When a critical piece of equipment conks out in the middle of a busy clinical day, how do you feel? Do you want to hit the panic button, or do you have Plan B in place? Do you know how to keep your cool while you get the situation under control?
Accidents happen and things get broken, but the key is knowing how to manage the situation with minimal angst. Let's look at the story of one dental hygienist who learned this lesson the hard way.
The case of the busted headlight
Three weeks ago, Kim’s Saturday schedule was jammed. There was no room to take a breath. As she was quickly setting up for her next patient, the unthinkable happened. Her headlight battery pack slipped off her waistband and crashed to the floor.
Kim had invested in the high-quality portable headlight six years ago, as the overhead lighting at her clinical office was less than ideal. Kim was accustomed to using the headlight mounted on her loupes. It was just what she needed to provide sufficient illumination to do her work without stress.
Over the years, Kim realized the loupes-light combo not only helped improve her neck posture, it was also saving her shoulder from annoying, repetitive overhead reaches. And she noticed less eye strain. Kim’s loupes-light system allowed her to do better clinical work. She was hooked on lighting.
Kim picked the battery pack up off the floor and quickly reattached the cable, but the headlight did not turn on. Kim’s next move was interesting, but in hindsight, probably not optimal. Kim asked her colleague if she could try the headlight cable in her colleague’s battery pack, a device made by another company. Surprisingly, the headlight lit up. This led Kim down a false diagnostic pathway.
It seemed logical at the time for Kim to try her cable in another battery pack, but this strategy is not advisable. Every device has unique specifications. Even if two similar products are sold by the same company, there is no assurance that swapping parts is a safe plan, and it’s even more dicey when the products have electronic components. Kim was trying her best to troubleshoot the immediate situation, but that's where the problem got bigger. Over the next few weeks, Kim continued to self-diagnose her headlight problem. She never contacted the manufacturer for guidance. She just tried to solve the problem on her own.
Kim finally concluded that the battery was bad, so she contacted the manufacturer and placed an order for a new one. But remember, she never had a conversation with the company’s technical support about what might be going on. When the new battery arrived, she swapped it out. But her system still did not work. At this point, she contacted customer service and was told the company had a no-return, no-refund policy on batteries.
That was the last straw. After three weeks of being without a headlight, Kim was frantic and posted a rant in a Facebook forum. She had invested in high-quality equipment and felt betrayed. Frustrated, she reached out to her fellow hygienists for condolences.
Stop the action and rewind the scene
How could this whole story have played out with less frustration and drama? First of all, when it comes to equipment, we are dental professionals, not electronic-repair experts. It's important to understand our limits and take responsibility for understanding equipment warranties. Kim’s original equipment was well past the warranty period, but if it had still been covered, trying to self-repair the battery pack would have voided the warranty terms.
When an event like this happens, it's best to call a company’s technical support line. It’s their job to help customers and to troubleshoot issues. Through the years, tech support experts have seen and heard every story on the planet. They are your lifeline and their jobs are all about helping customers.
Some problems are easy, and technical support can walk the owner through the fix over the phone. Sometimes a new part may be the solution. Companies often have videos or PDF files to walk users through simple repairs. And sometimes the damaged product can be sent to the manufacturer for evaluation at their repair facility. Give them a chance.
What might Kim have done differently? Here is a step-by-step approach to preventing your next "oops" moment.
- Breathe. Know that you are not the first person who has gone through a situation like this.
- Collect your thoughts and make notes regarding the circumstances surrounding the event.
- Take some photos of the damage or condition with your cell phone.
- Email the photos and notes to yourself and one other person to safeguard your documentation.
- Contact the manufacturer immediately. Start with tech support or customer service. Solving these problems is their primary job.
- For the record, notify the sales rep but understand that customer service or tech support is the first line of defense.
- Be honest. Take ownership if you played a role in the problem.
- Most companies will have your purchase records, but it is a good idea to have them handy if at all possible.
- Keep good records of all communications with the manufacturer: date, conversation focus, name of person, etc.
- Keep a cool head. If it is a custom product like a pair of loupes, it may need a repair at the manufacturing facility. This will take time. Ask for an estimate regarding the repair time.
- Find out who will pay the shipping. Products under warranty fall into a different category than something that broke after several years of service.
- Be kind and patient with the person in tech support or customer care. Folks will work harder on your behalf if you are nice. And nice and firm can actually work in your favor. You don’t want to be the customer that ruins their day.
- Don’t expect the impossible. If the product has served you well and is gone through a reasonable life span and can’t be repaired, step back and realize it may be time to update. Folks don’t blink an eye when it’s time to get a new cell phone.
- Reputable companies want happy customers. They are willing to work with us, but we have to be reasonable and act like professionals. Blasting a company on the internet will not accelerate the solution.
- Remember that we all make mistakes, and there is a human being at the other end trying to help resolve our issues. Remember the old adage: You get more flies with honey than vinegar.
A friend to the rescue
Kim was lucky. A friend had a headlight she could use for a couple of weeks. Kim contacted the manufacturer and sent her device in for repair. Finally, Kim could take a breath and continue to practice in comfort while her headlight and battery pack were being examined by the company’s qualified repair team.
Today’s world is dependent on a variety of devices. While few relish the thought of purchasing a backup, it is wise to have Plan B in place just in case an event like this occurs in your life. More and more dental professionals are investing in a second pair of loupes or an additional headlight, or having a backup for any other device or tool that is critical. An approach like this ensures peace of mind and prevents us from entering the panic zone when there is an accident or a piece of equipment breaks.
The rest of the story
After a telephone consultation with tech support, Kim shipped her battery pack and light cable back to the company. As it turned out, her belt pack was fine, and the damage was actually in the light cable. Kim knew that she bought a quality product, and was grateful that it was so easy to get her headlight repaired. Going forward, Kim has decided to limit her diagnostic skills to dentistry and let the experts repair her electronic equipment.
Anne Nugent Guignon, MPH, RDH, CSP, provides popular programs, including topics on biofilms, power-driven scaling, ergonomics, hypersensitivity, and remineralization. She is the recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award and the 2009 American Dental Hygienists' Association Irene Newman Award. Guignon has practiced clinical dental hygiene in Houston since 1971. She may be contacted at [email protected].