A promise made by a pizza parlor is not all that far-flung from what customers expect from dental offices too.
Pizza and Teeth, What is the Connection?
Customer service is vitally important — no matter what the service or who the customer is.
I recently completed a long day of training. I wanted nothing more than to get out of my uncomfortable heels and grab something to eat. An illuminated pizza sign had caught my eye during my travels to and from the training sessions. A hot slice of pizza seemed in order.
When I placed my order, the employee on the other end of the line said the pizza would be ready in 15 minutes. I threw on my tennis shoes and headed over to the carryout pizza parlor. The pizza was ready and waiting, just as I had been promised. I gave them my money and trudged back up the hill to my room. I situated myself at the desk in the room. The aroma rising from the box had my taste buds working overtime. When I opened the box, it was obvious this was not the pizza I had ordered. I was unhappy to say the least! I was not going to eat the pizza with toppings I had not wanted.
The phone call to the establishment was a nightmare. “Hello, can you hold?” the employee asked, although it was clearly not a question because by the time I responded, he had already put me on hold. After 10 minutes, the taped on-hold recording ended, and I heard a live voice once again. I explained that I had the wrong order and the voice on the other end hollered to another employee, “I found the chicken pizza!” After an exchange of ideas on how to get the correct pizza and a chat with the manager, I was asked to come back to the store and retrieve a fresh pizza with the correct toppings.
The cardboard box was no longer warm in my hands as it had been on the trip to my room. However, it was very warm in the store where I sat awaiting my new pizza.
During the time I was in the store, it was apparent there were broken systems in the management of this operation. Employees were running from the front to the back, and they were hollering from one area of the store to another.
The phone kept ringing nonstop. The greeting that the customers were hearing was, “Thanks for calling your local pizza parlor, where we take care of our customers; can you hold?” I chuckled inside when I heard this. “Yeah, right, they sure are taking care of their customers!” I thought.
About 10 minutes later, they pushed the pizza across the counter to me. I looked inside the box before I left. There were no onions. So they added onions. They pushed the box across the counter a second time. Again, I looked inside the box. The pizza was not cut.
I told the pizza chef that the pizza was not cut and he replied sarcastically, “Ma'am, it just came out of the oven.”
I responded, “So that means you don't cut the pizza?”
“Oh,” he said, “I thought you said it was cold.” He had not listened to me and I was frustrated.
During my second hike up the hill to the hotel, I could not help wondering if a large franchise such as the pizza chain has protocols in place? Do they have monitors that help track how many pizzas are ordered on Wednesday evenings so they know how many staff members to have working? Do they really know what they are saying when they answer the phone with “we take care of their customers” and then put them on hold for 10 minutes? Do they see the huge disconnect there?
Are You Giving What Was Ordered?
So, what does this have to do with dentistry? Everything! Whether the business is selling pizzas or dentistry, there is a level of customer service that needs to be met. What image do dental offices portray to their clients? Is it one of complete chaos, like the pizza place? Is it one of not having enough staff members to attend to each client's individual needs? Does the client feel as if office personnel really listen to their desires and questions? Are clients getting what they “ordered,” or do they get what the dental team thinks they need?
When staff members are caught up in the daily routines, these issues are often overlooked. These oversights, though, can result in the loss of patients just as — based upon my experience — I am sure the aforementioned pizza place is losing customers. Research shows that it takes five times the amount of money to gain one new client than it does to retain an existing one.
If systems are in place in the dental office, and if they are working effectively, the practice can retain those gems and be more profitable while providing quality and satisfying customer service. Offices need to be proactive in assuring the practice is running effectively so existing patients don't look elsewhere to have their dental needs met.
The following is my “Top Five List” of customer service practices:
•Welcome the patient upon arrival to the office. When a patient arrives, it is imperative that there be someone in the reception area to welcome them. This seems like a such a small thing, but having a smiling face welcoming a patient immediately makes the patient feel wanted and makes them glad they came.
•Reception area needs to be warm and inviting. A warm and inviting place to sit puts a patient at ease. With the schedules most people keep, sitting for a few minutes in a comfortable chair and being able to sip on some water or coffee allows the patient to unwind before dental treatment.
•If the practitioner is running behind, the patient needs to be told. If the patient is going to wait awhile, it is essential to apprise the patient of the situation. Making the patient wait too long for services is as disrespectful of the patient's time as it is disrespectful for the patient to be late and make the office wait. Informing the patient and giving them the option to wait or not wait puts them in control of their time and makes them understand that the office values their time.
•New patients need to be informed what to expect at their first visit. In order to make sure a new patient is happy with the services provided at their first visit to the office, they need to be made aware what they can expect during their visit. There is no better way to make a patient unhappy than to promise them they will be having their teeth cleaned and then the hygienist is not able to deliver that service. If the office cannot guarantee a service will be delivered, then that needs to be shared with the patient on the phone prior to the visit. An informed patient translates to a happy patient.
• The patient needs to feel as if they are the only concern the practitioner has. While the patient is being treated, they should be the only concern of the operator. This specialized attention not only makes the patient feel wonderful, it will allow the practitioner to stay on schedule so that they can devote their undivided attention to the next patient.
Focusing on these five things will go a long way toward having an efficiently run office and happy staff members and patients.
About the Author
Angie Stone, RDH, BS, provides clinical dental hygiene services part time in Milton, WI. She also consults with dental businesses and hygiene operations through McKenzie Management. Her interpersonal communication skills and passion for the dental profession are her strengths and are what allows her to be an effective clinician and consultant. She is a frequent contributor to RDH magazine and McKenzie’s e-Management Newsletter. Angie’s enthusiasm for dentistry continues with being a national speaker and in-service trainer for nursing and assisted living facilities on oral health care for dependent elders. Angie can be contacted via e-mail at [email protected].