Whether you experience it as the service provider or the consumer, great customer service is important to everyone. Nobody ever comments that it’s unnecessary or undesirable. And many businesses claim or even boast that they provide five-star service when unfortunately, they’re not even close. How is your customer service?
Five-star customer service offers a competitive advantage
No one can argue against the fact that dentistry is becoming more competitive. Different delivery models, including dental service organizations (DSOs), have had a significant impact on the competitive landscape. Some of the lines for specialty services are being blurred and new techniques and technologies are expanding participants in all areas of dentistry. So it’s more important than ever for practices to differentiate themselves with superior customer service.
In the 1980’s companies used customer service to help build incredible success. Nordstrom was among the best at this. Their outstanding customer service led to an explosion of growth and customer loyalty. The same is true in dentistry. In our observation of the top 10% of dental practices as defined by revenue, we find that the customer service is usually at a five-star level. Conversely, we generally observe that most practices below the top 10% would be at a three or four-star level. It is not that they are bad in any way, but they’re not great. And while the “not great” doesn’t necessarily mean terrible and may even be good, is good “good enough?”
Raise your game
Businesses across all industries are raising their game. I’ve seen a significant change in lower-level hotels in regard to appearance, customer service and amenities. Courtyard by Marriott has created a very chic, cool interior design that includes large flat-screen televisions in their lobbies, food areas with café style tables, and cool bars. This is a great example of raising your game. I encourage all practices that are serious about competing effectively and maintaining ongoing success to spend serious time considering how they can improve their customer service.
If you want to use five-star service to differentiate your practice, you will need to have very specific systems and actions that take place every day. These can include:
- Calling patients at night. This is not a new concept but one that is rarely used. Calling patients at night is an effective public relations outreach strategy. It is not about who needs a call based on clinical treatment. It is about demonstrating caring and building relationships.
- Dealing well with “oops” scenarios. Running late happens at every practice, but hopefully not often. When it does, how you handle it can make all the difference. We recommend that any time a practice is over 10 minutes late, a gift card be given to the patient as an apology and a way to show how much you appreciate their understanding. (Remember, make sure gifts are nominal in value and comply with federal guidelines.)
- Develop scripting for every new patient. It’s critical that your practice differentiate itself in this first phone call. You want new patients to know why they should choose your office for their dental care. Practices that do this develop outstanding relationships with their patients.
- Work on relationship-building at all times. Learn one new thing about every patient every time they come in. You can do this by taking the time to talk to them about their personal lives and interests—not just dentistry. People who develop strong bonds and relationships with practices stay longer and refer others.
- Have regular communication with patients. The recommendation is to communicate with your patients at least once a month providing dental education, practice updates, or information on a specific service. Waiting until patients come into the office every six months is no longer sufficient to maintain strong relationships.
- Include fun in your office. People like to have fun and there’s no reason that dental practices cannot create a fun office environment on a regular basis. A consistent array of contests, raffles, special events or surprises will be appreciated by all patients. (Again, remember, make sure gifts are nominal in value and comply with federal guidelines.) I was waiting for a Southwest flight recently, when an announcement came over the intercom that all Southwest customers should raise their hand. Then the gate agent went around and gave everyone 1,000 points to thank them for being a Southwest customer. It was a simple surprise that everybody loved.
There are many other things practices can do. Offer comfy pillows and warm towels. Create fun holiday themes and giveaways. Provide convenient appointment times and payment options. This all goes to the heart of five-star customer service. Keep in mind that everything you offer patients should be properly publicized and communicated. Having it is not the same as patients knowing about it.
The opportunity to impress patients, attract more patients and decrease patient attrition often depends on the level of customer service. As dentistry continues to change, practices that offer five-star service will continue to flourish and differentiate themselves from the competition.