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How can your dental office actually ensure that your patients are receiving great customer service?

Everyone in the dental industry knows that great customer service is one of the essential elements for success. Without patients, we don’t have a job. But what exactly does “customer service” mean? It’s a vague term that gets used all the time, but it doesn’t come with a precise definition or a concrete checklist of things to do that add up to great customer service. If I were to ask ten people what they consider to be good customer service, I would get ten different answers. Though some responses would overlap, they would not be all the same. This is why it’s not sufficient to tell your team members to provide great customer service, because it is not always clear what that is or how team members can know when they are accomplishing this goal. In fact, it’s likely that you have team members who believe that they are offering great customer service every day, when in fact they may only be meeting goals for their regular job duties.

How can your dental office actually ensure that your patients are receiving great customer service?

There are three potential viewpoints to address in order to make sure customer service is a priority in your dental office: the doctor’s or office manager’s definition of customer service, the views of your employees, and most important of all, whether your patients perceive your interactions as being great customer service. If these three viewpoints do not align, everyone will be frustrated and patients are unlikely to keep coming back to your office.

1. What does great customer service mean?

The first step is for you as the doctor or office manager to decide: What do you consider to be great customer service? What are the elements of your big-picture vision of excellent service to your patients? What does that look like from a logistical view of what needs to happen? Think of businesses you have gone to in the past and received service that you considered above and beyond what is typical. What was it that they did, and how did it make you feel as a customer? Why do you think that these extra touches are valuable? Now, how can those things (or a version of those things) be introduced into your office so that your patients will have that great feeling as well?

2. How does your team interact with patients and provide service?

The next step is to observe your team and see for yourself how they currently take care of patients. What do they do that shows how much they value the customer (and therefore make patients feel they have received better service)? Look for what the team members are not doing, and identify specific ways to improve service by implementing additional customer service goals. Then talk with your employees and ask them what they think great customer service looks like. It’s important to have employees voice this in their own words. Believe it or not, I can guarantee that there are people on your team who have never been asked to consider this question. If they can’t easily tell you what great customer service looks like, then prompt them with some questions regarding when have they personally have received great service in the past. What made it special for them? What businesses do they frequent that offer better customer service than others, and why do they feel that way? When your team members can say what has made them personally feel like a highly valued customer, they will be able to fully understand what it takes to make your dental patients feel this way.

3. How do your patients feel about your office and the service your provide?

The next place that you need to turn for answers about customer service is directly to your clients or patients. You need to know what the patients are looking for or specifically what they value in the service you are currently offering—both what is currently amazing for them and where there is room for improvement. The best and easiest way to do this is to look at your reviews. What are your patients saying about your office that they love or wish you would do more often? When you look at your reviews, you will see that most people don’t talk about the quality of the dentistry; instead, they mention the other things that happened in your office, whether it was good or bad. You want to examine both the good and bad reviews, as they both contain helpful information about the quality of customer service as experienced by your actual patients. The things that are mentioned as great, you want to incorporate more of that. On the other side, those things listed as a negative need to be changed or eliminated.

One other quick comment to mention about the online reviews. If you go there to see what your patients are saying and there are not a lot of reviews, or there has not been one in a while, or potentially the majority of the reviews you’ve received are negative, then it is really time to realize that customer service has been lacking in your office. Happy patients will go out of their way to write great reviews and refer their friends and family to your office. No reviews or mostly negative reviews may mean that your office is just average (people don’t go out of their way to write a good review for you) or your office is truly awful, in which case they will go out of their way to share the bad experience with others. If this is the case, then fixing this issue should become your urgent priority.

Now that you have sought input from the three different groups about great customer service for your office, it’s time to list them all out. Sort the comments into logical categories, such as phone skills, chairside manner, communication, reception area, etc. By identifying categories that most of the comments fall into, you will be able to clearly see the broader areas that you and your team need to address. The individual comments beneath each category can then serve as an example for the team to refer to when learning how to improve in that area. You may also want to tag each category with which team members are most responsible for committing to improvement. For example, chairside manner would be a focus of the clinical team, and phone skills would be the focus of the front office team or anyone that answers the phone. By gathering information from the three sources and then categorizing the comments, you have created a specific list of improvement areas and tasks, rather than simply expecting your team to know what to do for improved customer service.

When you have identified what needs to be improved and then shared with team members who need to be involved with the improvements, the next thing that needs to happen is training. Having a checklist of identified categories and tasks is not enough, because individual team members will still be making judgment calls about whether or not they are hitting the mark. If you want to see improvements in customer service for your office, you have to invest in the resources that will make it happen. Teach your team the verbal skills they need to know, show them examples of how others offer great customer service, have them practice what they learn, and continue to do that until it becomes habit and the new norm for your team and in your office.

I’ll end with this final thought about how to make “great customer service” happen in your office: You have to lead by example. You can’t tell your team to “do what I say but not what I do.” If you want great customer service in your office, you need to be the one that leads the group and emulates it each and every day. When your team is taught exactly how to meet customer service goals and then has a leader that leads by example, there will be no stopping you from making each and every patient experience an amazing one. In the end, this is the ultimate way to set your dental office apart and retain happy patients.

For more tips to improve your customer service or team training opportunities, become a front office rocks member for 220 training modules and an entire library of done-for-you documents.

Laura Nelson

Laura Nelson, BS, MS, FAADOM is the founder and driving force behind Front Office Rocks, and the leading provider of on-demand virtual training and resources for dental practices.