Be our Guest, not Just our Patient
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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A few years ago, the Harvard Business Review reported that between 65-85% of people who leave one business for another do so even though they are satisfied. What does that mean for dentists? Many of your patients stay with your practice only until they find a reason to leave.
And most dental teams are often more than a little surprised by what some of those reasons are: The practice hours are not convenient. There’s no place to park, The doctor hurts me. I don’t understand the bills. They don’t accept my insurance. They changed a practice policy. They don’t answer the phone. I can’t leave a message. They charged me for a missed appointment. They are always trying to sell me something. The fees are too high. They can’t keep staff. They told me I have to go to a specialist. They don’t listen to me. What dental teams might consider insignificant issues or minor patient problems, are costing practices a fortune in lost loyalty. Obviously, it doesn’t take much to motivate patients to take their dental needs and wants elsewhere.
So how do you turn patients waiting for a reason to leave into long-term loyal partners? Take a close look at systems and service. While surveys indicate 70% of customers/patients cite service as the number one reason they defect, too often employees view managing patient service as a distraction from what they consider to be more important tasks, such as ensuring the schedule is full, collecting from the insurance companies, confirming appointments, etc. Ironically the success of each of these goes hand-in-hand with providing excellent service.
First, find out what your patients think. Survey patients to assess if seemingly minor concerns raised by a few patients are a bigger problem than you may have realized. Invest in a statistically valid survey instrument that is designed to ask questions that will elicit the most valuable and revealing information.
Next, engage in “action listening,” which is different from active listening. With action listening, the dental team commits to bring concerns and issues voiced by patients to the staff meetings for discussion and action. For example, if patients are commenting that practice hours are inconvenient, the team develops a plan to address the issue, such as adjusting the practice hours for 60 days, marketing the change, and monitoring patient reaction and subsequent patient retention. The team can then assess if the change should be made permanent.
Look at practice systems and evaluate if they are best serving the patients thereby best serving the practice. If the schedule is booked out weeks for the doctor and months for hygiene, if patients are routinely declining treatment, if collections are low and holes in the schedule are frequent, these are all system indicators that patient service is deficient.
While you’re at it, pay attention to the obvious:
- Welcome each “guest.” Treat each patient as the most important person in your office from the moment he/she walks in the door until they leave the parking lot.
- Have the answers. Patients expect you to have immediate answers to basic questions. Track the common questions that patients ask. Take steps to ensure that every member of the team is prepared to answer them.
- Acknowledge Patients Immediately. Under no circumstances should a patient be ignored when they come to the counter. It takes five seconds to look over at the patient let them know you will be right with them. If you pretend they are not there, you tell the patient that they are an annoyance and unworthy of your time.
Providing excellent service means building a strong emotional connection with the patient – not just running on-time and delivering good dentistry. It means that every member of the team makes it clear that they care about that specific patient, is willing to listen to them, and shows genuine interest and concern for them.
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