FIRST class customer service is what will build your practice reputation and do more to build your patient list and profitability than your clinical skills training. Yes, your clinical skills should be the best they can be and your customer service needs to be of a higher standard than what you can do with a handpiece. FIRST class customer service makes you proficient, popular and profitable.
Friendly. One of the first steps to awesome customer service is being friendly. It sounds so simple and yet I hear so many patients complain to me that their dentists and receptionists are unfriendly and it puts them off treatment or even returning to the practice. Your friendliness and that of your team will be impacting your bottom line. Unfortunately, the most unfriendly practices can be those with a high NHS commitment and with the focus on throughput, the first casualty is often customer care. How can you be more friendly to your patients? I am sure you know the answer to this, smile as you greet them, make eye contact, use matching and mirroring to increase rapport, show interest in them beyond their teeth, and listen. What else is on your list and how can you increase the friendliness across your whole team?
Informative. A complaint I hear from patients that undermines their trust with their dentist is when they are not told relevant information. You can massively increase your patient’s sense of loyalty to you and the practice by keeping them informed. Don’t just tell them about their dental health, show them, inspire, and encourage them so they take ownership and become part of the process and when they respond well praise them. Inform them of advantages, disadvantages, and what they can expect to experience between each appointment. Of course, you must inform your patients of the cost, and when you do what difference will it make to you and your patients when you go through the treatment plan, rather than it being generated at the reception desk. There is so much you can inform your patients about, and being mindful of information overload, you must give sufficient information to satisfy your patients, the GDC, your indemnity and to keep yourself safe. When you are providing information, make sure it is in a format that is intelligible and retainable. Do your patients need pictures, videos, sound recordings, written documents, demonstrations? Where, what and how can you give your patients sufficient information?
Responsive. Your patients love it when you are responsive to their wants needs and preferences, and customise the serve you offer to them. The more you know your patient demographics the more you can respond. Being responsive can be the tiny things such as having a padded coat hanger for them to hang their coat on rather than putting it over a chair or it could require a larger investment such as furniture appropriate to their conditions. It never ceases to amaze me how many practices and hospital have an elderly patient base and chairs that are so low the patients can’t get out of them. What can you do that ensures the customer service you offer is FIRST class, by becoming increasingly responsive to your patient’s current and future wants and needs?
Sincere. All your patients have amazingly sensitive and accurate, sincerity detectors, as soon as they sense that you are doing or saying something gout of process rather than because you mean it, it becomes highly counter-productive. Consider your emotional response when a check out assistant bids you farewell by saying “Have a nice day” and you know there is not an ounce of sincerity in their voice. Where are you and your team at risk of being insincere? Is it when you hand over your card and say “Call me any time over the week-end I am here to help”, or when your patient care co-ordinator says “if you have any questions call me any time I am happy to answer any questions you may have”, or when an patient rings with an emergency at 4:30 on a Friday and your receptionist says “Of course we are delighted to be able to fit you in this late on a Friday.” How can you and your team can increase their sincerity?
Timely. If there is one thing above all else that patients resent, is when they are kept waiting for their appointments. They report that they are not treated fairly, they can be refused treatment for attending 5 minutes late and often kept waiting for 45 minutes or more. Many patients have asked me to speak to their dentists about their time keeping particularly when patients book the first appointment in the session and are still kept waiting because their dentist has not turned up on time. Are your patient really being unreasonable when they object to being kept waiting? You can improve your time keeping by scheduling sufficient emergency slots only to be used on the day, allocating appointments that are long enough, ensuring you have enough equipment and an adequate decontamination process so you are not waiting for instruments, and being prepared. Yes, we do know that sometimes dentistry does not go according to plan and you may run late and having a way to manage this is essential to offer a FIRST class service. I would suggest that if you are running more than 10 minutes late more than once a week, you would benefit from looking at how your appointment book and surgery time is being run. What do you think you can do to increase the timeliness of your practice?
To summarise to offer a FIRST class service you must focus on FIRST things FIRST.
F = Friendly
I = Informative
R = Responsive
S = Sincere
T = Timely
Let me know what actions you have taken as a result of reading this article, and what impact it has head on your patients and practice.