08.28.09 Issue #390 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague


David Clow
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Getting to A: What You Need From Me

My first column for this newsletter was a little hard on dentists. (Well, on some of them, anyway.) I told you how I’d left a practice recently because the people there seemed indifferent to me as a person, and for that matter, seemed barely interested in me as a patient. I was asking for more, and because I couldn’t get a better level of care there, I left.

Like a lot of patients, I have a customer’s sense of entitlement and if it’s not fulfilled, I shop elsewhere. You are in the business of customer service, and that’s a reality every practice has to face. I’d like to offer you something better than the prospect of my leaving, though. If I leave your practice, it’s not just your problem or your failure. It’s mine too. It’s my missed opportunity. It’s time I can’t get back. I want to be more than just another revolving-door customer for you; I want to be a collaborator and to join you in a mutual effort that improves us both.

A Patients, B Patients, C Patients
I’m told that dentists think of their patients in tiers, with the A’s at the top, B’s in the middle, etc. I think I could be one of your A patients. To achieve that, you need to bring your best efforts to the chair, and so do I. You have every right to ask a few things from me.

  • Personal discipline and good habits: if I’m serious about having a better mouth, then 95% of that effort has to be mine, away from your operatory. If I don’t do basic maintenance, flossing, brushing and rinsing, then I’m not pulling my weight. If I neglect my diet, indulge in bad eating or smoking, your efforts can’t correct my mistakes.
  • Basic courtesy: this is obvious, you’d hope, but for many patients the obvious is remarkably difficult. I owe you punctuality, good manners and dependability. I owe you timely payment for care and thanks when you do good work.
  • Cooperation and forbearance: I’m not in your chair for the view. When you’re working, I owe you every effort to make your job easier. If you need me to move, to open wider, to bear with the lights and the noises, then it’s my job to help you, not to get in the way and expect you to heal me with a rabbit’s foot. Dental work hurts sometimes. It’s my job to know that and to deal with it.
  • Listening: I owe you a fair, sober hearing for your advice. I’d ask to be counseled, not scolded, and I’d ask in that you spend an initial moment talking to me so that I can in fact know you are good counsel. When you offer it, I owe you my attention and feedback.
  • Willingness to invest: To get the benefits that you offer, I need to invest time and money. I need to think of you as a worthwhile expense, not as a part of the onerous problem I’d rather just avoid. I owe you a measure of faith that what you’re doing will pay dividends to me starting the moment I leave your chair. I owe you sober assessments of the costs and benefits of my investment in you, versus those for some other investment I might make. I owe you a belief in myself, and in the certainty that I deserve your good work and its good effects.
  • The aspiration to excel: I owe you this, but I can’t deliver for you unless I owe this to myself first. You might help me become healthier and happier, if I have the basic self-esteem to permit it. If I don’t think I deserve getting a little better, then getting a lot better with your help is beyond me completely.  Everything can fall into place when I make the commitment to myself. After that, I make the appointment with you.

I say I owe all these traits to you, but it’s more accurate to say I owe them to our collaboration. If I’m indifferent to my own well-being, then I can’t fault a dentist who meets me with the same lack of concern. I want to be your A patient. I need to give you what you need so we can achieve that together.

The next question is: how do we communicate all this with each other?

On behalf of McKenzie Management, David Clow consults with dental professionals on practice culture, case acceptance, and patient expectations.

David Clow is a writer/consultant for Fortune 100 companies. His book, A Few Words from the Chair, is the first book written by a patient for dental professionals and students and is available here. He can be reached at davidclow@mckenziemgmt.com

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