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Can customer service make a difference?

Today, visiting a dentist is seen as a basic service, a standard service that you can just buy when you need it. There is nothing special about a dental visit, as there was in the past. Dental health has become so good that no one can remember how people used to suffer terribly from pain in the mouth. Few people know about all the challenges associated with using dentures. It also means that the value of dentistry has declined over the last 50 years.

Dental practices have enormous potential right now to regain some of the lost territory in our patients' minds over that 50-year period. But it requires changes and innovation, because it is not the same thing that brings recognition in the population as in the past.

In this post, we will take a look at what the industry can teach us about customer service and how we can apply that knowledge in a dental office - regardless of size.

Waiter stands behind bar ready to serve cold champagne

A variation of one of Einstein's quotes reads: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." Transferred to dentistry we need to rethink the relationship with our patients.

Dental chains (DSO's) have discovered the benefits

The large DSO's have, on a global scale, discovered the potential and are working daily to exploit it to their advantage.

It's about customer service and customer experiences.

The latest customer satisfaction reports show that only 30% of companies, across all industries, deliver a satisfactory customer experience. Not only is this figure low. In fact, it is the lowest figure ever measured.

I would argue that we dentists generally deliver something close to the second-worst customer service across all industries. On that front, we are second only to private medical practitioners. Herein lies huge potential. Because it's much easier to differentiate yourself on your customer service than on your professional standards. Please note that I am NOT writing you should ditch your professionalism. I'm writing that there is a huge potential in improving your customer service😉)

While customer satisfaction, customer experience, and customer-centric behavior have all been buzzwords over the last 20 years, there is no evidence that companies have done anything about what everyone is talking so much about.

But when customer service is so under-prioritised, it's also one of the easiest things to improve. Because it really doesn't take much to raise the bar and deliver great customer service in a dental practice.

Are you following us on LinkedIn?

Here I regularly post tips, tricks and motivational posts about everything we didn't learn at dental school. This includes service, sales and practice optimisation.

Investing in customer service

It's not because companies haven't invested in doing something. Huge sums have been and are being invested in CRM (customer relationship management) systems. Twenty years ago, when CRM really took off, some $13 billion was invested annually in CRM globally. Today that figure has risen to around 40 billion.

Everyone has been talking about customer service and how to put the customer first. Year after year, companies that perform exceptionally well are celebrated and highlighted in books, magazines and award shows as examples of best practice.

Yet nothing happens - the numbers don't lie.

Big data and what a small dental practice can do with it

So why doesn't it work?

Why has customer satisfaction not increased?

There are many who ask these questions. In particular those companies that have departments with 100+ employees dedicated to improving customer satisfaction. They are not really getting any return on their investment. Here, managers rightly start asking themselves whether they would not get a better deal by eliminating these departments.

I know that dental practices are significantly smaller than the companies I am referring to here. Nevertheless, what makes it interesting for a dental clinic is that the large companies have a relatively large amount of data. It is data that provides statistically valid information that we can relate to and use in a small size, like a dental practice.

So let's take a look at what the big companies have registered.

Why is customer satisfaction not increasing?

Here are a few of the reasons why customer satisfaction has not increased are the same as 20 years ago (I have selected only a few of many):

  • Management has not defined customer experience goals prior to investing in CRM (For dental practices, CRM can be replaced with: "customer experience education and training")

  • Management is not willing to change the organisation to a degree that the desired effect can be achieved.

  • Artificial intelligence has not been able to process big data as hoped and thus has not led to the development of tools that can create better customer experiences. (It seems to be too complex - just as orthodontic treatment with clear aligners cannot be handled by artificial intelligence either, as the complexity is too high)

Defining the goal

When management does not define what the goal is and clearly communicate the goal over and over again. Then it is impossible for the company's employees to achieve satisfactory results. Unless the results are achieved as a result of individual employees accidentally hitting the mark in their efforts to improve the company's performance.

Golden hands holding a golden heart

There is a very clear parallel from the large companies to the small dental practices in this context.

Few dental practices have defined goals for what they want their customer experience to be.

Just as they have not defined how they will measure the impact of their efforts to achieve those goals.

Without clear goals, it's hard to achieve anything. If employees don't know where they're going, they'll try to find their way as best they can. Which means: They each find their way, which is rarely in the same direction.

What's the plan?

Most practices I'm in contact with don't have a plan for their customer experience. They haven't thought about what their patients should experience in their encounter with the clinic from start to finish. If they have, it's rarely something that's written down, discussed or practiced as a team.

On dentists' websites you can generally read about promises like:

"We put our patients first"

It looks great, but if there is no connection between the promises and the reality patients encounter in the practice, the brand of the practice suffers. It's fundamentally about leadership, not branding. In a hectic day, it can be difficult to remember that leadership always comes first.

Patient or customer?

Our patients do not see themselves as patients. In their view, a patient is a sick person. The majority of people who come to a dental practice do not have the perception that they are ill or that something is wrong with them. When something is wrong with the teeth, the perception is usually that it is a matter of a mechanical breakdown that can be fixed in the same way as you fix a car at the auto repair shop.

This in itself is a challenge, as it is rarely as easy as patients think.

Expected standard

In addition, patients are most often greeted by a standardized experience that they actually expect to receive. An expected experience is a baseline experience. It is not a good service. To provide great service, we must deliver an experience that is different, goes beyond the expected standard and is relevant at the moment the service is delivered.

Add to this the fact that patients today see themselves as customers, or perhaps even as guests in the practice. Indeed, customers in general rarely receive an invitation to a visit - usually only guests do (Invitation to a regular check-up).

When dental practices base their self-perception on a perception that is different from that of their customers and do not think about how they can continuously improve to provide a better service. Then, in many cases, it becomes difficult at the very basics, to provide a GOOD service.

Organisational change / Implementation

If we recognise that service in a dental practice can be improved, we need to consider whether we can gain an advantage by changing the customer service of the practice. There is obviously a huge potential for improvement.

Customer service is linked to the highest level in the communication triangle (By Hatt Consulting GmbH). Acceptance of treatment starts long before the patient sits in the dentist's chair. Good customer service can therefore help to open the doors to increased treatment acceptance. Especially for the more complex/costly treatments.

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If you are a practice owner or manager and want to improve your patients' oral health, it is therefore obvious to start by defining goals for what your practice needs to do to achieve better customer service. Because if more patients accept your well-intentioned recommendations, you'll automatically have healthier patients in your practice.

What should your patients feel?

A good place to start is by defining the feeling you want your customers to have for each interaction they have with the practice. Next, you can (with or without the help of your team or external partners) design initiatives that will hopefully bring about the changes you want to achieve.

It takes time to identify the goals and initiatives you WANT to implement to improve the customer service in your practice. But it is relatively manageable. Once you have an overview of what you want, the first concrete improvements can often be defined in a single day.

Why is nothing happening?

The biggest challenge comes when we have to implement our wishes and goals. Too often, goals are defined for practice teams at a staff meeting or perhaps even a seminar, and then nothing happens.

Why not?

Because resources are not allocated to implement the improvements on a daily basis. There is an expectation that once the team has been told that a number of initiatives are important at a seminar and everyone has given each other high fives with promises of improvement, then everything automatically happens accordingly. As if by osmosis we can let the improvements trickle down to all parts of the organisation and then the improvements will automatically be put into effect.

The everyday challenges

The problem is that the phone rings as much as it always does. There are still insurance claims, emergency patients, X-ray procedures, a messy sterilization and all sorts of other things that steal all the time available.

Empty priority seat at airport

When we then try to add another task on top of the existing ones, it usually ends up at the bottom of the list of priorities. Because everything else is important too... isn't it?

When management does not allocate enough resources and find ways to implement new initiatives in realistic ways (read: it takes MUCH longer than we... ( practice owners) expect). Then nothing happens.

It is NOT the fault of the employees.

They are doing the best they can. The trouble is, they only use the new tools and provide great customer service when all the other really important tasks are done. Because if they don't, the boss will go into hysterics - production will grind to a halt and everyone knows that it costs a fortune when the dentist's chair is empty.

What artificial intelligence has taught us

When CRM systems were first introduced, the hope was that the billions of pieces of data collected about each customer could be used to significantly improve the customer experience.

It just never happened.

Artificial intelligence is really good at streamlining processes and detecting deviations from the norm. But these systems are, not very good at solving complex tasks. Just look at Invisalign. They have more than 10 million cases, with before-and-after data, that they've fed to their artificial intelligence. Yet the proposed treatment plans that the AI spits out require as many corrections as those their technicians produce. Therefore, 90% of all ClinCheck's still need to be modified to be biologically sound, realistic and predictable.

The human factor

When we can't get help from artificial intelligence. What are we to do?

The best advice is to give employees an overall goal, italicize the goal, and repeatedly talk about how that goal will be turned into reality. Not through the manager's actions, but through the employees'. Just as there must be time and space for the goals to be implemented at all.

Even if it is our employees who have to make the changes happen, we still have to take the lead. Like when the CEO of Disney World picks up trash and throws it in the trash can as he walks through the park - even with very important people.

If you work in a dental practice that wants to improve customer service, I'd love to hear what you've done that worked for you. Please leave a comment on this page, or share your experiences on our LinkedIn page. That way, you can help others improve and thereby help lift the reputation of the entire profession.

If you would like free feedback on something you are considering implementing in your practice, feel free to email me too.

On LinkedIn I post a lot of concrete examples of customer service that makes a difference in the practice.

Customer service doesn't have to be cumbersome, time consuming or cost a lot of money. Rather, it's usually rewarding and a lot of fun to work on.

Don't forget to subscribe to the blog. Then you're sure to get a link to the latest post here on the pages. I try to post a new post every two weeks. So it's not like I'm posting anything too frequently (I think).

Enjoy working with customer service in your practice.

See you in the next blog post.

Dentist Jesper Hatt DDS

Many kind regards

Jesper Hatt DDS

Phone: +41 78 268 00 78

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