every 30 seconds that you haven’t forgotten about them and that someone will be with them shortly. If, after two minutes, they are still waiting, they should have an additional option to leave a message. Here is where you differentiate yourself by promising to return the call within 15 minutes. Why is this important? That 15 minutes buys your time before they call another practice to set up an appointment.

Still not convinced about the importance of this seemingly minor issue? I’ve got a simple test for you. Do you remember the last time you were put on hold for a long time? Did you call back? I would guess you might have moved onto another provider.

We are all busy. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have time for clients. How you treat someone when you are busy speaks volumes about how much you would value them as a customer.

If you want to talk about how I can transform your dental practice into a customer service dynamo, please get in touch.

The most important person in your practice is the first and last one to see your patients

So you’ve got a dental office with technicians and great patient care specialists. Who’s the most important person in your business?

The answer is surprising to some. The surprise is that it’s not you. It’s actually the front-desk person. They are a patient’s first and last point of contact. They set the tone for the patient’s experience at your practice.


Female patient coming to dental surgery check-up appointment reception

He or she must possess patience, knowledge, grace under pressure, and the ability to show empathy, along with being efficient and effective.

When recruiting for this crucial position, the following skill sets are of key importance:

∙ Sales skills

. Telephone skills

∙ Gathering and interpreting data

∙ Patient orientation

∙ Developing and providing information about a comprehensive treatment plan

∙ Reviewing financial options for the patient to receive care and treatment

∙ The ability to generate reports to assess the success and progress of your business team

∙ Review and make necessary adjustments to procedures and processes through daily, biweekly, weekly, or monthly meetings and discussions


As you can see, this is a position that goes well beyond “receptionist.” Your front desk person has to wear many hats throughout the day, and it all starts with how they answer the phone.

If you want to talk about how I can make your dental practice a dynamo in customer service, please get in touch.

Provide a positive customer experience to profit from your patients

When someone walks into a dental office they are both a patient and a consumer.

As they sit in the chair with mouths open, they’re obviously your patient. But in the moments before and after they are most definitely a consumer.

If you don’t think so, just consider the impact Google recommendations can have on your practice.

Providing a good “consumer experience” is just as important as providing good patient outcomes to your success as a dentist. You could be the greatest dentist in the world. But if you constantly screw up your billing, or let your waiting room become a museum for decades old issues of Dentistry Today, then people will be less likely to return to your practice or recommend it to friends and family.

It’s about vision and purpose. You need to determine what is going to turn your patients into repeat customers – while keeping your focus squarely on the health outcomes of everyone who walks through your door.

Patients or customers will be moved when they understand your value proposition is lifelong health with a solid customer focus.

Knowing that their health, and not their pocketbook, is your priority builds trust and makes patients more likely to agree to treatment plans recommended by you. This is key to growing your practice.

When I look at different practices what I find is while treatment plans are usually acceptable to customers, the rate of case acceptance by customers is rather low.

If your patients do not believe, like and trust (BLT) you, it becomes very difficult to get case acceptance. And even when you do get grudging case acceptance from a patient who does not 100% believe, like or trust in you, it will ultimately it will lead to problems.

Focus on aesthetics, function and structure. If you combine these three elements, you will significantly improve case acceptance and you’ll profit from it.

In the end, health care providers are held in high esteem. But selling is not negative. You are a service provider. And if your service has value and it is demonstrated at every point of the customer experience your practice will grow.

If you’re a dentist or other healthcare professional and you’d like to discuss how to build a practice based on positive customer experience, please get in touch.

The journey from believing to achieving business success

Are you a believer or an achiever? Do you cruise through your day believing you’re doing a good job or do you actually have a strategy to make it happen?

I read statistics recently that showed 92 percent of CEOs believe they deliver excellent customer satisfaction. The reality however, showed that only about 8 percent actually hit that goal.

The 92 percent may be true believers.  But belief in itself doesn’t deliver anything other than a false sense of achievement. Making the leap to actually producing results requires something I call the 3Ds: design, develop and deliver.

So how do you do this?

First, take your final product and divide it up into the elements needed to design a complete customer experience. Then hone and further develop and refine that complete customer experience on an ongoing basis. Remember it’s not a ‘do and done’ thing: it requires attention and adaptability to influences both within and without the organization.

Finally, you and your team have to deliver.

Every. Single. Time.

Failing on that third ‘D’ makes everything else pointless. I’ve seen this happen again and again. And the result is wasteful spending on advertising, additional sales staff, acquisitions, products and gimmicks all in a desperate attempt to achieve a goal that is not clearly defined or understood.

Would you set out on a road trip without a map and travel plans? Of course not. So why would you do it in business?

The key is to make the connection between profits and your customer satisfaction experience. Many managers don’t understand this connection and spend their time squeezing staff and customers in pursuit of fast profits over long term success.

They never understand that a satisfied customer base is actually the best street level marketing team a company can have. Customers talk to their friends and colleagues and rave about your service at their dinner tables, social gatherings and family events. These advocates have a level of access and a credibility that no salesperson could ever match. What’s more, they’re free to you if you deliver a great customer experience.

Of course the opposite is true. Deliver a mediocre or poor customer experience and your business will suffer. Instead of talking your business up, people will ask their friends, family and colleagues for suggestions on where to find a better experience. So you’ve not only lost that one customer – but everyone else they talk to.

When developing that customer experience, look at all of it. From your appointment system to the cleanliness of your washrooms to the magazines in your waiting room, all of it is about delivering the ideal customer experience.

Design, develop and deliver. Turn that into your business mantra, your business culture and you’ll see the results in your bottom line.

If you’re a dentist or other healthcare professional and you’d like to discuss how to lead a business that works for you please get in touch.

Ownership still has it’s privileges

When you own a practice as part of a chain, you have certain obligations to the franchise. At times it can feel like you aren’t your own boss although shedding a bit of  professional sovereignty yields considerable benefits.

The most important of these is that you don’t really have to put too much thought into how you run your practice. Or at least that’s how many owner/dentists tend to approach things.

But what happens is that you start thinking about your services as products to be sold rather than treatments for patients. So your practice becomes a glorified assembly line. Where treatments are ranked based on price and not necessarily patient need.

I recently told the story of an elderly couple who came into my practice facing either a pricey root canal, or a simple extraction. Obviously a short term win for me would have been the root canal. But then given the patient’s age and medical history, would that have been the right choice? Of course not. So we did the extraction.

If someone owns a practice that is part of a chain they could theoretically still offer advice to a patient that would save them money.

Doing so would create loyalty with that customer and make their operation stand out among the other chain services lining the streets.

So why don’t more do this? Depressingly, it could be because it doesn’t matter.

Being part of a chain means a steady flow of customers drawn in because of the brand. Word of mouth means little. A chain store is a chain store is a chain store, right? Is your local Starbucks any worse or better than the one down the street? Does it really matter if someone is just looking for a coffee?

Well yes and no. Because a business person can have their cake and eat it too. They can operate under a chain and deliver superior service with an eye to getting return business, loyalty and word-of-mouth.

What’s the cost? Very little if one puts the cost of saving customers money against the cost of regional marketing and advertising budgets.

But there is a very real reason why individual service initiatives don’t often happen in a chain store. Simply put, most dentists working in chain operations only stay for two years. Any quality service improvements will ultimately just frustrate the next dentist who may not have the same integrity.

So what to do? As a customer, I always choose the independent operator.  It doesn’t mean I don’t trust the chains. I simply want my dentists to have more of a long term investment in myself and my community.

When the chains make this a part of their business model, maybe they’ll even be able to retain some of their best talent beyond that two year mark.