Dental Office Stakeout-Lessons in Customer Service

Dental offices would be wise to learn lessons in customer service from other industries.

Take “Restaurant Stakeout,” a Food Network TV show, where restauranteur Willie Degel sets up hidden cameras in a restaurant to assess what is really going on when the owner is away.  Scenes such as rude waitresses, messed up orders, lazy employees, food fights and drinking on the job. Wow. Yes, much of the show is staged, but these kinds of things really happen in real restaurants and businesses.  Willie’s advice and customer service philosophy is usually spot on for any field dealing with people.

As medical and dental professionals, much of our training and education was scientific and treatment oriented.  There was almost no attention given to human relations and certainly not how to run a business.  In addition, many in the medical and science related fields spent much of their time studying by themselves not developing social skills.

Recently, a physician posted on the blog KevinMD about how doctors can learn from working at Starbucks.  Yes, I have noticed physicians especially have lost touch with human relations, service (in the business sense), and personal relationships with patients.  It’s not all their fault as much of medicine has drifted away from free market private practices sensitive to the patients concerns, to third party influenced businesses focused on volume and less and less time with patients.  They are running on a treadmill.  Dentistry has, for the most part, escaped much of this trap.  Patients still have the choice to go to the dentist down the street.

Probably a scenario closer to fact is the TV show “Airline” from a few years ago, where a camera followed around customer service employees from Southwest Airlines on any given problem ridden day.  These are higher stress, higher stakes, more emotional scenarios that cannot be fixed by just a complimentary cup of coffee and a smile.

Richard Branson says to set high expectations of great customer service for your staff, maintain your great reputation, and be the best in the market.  We try, but it is very difficult to master great customer service.  There are so many interactions, so many chances to succeed, or to fail.  There will always be those who will complain, or who are not satisfied.

It’s not easy and I don’t know anyone who does it all perfectly all the time.  I don’t think setting up hidden cameras is critical, nor dramatic confrontations.  What is necessary is a constant attention to the customer (patient) experience.

1.  Have a clean, well taken care of facility
2.  A welcoming friendly staff with a good attitude
3.  Appropriate attire
3.  Clear communication including diagnosis and proposed treatments
4.  Clear communication of financial arrangements and expectations
5.  Reasonable flexibility when things don’t go just as expected
6.  Listening to patient concerns and getting feedback
7.  Systems in place for standard operating procedures and ways of doing things
8.  Realizing people are sometimes emotional and irrational
9.  Realizing you cannot please all of the people, all of the time
10. Have a medical or dental visit yourself-actually be the patient, you will remember what it’s all about