How Well Do You Know Your Market?
In case you were wondering, shares of Coach are heading up again, hovering close to $60 at this writing. As you may know, consumers don't flinch at paying the steep prices for the company's stylish handbags, shoes, and accessories. Coach is seen as a quality product and the market it attracts tends to be less sensitive to the current economic ebb and flow than others. At the other side of the retail spectrum is Kohls. Similarly, Kohls retail chains also have done extremely well in spite of the economic ups and downs thanks to their loyal, yet uber-cautious middle-market consumer.
So what does this reference to retail have to do with dentistry? These companies know their markets and how to appeal to them. They pay attention. They listen, and they respond. When was the last time you thought about your market?
It’s an interesting irony because your market sits in front of you every day - but few of you engage them. Most of you tell them what they need, when they can come in to get what they need, and how much you will charge for what they need. It’s known as one-way communication and it’s about as effective as rabbit ears on a flat screen TV. It doesn’t begin to enable you to tune into your market and determine specifically what will make the patient actually invest in what you have to offer. Consider the comments of patient “Mary” who goes to “Dr. Smith’s” office.
“Dr. Smith’s office is great for cleanings and that, but he always seems so rushed. He takes a quick look at my teeth after the hygienist cleans them and sends me on my way. I would like to replace my bridge with a couple of those implants, but I never feel like I should bother him with questions.”
It’s the classic example of one-way communication. Neither the doctor nor the hygienist is paying attention to the market - that being the needs of the paying patient sitting in front of them. The doctor doesn’t open the door to discussion with the patients. The hygienist talks away the hour about her mother’s health problems and her son’s struggles adjusting to high school, but never mentions that the doctor recently achieved a special certification to provide a specific treatment. The hygienist doesn’t note that the office was recently featured in a dental publication for its success in integrating adult orthodontics, or ask the patient about the unscheduled treatment that was diagnosed six months ago, or if the patient has ever used over-the-counter whitening products. The hygienist doesn’t provide the patient with literature about services that may be of interest. S/he makes virtually no effort to educate the patient or learn more about the practice’s “market.”
In dentistry, knowing your market and understanding your market often translates into building trusting relationships - not merely performing dental business transactions. In Mary's case, Dr. Smith is focused on completing the perfunctory hygiene exam and getting back to his other patient. In his mind, it's a rudimentary transaction. Little does he realize that in these seemingly insignificant interactions, he is missing the opportunity to better understand the needs and wants of his particular patient market. And rather than building a foundation for future treatment acceptance, he is eroding it.
Many patients today expect more than a mere transaction. They are smart, savvy, and much more aware of advances in dental care and treatment options. Numerous patients would love to change something about their smile or improve their oral health, but few will verbalize those desires without prompting. Others have concerns, but don't want to appear foolish in raising them. Yet if the new and existing patient feels that the doctor and dental team are sincerely interested in their needs, wants, and concerns, they are far more likely to be open to the treatment recommended and inquiring about other services the practice has to offer.
Next week, give your patients good reason to accept treatment.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side.
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How to Conduct a Successful Monthly Meeting
It is understandable why you don’t have monthly meetings. Historically, no one participates - so when everything gets quiet, the complaining begins. After about 20 minutes of listening to unsolvable issues and “finger pointing” you adjourn the meeting and remind yourself that you will NEVER do this again no matter how many consultants write that it is important. Having an outline to follow and guidelines for you and the team will help you to have successful and productive monthly meetings.
Monthly meetings should be held first thing in the morning as early as possible, when all the staff will be in attendance. Consider using Skype or a conference call if you have employees that cannot attend. Typically, a productive meeting will last 90-120 minutes, depending on the number of “Action Items” you have to discuss monthly. Bring bagels or some other snack as a “thank you” for coming early. These meetings should also be blocked off in the practice schedule at least six months in advance to avoid having to change patients’ appointments.
Step 1 - Establish a Meeting Coordinator
Step 2 - Gather Agenda Items
Step 3 - Action Items
The Meeting Coordinator is also responsible for typing up the amended agenda items, if there are any, as well as obtaining copies of your current monthly practice statistics monitor for the entire team. In addition, a copy of the updated action items list needs to be available for everyone. Action items are created from the agenda items that are discussed, including a description of the action, who is responsible for the completion of the action, and when it is due to be completed. This list is very important, as it is your “road map” of where you want to go each month.
Step 4 - The Meeting
As the doctor, you may need to help “draw conclusions” for the agenda items so they are converted into action items, as well as make sure they are assigned to a particular person, when applicable. Often the entire team is responsible for implementing the action item, such as: Ask at least 2 patients each day for a referral. It is also important that someone takes notes of the items discussed and the new action items that are created in order for them to be added to the existing list. Usually, someone in the office is responsible for keeping the action plan updated.
Step 5 - Prepare for Next Meeting
Remember that agenda items can be tabled until the next meeting because you are not in a position to make a decision at that time, or you may table it indefinitely. You are the boss and you run the business. Do it in a kind manner and always thank your team for bringing agenda items to the table for discussion. It will keep the lines of communication open and safe.
Key Training Protocols for New Hires
Due to a shortage of people with dental knowledge, many practices look to hire people with the core skills of customer service and a willingness to learn new skills that will develop into a career in dentistry. When asking hundreds of dental workers who it was that trained them for their position, the most common response was a previous employee. When asked who trained them on the dental software program, the most common response was a previous employee or a current employee. What was the standard of training in each of these practices?
When employees leave their jobs or are terminated, they usually seek to be hired on at another practice as “experienced.” The assumption is that they have enough experience to take the next job and be able to function with success. Some key things to consider that are standard in any practice are:
1. Knowledge of the practice software. Must be able to enter patients, schedule appointments, insert insurance information, treatment plans and post private and insurance payments. This is the core skill necessary to be able to “hit the ground running” at the front desk. Using a program for electronic claims and attaching x-rays, documents and photos is also a necessary skill, but one that can be taught. Running reports to monitor practice numbers is next and can also be taught.
2. Customer service skills. These core skills are telephone etiquette and being able to connect with the patient to build trust. Communicating the importance of keeping scheduled appointments, collecting at the time of service for cash patients, and handling co-pays and deductibles for assignment of benefits insurance patients is necessary for the practice to survive.
3. Knowledge of HIPAA. Understanding this federal act is critical for all who work in health care. Discussing dental treatment plans and financial options within hearing range of people in the reception room is a common breach of the untrained.
4. Knowledge of email, scanning documents and creating proper digital dental records. Technology does not allow dental workers to stay rooted in the past. Many practices are chartless and do not store paper. Some offices have a combination of both. It is observed in many practices that some employees do not know how to import or export documents or images via email. These skills can be taught.
5. Knowledge of scheduling for production. The skill to create a properly scheduled day that meets a monetary goal and runs on time without chaos and unusual stress. This requires communication with the doctor and the clinical team to understand what the schedule looks like on paper. For the new person, it is helpful to create blocking of the perfect day to help them choose an appropriate appointment slot.
6. Knowledge of creating a harmonious working environment by cooperating and communicating effectively with co-workers. Often called teamwork, this is difficult to train. In many offices there are drama queens, lone rangers and the disconnected. They often do their jobs well, but work outside the good of the team by being self-promoters and territorial about their jobs. It is standard and very important to have monthly staff or team meetings that are structured to be positive in creating a motivated team. A team member with the skills to facilitate meetings and to structure the agenda to allow participation of the entire team is highly desirable.
If you hire an experienced person with these core skills, anything else can be taught. It does take time and dedication to teach, and often, senior employees are strapped for time and patience to train a new hire. Understanding dental procedures, treatment protocols, codes and dental insurance processing are areas of challenge in teaching new hires without dental experience and also to people who did not perform these tasks at their last job.
The book Current Dental Terminology can be purchased from the ADA website or catalog, and is an excellent source of training for the person without dental knowledge. It contains tooth charts, dental terminology and explanation of the ADA dental codes for procedures. McKenzie Management also has a basic training book called Dentistry - An Introduction for New Employees which will help the new hire understand the dental practice environment and get them up to speed fast. Continued exposure to dental periodicals, articles and CE courses will help build the knowledge of dentistry to a confident level.
McKenzie Management also has a Dental Training Center for employees that have mastered the basics and are ready to move upward in their career as a Business Coordinator/ Front Office/Financial/Insurance Coordinator. Call 877-777-6151 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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