Chapter 3: Communication

Study Guide and Resources

Ask Yourself

  • Do you consider yourself a strong communicator?
  • Do you communicate with your staff regularly?
  • Is there drama and gossip rampant in your office?
  • Do you know how hand-offs are managed?

Ask Your Staff

  • Do the team members and leaders in this office communicate effectively and in a timely manner?
  • Are you familiar with the communication cycle?
  • Are you impacted by office drama or gossip?
  • Can you describe our hand-off process?

Take Action

  • Study the Communication Cycle, discuss it and look for ways to apply it in your daily interactions.
  • Design a reward system for exceptional communication or improvement in communication.
  • Look closely at your hand-offs and identify areas where communication can be improved.
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The Dental Patient Hand Off - Don't Drop the Ball

It’s so important in a dental practice to offer great customer service. Patients don’t usually judge the staff on the dentistry as much as they do on how they are treated.

There are many elements to integrate high-quality customer service into a dental office, but I find the best way to do this is to start one step at a time. This article focuses on one of the missed opportunities in many dental offices that will not only improve customer service for your patients, but will also help your practice run more efficiently.

This missed opportunity is patient hand offs. A hand off in a dental office is like a hand off in a football game. If the football is not handed off well to the next player then it might easily be fumbled or intercepted. In a dental office, the players are the staff and the football is the patient.

If patients aren’t handed off properly, they can easily become lost in the processes of the office, or information pertaining to them can get fumbled along the way. Teams that fumble can easily have their patients intercepted by other dentists. The good news is this can be easily prevented.

Dont Drop Ball Study Guide ImageA hand off is essential when providing excellent customer service. From the moment a patient is seated until the moment they walk out the door after their appointment, they need to be directed by a staff member and handed off when moving from one area of the office to the next.

Many offices attempt to hand off patients, but all they really do is walk the patient through the office to the next location and do not actually hand over the responsibility of the patient from one team member to the next. A good hand off is not only physically leading the patient to the next place, but also verbally passing that patient to the next person on the team.

Just as a football player needs to be in position and ready to catch the ball, a dental team member needs to be ready to receive the patient hand off. When the hand off occurs, it’s important that the next person is ready and listening. The receiving team member needs to pay attention and put everything else aside for a moment so they can fully comprehend what they’re being told about the patient. The receiving team member must make sure they’ve received all data necessary so they can fully help patients get what they need next.

It’s important to communicate three things during a verbal hand off.

The first part of the hand off should consist of a synopsis of what was done, of important things that happened during the patient’s appointment. This allows the patient to get a summary of the great treatment they received in the office, and allows receiving team members to make sure they learn all that was done in case there were any changes.

The second piece of information for the receiving team member is the next step for this patient. This allows the team member to know what the patient needs next, as well as confirm the next step in front of the patient.

Finally, was the information confirmed and understood so that the patient feels confident in the football being passed? The team member handing off the patient should confirm that the team member receiving the patient has all the data necessary so they can take the patient successfully through to the next step. A confirmation is also made with the patient that everything was correct and nothing was left out of the transfer of data.

Again, a good hand off, though it might not seem like it makes too much difference, can help instill trust with patients about the care they receive from your office. It may seem to instinctively make sense, but this is not the case for everyone on the team. The step missed by many dental offices is not training everyone in the office. Team members need to understand why a good hand off is vital and then actually practice it until it’s comfortable and feels normal for everyone on the team.

Remember, practice makes perfect, and with practice, your team can be like a well-prepared football team passing the ball seamlessly to make the touchdown.

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From Top to Bottom - Motivating Employees

Before I became a dental office manager, I earned a master’s degree in Organizational Development. Consultants in this field help businesses grow by implementing organizational changes to enhance employee knowledge, effectiveness, and overall performance. Corporations pay thousands of dollars to have a consultant help them find ways to better motivate their employees for improved performance.

In most of the businesses that I’ve worked with, the changes that needed to happen to increase employee performance were things that needed to start from the top. In other words, it wasn’t the employees who needed to change first but the managers who hired the consultant in the first place.

From top to bottom Motivating your Employees ImageWhy is that, bottom line, managers want employees to be more motivated and more productive?

That will not happen simply by spending money to bring an outside person in on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis to tell employees how to work differently.

Surprisingly, it also won’t happen just by paying employees more. Numerous studies show that although employees appreciate more pay (especially if they feel that they are being under compensated, increased pay does not automatically increase their motivation.

Webster’s Dictionary defines motivation as something inside people that drives them to action. It’s also important to differentiate between external motivation, such as higher pay, and internal motivation, such as work ethic.

This internal drive varies in different people, but the common thread is that internal motivation is a much stronger force than external rewards. Therefore, since motivation comes from within, owners and managers need to acknowledge and cultivate the motivation that their employees already have.

Am I saying that hiring the right employee is not important? Not at all. However, we tend to complain about our employees not being motivated, without stopping to look at the environment in which they work. Quality leadership is the answer to helping motivate employees. Unfortunately, most people are not natural-born leaders. With that in mind, here is a quick-study strategy guide on what you can do to turn an unmotivated employee around.

Be approachable and easy to communicate with — Check in with each employee on a regular basis, and let them know it is okay to come to you anytime with anything you might need to know, whether it be good or bad news. When an employee feels their boss is open to communication, they will work harder and be less afraid to come to the manager in times of need.

Give employees needed resources — Employees feel unappreciated when they are told to do a job that is virtually impossible to achieve the desired outcome without specific resources. When an employee sees managers investing in them to help them be better at their job and make them more efficient, the employee will push to accomplish more for the organization.

Keep employees in the loop — When employees feel like they are informed of key events, goals to be reached, and important up-coming changes, they are more likely to get involved without excessive cajoling or bribery from management. In contrast, employees who feel they are kept in the dark are the ones who tend to clock in and out without any consideration of the bigger goal.

Remember that people like to be recognized — Even the most motivated people get burned out and lose motivation if they don’t get some sort of acknowledgement or recognition from time to time. This does not have to be much, really—it could be as simple as a “thank you” to an employee who went above and beyond or a recognition when they did something well. These small tributes are very meaningful to most employees. Finding ways to make sure employees get frequent positive feedback at appropriate times will help to motivate the targeted employees, in addition to anyone around them who will become motivated to earn that recognition too.

Look in the mirror — The best way to show employees what is expected is to lead by example. If you ask your employees to go the extra mile, show up on time, maybe stay late here and there… yet you show up late, don’t put in extra effort, and leave right after the day is done… what is that saying to them? If you are feeling that your employees aren’t giving it their all, before pointing fingers, look in the mirror. Are you showing them what a motivated person looks like?

Give them the training they need — New employees may be exceptionally motivated to give their best, push harder, and help wherever they can. But if they are not trained well, they will not be able to do that—leading to a sense of discouragement and reluctance to put in extra effort. Investing in dental office training will not only increase their skill level but also show that you are investing in them as an asset to the organization.

Avoid “all work and no play” — You spend more time with your work family than you do with your own family. If the focus is all about work and no fun, you’ll have employees who are eager for their shift to end so they can get home and enjoy life. Owners and managers tend to push to achieve goals, but there needs to be a balance of fun along with the push. Playing games, rewarding success, and enjoying the little things helps keep employees motivated and shows them they are appreciated. Let them know that they are personally valued in your organization and that their effort matters.

These strategies are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to increasing motivation in your employees.

When you begin at the top by truly changing management’s approach to motivating employees, you’ll see bigger and more lasting results. Of course, this kind of significant culture change can’t happen overnight, but by implementing small and immediate steps at the management level, you’ll see a trickle-down effect that will lead to a more motivated staff.

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How to Communicate with Dental Patients - Keeping it Real (Webinar)