Spare the Backlash, Give Feedback
It’s likely you realized early on that as the owner of your practice, there are many hats you must wear. You are, after all, “the boss.” You are the one your team looks to for direction, guidance, mediation, fairness, etc. And for many dentists, it’s those “other duties as assigned” that create the biggest headaches in running a practice. Employees are a needy bunch. You have to tell them what to do. They often require additional training. They can be mercurial. And one particularly frustrating characteristic of most employees - they want regular feedback from you, their boss. If only signing the paychecks was the sole thing required to effectively manage a team. Now you need a solid set of skills, a strong sense of integrity and professionalism, and a willingness to encourage excellent performance through motivation, accountability, and, yes, plenty of constructive feedback.
Most dentists pat themselves on the back if they give employees feedback once or twice a year. “Feedback” as many see it would be that perfunctory exchange that is commonly attached to the annual salary review. If there are no problems, most likely the doctor tells the employees they are doing a fine job, slaps a couple extra percentage points on the paycheck and quickly strikes this routine matter off the to-do list. There, done, next.
Perhaps you are one of those bosses who reasons that if the employee gets a paycheck and isn’t shown to the door, that’s feedback enough in your book. “If I weren’t happy, they’d know it. Why would I need to give any more feedback than that?” If that’s your story, you’re probably filling vacancies in your office rather regularly.
Or maybe your idea of feedback is dropping a subtle hint here or there. The dirty instruments pile up in the sink and you stick a post-it-note above it with a frowny face. Or let’s say you’re looking at a record shortfall in income this year and you casually mention in a staff meeting that money is a little tight. This isn’t feedback. It doesn’t help the collections coordinator understand that she needs to increase over-the-counter collections immediately. It doesn’t tell the scheduling coordinator that those “scheduling to meet production goals” are established for a reason. The staff members leave the meeting assuming everything is fine where they are concerned. After all, if money were a serious problem, surely you’d do more than mention that things are a little tight. Meanwhile, you are sure the team is going to take some real steps to improve their performance. Wrong.
Vague generalities don’t work, and they don’t constitute feedback. So how does the dental practice actually incorporate effective feedback into its systems? First, drop the notion that feedback is part of the performance/salary review. They are separate issues. Performance rewards must be based on performance measurements, but that is another article.
Your team needs a daily dose of this thing called feedback. Constructive feedback should be given and received daily to help employees continuously fine tune and improve the manner in which they carry out their responsibilities. Feedback given and received constructively is that unseen magical ingredient that helps them to improve and to grow. It’s also the dentist’s most vital tool in sculpting average employees into effective, high-performing team members. But expecting anything constructive or positive to come out of occasional doses of feedback is like having patients who brush their teeth occasionally yet expect to have excellent oral health. Doesn’t happen.
Verbal feedback can be given at any time, but it is most effective at the moment the employee is engaging in the behavior that you either want to praise or correct. If Sue at the front desk negotiated payment from the ever difficult Mrs. Jones with the deft and political acumen of a highly trained peace keeper/financial genius, then tell her! Similarly, if her handling of a situation is not consistent with the practice’s overall performance objectives and/or your practice philosophy, explain constructively how you would like for her to handle these types of situations in the future.
Verbal, on-the-spot feedback should be the goal. The environment of the practice should be one that encourages positive feedback and openly provides constructive feedback when necessary. Choosing to avoid opportunities to give employees feedback is like choosing to help them fail.
Next week, creating the feedback loop.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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Facebook - Really?
I’m sure you have read or seen articles in all the monthly publications discussing the necessity of social networking. In order for you to make an informed decision, the first step is for you to become a user yourself.
They don’t come because you graduated top in your dental class or you have hundreds of hours of CE. They come because their visit is “not unpleasant.” If we can all agree that relationships are important in helping to maintain your patient base, how do you promote the relationships with your patients?
Basic Social Networking
Your assistant “Rose” calls “Paul”, the patient from the reception area, and as she is escorting him to the treatment room she is also engaging him in conversation. When Paul is seated, Rose sits down beside him at eye level to review his medical history and ask other dental related questions. You enter the room, maybe shake hands with the patient if appropriate and comfortable, sit down “eye to eye” and carry on a brief (note brief) conversation about how Paul is doing before you get to business.
The patient is dismissed to the business coordinator, the treatment performed for the day and instructions on what needs to be scheduled next are relayed verbally to the coordinator, the assistant or hygienist bids the patient good-bye and the coordinator takes over from there. She asks how he is, did they get along okay today, and acts like she really cares. The financial arrangements are discussed and completed, and the coordinator bids Paul good-bye and thanks him for spending time with you and the team. This is basic social networking in a dental office, and it would be my hope that each and every practice does this each and every day with every patient that is seen.
There are still many dentists that don’t even have effective websites. Do you have a video welcoming patients to the office, as well as something fun being performed by your team? If you expect potential new patients to find you, you must have a presence on the web.
Do you have a Facebook page? First, I would suggest that if you don’t have a personal Facebook account, get one for the sole purpose of seeing and understanding the value of being internet “social.” Please don’t expect your Facebook page to bring in new patients. It is for the purpose of interacting with your existing patients. If you happen to get a few new patients as a result, then that is simply a bonus. Facebook is how you communicate with your patients when they are not in the office. It is how you remind them that you and your team are wonderful, and how much you care about your patients as people, as well as patients.
Make it FUN! Viewing dental practice Facebook pages, some are interesting and some are simply boring. Maybe you don’t know it’s boring because you, as a dentist, are interested in reading about dental “stuff.” Your patients want to read and see interesting things that you and your team are doing, too. Post photos of the staff (assuming you have their permission). When you participate in a community event, take photos and post them. Run contests that are fun and offer cool gifts if you get 300 likes (as an example).
Let social media work for you, your patients and the practice.
Discounts, Coupons and Promotions Can Send the Wrong Message
In healthcare, it is all about the message and the perception of the patient. When marketing, dentists join the ranks of other advertisers to build a patient/client base to achieve a successful and thriving practice. Looking at promotional materials as they come through the mail there seem to be constant incentives to purchase a service, or free services being offered to get patients acquainted with the practice. As expensive as healthcare is to the average person, a “free cleaning and exam” is enticing.
With these “free” cleanings abounding, why is periodontal disease a problem for so many Americans? After all, a professional cleaning is a service that prevents periodontal disease, is easy to obtain, and is affordable. The American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) supports new research published online in the Journal of Dental Research confirming the need for careful risk assessment to determine which patients may benefit from additional treatment to prevent periodontal disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), perio disease impacts over 50% of the U.S. adult population. The AAP recommends that once a year, all patients should receive a comprehensive periodontal evaluation to effectively screen and assess risk for disease and guide preventive care.
Would it be of value to offer a free cleaning and a periodontal evaluation too? With 50% of the adult population needing some form of periodontal therapy, is it a good idea to offer a free or discounted preventive service such as a cleaning to a stranger? Usually there is fine print at the bottom of the advertisement that says “in the absence of periodontal (gum) disease.” This is where it becomes confusing to the public.
During comprehensive examinations, doctors and staff often describe scaling and root planing as a “deep cleaning” so that patients understand the procedure. The word “cleaning” should not be used to describe periodontal therapy. If 50% of the patients that respond to the marketing piece have active periodontal disease, what now? Do you do the advertised special along with education and hope that the patient returns for what they really need, scaling and root planing? Unfortunately, many wait for the next advertised special and the disease gets worse.
Dentists want new patients, but at what cost? Consider the message of health that you send with this: “Exam, cleaning and necessary x-rays, new patients only, in absence of gum disease, without insurance one-time special $69.” The professional examination is probably the most influential time that you can spend with the patient, by providing education and a listening ear to what the patient wants for their long term dental care. Will you be providing that kind of service with this package deal? For the patient to see the full value of what they are receiving, the services should be performed as they would be for any other patient in the practice.
If you want to help low income patients, you can become involved with organizations such as Dentistry from the Heart or other charitable organizations in your area. Bring value to the services that you provide by not discounting them in an advertising campaign. Propose a “teeth whitening” special or a complimentary mechanical toothbrush for new patients that complete a comprehensive examination, necessary radiographs and professional teeth cleaning. Offer $50 off any product or service not covered by insurance, or give new patients a $50 gas card for their comprehensive new patient visit. You might even consider offering complimentary second opinions for patients who have questions about treatment proposed to them by another dentist.
Most patients will come to you by word-of-mouth referrals from friends and relatives, or from online searches and reading favorable online reviews. Invest advertising dollars into improving your website and online presence. Patients who stay with practices do so because they receive good service for a fair price and are treated with respect and empathy.
Take a good look at your discounts, promotions and coupons. Are they helping you to build the practice you envisioned? What is the message you are sending? Are you attracting patients who understand the health benefits of good dentistry, or people who just want a cheap deal? Want help building a practice that attracts and keeps the best patients? Call McKenzie Management for a Free Marketing Assessment or sign up for a course in Professional Business Training or Treatment Acceptance Training today.
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