How to improve customer service in your practice

By Sally McKenzie, CEO Printer Friendly Version

Earning patient loyalty isn’t easy. It’s critical to any dentist’s success, yet it’s something many clinicians struggle with. Patients come to their initial visit and are never heard from again, leaving the dentist and team members to figure out what went wrong.

In many cases, patients don’t return simply because they didn’t have a good experience. Maybe the team member who greeted them at the front desk seemed preoccupied, or the hygienist brushed off their observation about the long wait time to see the doctor. Whatever the reason, more often than not it stems back to lackluster customer service.

If you want to earn patient loyalty and develop a strong base of patients who accept treatment and refer (and who doesn’t?), it’s time to start focusing on providing stellar customer service in your practice. Not sure how to do that? No worries. I can help. Here are my tips to improve customer service so you can grow your practice and your bottom line:

Get everyone involved. Providing top-notch customer service isn’t just something for your front desk employees to focus on. They should strive to create an excellent experience every time they interact with patients, whether it’s over the phone, online or in person. Train team members to put the patients’ needs first and to do whatever they can to make their experience with your practice both positive and unforgettable.

Develop relationships with your patients. Patients want to feel a connection to their dental practice, which is why it’s so important for you and your team members to focus on building relationships with them. Get to know patients by asking about their jobs and their families. And of course, talk with them about their oral health goals. Find out what they’d like to change about their smile and discuss any perceived barriers to care. Focus on their wants during the appointment and make it clear you have their best interest at heart. Take time to educate them about their condition and the treatment you’re recommending.

All this shows patients they’re important to the practice, and that you and your team are committed to providing them with the care they need and the best experience possible. With this approach, you’ll begin to develop the kind of rapport that fosters loyalty.

Respond to their complaints. I know patient complaints can be annoying, but that’s not the way to look at them. When patients voice their concerns, it gives you the opportunity to make positive changes in your practice, and to fix an issue that’s likely bothering other patients as well. So, when patients are upset about something, really listen to what they have to say. Thank them for letting you know about the problem and assure them you’ll work to resolve the issue right away.

The same goes for complaints aired out online. If patients post something negative about your practice on social media or in a review, respond right away to let them know you’re sorry they had a bad experience and that you’re working to fix the situation. It’s best to ask patients to talk with you about the issue offline.

When patients complain, they’re often just looking for an apology and reassurance that it won’t happen again. So, instead of ignoring complaints or taking them personally, take action. Patients will appreciate your efforts, making them want to call your practice their dental home.

Identify bigger issues. This requires really listening to what patients say when they bring a problem to your attention. For example, maybe a patient called your practice because he couldn’t find information about the services you provide online. After talking with him, your team member realizes he’s interested in a service you offer, but almost went to another practice because your website didn’t provide the relevant information. This lets you know you need to update your website so you don’t risk losing other potential patients.

Communicate effectively. Training team members to effectively communicate with patients is key to providing a great experience. For example, patients might get upset if their insurance doesn’t cover as much of their treatment as expected. If it had been made clear the estimate was just that, an estimate, and that they might need to pay more out of pocket, they wouldn’t be surprised by, and irritated with, the additional bill.

It’s also important to keep the language positive. Team members should never tell patients no. If a patient is interested in a Saturday appointment but your practice doesn’t offer that, for example, suggest the early morning and evening appointment times you do offer as an alternative.

Stay calm. No matter how crazy your day gets, don’t let patients see how stressed you are. Take time to talk with and educate patients chairside no matter what. Always make them feel like they’re the most important person in the practice. That’s how you win their loyalty.

Offering top-notch customer service will set your practice apart from others in your area. Focus on improving customer service so patients have an experience that will not only earn their loyalty, but that will make them more likely to accept treatment and refer.

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