Patients don’t just care about excellent clinical treatment and leaving with a beautiful smile. They care about how they are treated as people. Here’s how to both ensure patients are happy and loyal and further your practice’s success.
By Roger P. Levin, DDS
We have heard forever that customer service is essential, and it is true. But do you understand why? It’s not just about being nice, polite, having good manners, or doing the right thing. There is a powerful psychological aspect to providing 5-star customer service. In my book, Wow Every Patient, I outline reasons why patients react so powerfully to 5-star customer service and how it directly correlates to high levels of orthodontic practice success. One major finding was that implementing a 5-star customer service program is actually remarkably simple to understand.
Why customer service?
Until the middle 1980s, customer service was talked about, but not a big deal in the business world. Then Tom Peters and Robert Waterman came out with their landmark book, In Search of Excellence, and set the business world on fire. American companies were ready to listen because Japanese companies were overtaking them economically by offering superior quality products in major categories, such as automobiles. Japanese management was the business school topic of the decade, and the Japanese were highly focused on understanding their customers, building higher quality products than the American products at cheaper prices, and creating high customer satisfaction.
In Search of Excellence laid out the reality that it isn’t enough to just have good products and services. You must win over the customers and make them feel good. And feeling good is the hidden, but essential, topic of 5-star customer service.
The world is changing, and patients are confronted with many choices that sometimes motivate them to change orthodontic offices. Advertising entices them to review all kinds of offers, fee levels, and corporate dental groups; GP offices offer orthodontics at lower fees and other options; and disruptive choices like direct-to-consumer treatment options are changing the orthodontic specialty. The days of parents or patients automatically joining an orthodontic practice are no more. However, any orthodontic practice can build a phenomenal patient following that is loyal and happy using the 5-star customer service by making patients feel good.
Why make patients feel good?
In an ideal world, you would think that patients merely care about excellent clinical treatment and a beautiful smile. But often, that is not enough. Patients also desire a personal relationship. The truth is that patients will judge the clinical quality of care more by how you treat them as people than the actual clinical care itself. Patients have no ability to judge high-quality care versus low-quality care other than the appearance of their smiles. I have heard stories about orthodontists who had incredible personalities and easily built practices two, three, or four times larger than the average practice. It wasn’t because they had better clinical skills, attended more continuing education, or had more dental knowledge. It was because they understood how to relate to people and treat them well. More importantly, they had the likability factor. What is the likability factor?
The likability factor is one of those wonderful simple expressions that says exactly what it means. How much do your patients like you as a person and then judge you to be an excellent orthodontist? There’s a direct proportion between how much they like you and how they evaluate the quality of care they are receiving. And the likability factor can be mastered by any personality simply by focusing on 5-star customer service. Here are simple examples to consider for developing a customer service system:
- Do you greet every parent or patient with “over-the-top” enthusiasm?
- Do you tell every parent or patient how glad you are to see them?
- Do you run on time? (Because people hate their time being wasted.)
- Do you apologize if you run late and offer a token gift like a five-dollar coffee gift card to the parent or adult patient as an apology while they’re still sitting in the reception room and wondering what is going on?
- Does the orthodontic assistant have a set of two or three questions to build the patient relationship and perception of caring?
- Do you learn one new thing about every patient at every visit demonstrating caring, concern, and compassion and building powerful relationships?
- Do you keep the parent or patient updated throughout the orthodontic treatment, focusing on how well everything is going and the excellent result that will be achieved?
- Are you a cheerleader for the patient’s well-being and excellent results?
- Do you tell every patient at the end of the visit how glad you are that they’re your patient and how much you appreciate them?
- Does the front desk person ask every patient how their visit was every time they come in?
- Do you use the word “convenience” when scheduling appointments for patients to create the perception that you’re going to make everything as easy as possible for them?
Customer service in the orthodontic practice is a system
As you can see in the questions above, having excellent customer service doesn’t just happen. While it’s true that the occasional orthodontist with a great personality can do this almost automatically, those orthodontists are the vast minority. The rest of us need a system, and the system can make you as charismatic as any natural personality within orthodontics or anywhere else. But the system needs to be established, and like all systems, followed intensely and consistently.
Customer service is no different than any other system. You don’t develop 5-star customer service and go to the highest levels of patient satisfaction by accident. You don’t create a reputation for excellent orthodontics by accident. Customer service is typically how you will be judged. You design it step-by-step, teach it to the team, and insist that it be followed every time for every patient. When you follow this process, amazing things will happen.
If I were starting a practice today, the first system I would focus on is 5-star customer service. This is the foundation of all other systems, which is why it is so important, and maybe even more important than any other practice system. When you train the team intensely and build a culture where everyone understands that providing 5-star customer service is not an option and must be given to every patient, you can transform any orthodontic practice from wherever it is today to the highest level of service and create a true culture of positivity. The results will be fast, automatic, and exciting. OP
Roger P. Levin, DDS, is the CEO and founder of Levin Group, a leading practice management consulting firm that has worked with over 30,000 practices to increase production. A recognized expert on orthodontic practice management and marketing, he has written 67 books and over 4,000 articles and regularly presents seminars in the United States and around the world. To contact Levin or to join the 40,000 dental professionals who receive his Ortho Practice Production Tip of the Day, visit levingroup.com or email [email protected].