Becoming a five-star customer

April 1, 2011
At the big dental hygiene meeting last year, you finally took the leap and purchased a high-dollar item to use in clinical practice ...

by Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH
[email protected]

At the big dental hygiene meeting last year, you finally took the leap and purchased a high-dollar item to use in clinical practice – perhaps a pair of loupes, a power scaler, a clinician chair, or a polishing handpiece. Or your purchase may have been a bit more modest – a few ultrasonic scaling inserts or some high quality mouth mirrors. Before you shelled out your hard-earned dollars, you thought hard about your decision, choosing products that would make clinical practice easier and less stressful.

Hygienists who own their own equipment have a personal stake in the products they choose, and they should focus on product reliability, performance, and longevity. Months down the road, the hygienist will feel really good about investing in him or herself, securing not only a happier but a healthier career. But what is the best strategy if the product does not meet expectations, the performance seems unreliable, or the product breaks?

Most companies back their products with a guarantee or warranty. Did you take the time to really understand their promises? Some products have a generous trial period, with a no-questions-asked full-refund policy. Others only cover specific parts, with very precise time limits. Some products, once opened, can never be returned. Other companies charge a restocking fee, which reduces the refund amount.

Companies that have strong customer service are well known in the business world. For instance, the Nordstrom experience is legendary.1 Some dental practices have even tried to adopt high-end customer service reputations. There are dozens of studies about customer service, many involving patient satisfaction, but there remains one key component throughout the literature -how to maintain customer satisfaction in the face of product or service failure. The business world uses the term "service recovery" to describe customer retention when faced with a complaint, product failure, or disgruntled customer.2-5

Quality companies strive to develop well-made products that provide a better outcome for our patients and us. Occasionally product issues do not show up in field trials but appear at a later date. While it is very disappointing to receive a product that does not meet expectations, remember this: a warranty is an agreement between a company and a customer. Companies do not have to exceed a warranty agreement, but good companies will review each situation on a case-by-case basis. Responsible companies stand behind the products they sell and address issues with grace and fairness to look for positive resolutions.4,5 They want to maintain long-term, satisfied customers.2,4,6-8

In today's over-connected world, it's really easy to blast a company, product, or service via an Internet site, chat group, or social media site. While it's tempting to be negative, do you really know who's lurking in the shadows? Thousands of people have access to these sites, and companies regularly monitor comments. No one likes to be yelled at and most people really want to help. If you're looking for a real solution and your comments and complaints are constructive, then you may hear directly from the company. If the discussion gets heated, then you may be branded as a frivolous complainer who's just looking for a free ride.

In most cases, the fastest route is to call customer service or technical support, people specifically trained to handle problems.3-5 Research shows that companies with superior customer service empower employees to make decisions that will make customers happy, and this helps to retain the relationship.2,3,5-9 One study concluded that women are more satisfied with service based on relationships, while the functional aspect of service is more important to men.10 In the case of a product or service disappointment, it can be hard to remain positive while trying to resolve the issue, but remember the old adage – you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Unless it's an emergency, it's a good idea to make a chronological list of issues. It is also helpful to have your records handy – sales receipts, service calls, and date and time of any contacts you've made. While it may seem logical to contact the original sales representative, issues are generally solved much more quickly through customer service or technical support,2,11 but it's not a bad idea to keep the sales rep advised.

Just like clinical records, documentation is often a key to success. Jot down the name of each person you talk to. Save all e-mail correspondence. Make copies of any receipts and Web-based documents, conversations, or other information.

There are many ways to resolve product issues. Some companies have set policies, while others allow customers to choose how the issue will be resolved.3 The options can include a new product, replacement part, money back, credit toward a future purchase, or refurbished item. A refurbished item does not necessarily mean a product that has been repaired, but one that was returned after little or no use.

Follow up on all contacts if there is not a final resolution. The ball may get dropped by an individual, so rather than get mad, give the company another opportunity to help you build your clinical comfort zone. There are five-star companies and there are five-star customers. Strive to build relationships where everyone comes out smiling.

Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH, provides popular programs, including topics on biofilms, power driven scaling, ergonomics, hypersensitivity, and remineralization. Recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award and the 2009 ADHA Irene Newman Award, Anne has practiced clinical dental hygiene in Houston since 1971.


1. Cavallo N. How to get the customer service your practice deserves. J Med Pract Manage. 2009 Sep-Oct;25(2):80-83.

2. Bendall-Lyon D, Powers TL. The role of complaint management in the service recovery process. Jt Comm J Qual Improv. 2001 May;27(5):278-286.

3. Chang CC. Choice, perceived control, and customer satisfaction: the psychology of online service recovery. Cyberpsychol Behav. 2008 Jun;11(3):321-328.

4.Shapiro T, Nieman-Gonder JM, Andreoli NA, Trimarco-Beta D. An experimental investigation of justice-based service recovery on customer satisfaction, loyalty, and word-of-mouth intentions. Psychol Rep. 2006 Dec;99(3):864-878.

5. Liao H. Do it right this time: the role of employee service recovery performance in customer-perceived justice and customer loyalty after service failures. Appl Psychol. 2007 Mar;92(2):475-489.

6. Applegate MB. Patient satisfaction: examine your practice through their eyes. Med Group Manage J. 1995 Jul-Aug;42(4):94, 96, 98 passim.

7. Susskind AM, Kacmar KM, Borchgrevink CP. Customer service providers' attitudes relating to customer service and customer satisfaction in the customer-server exchange. J Appl Psychol. 2003 Feb;88(1):179-187.

8. Sánchez-Hernández RM, Martínez-Tur V, Peiró JM, Moliner C. Linking functional and relational service quality to customer satisfaction and loyalty: differences between men and women. Psychol Rep. 2010 Apr;106(2):598-610.

9. Vandenberghe C, Bentein K, et al. An examination of the role of perceived support and employee commitment in employee-customer encounters. J Appl Psychol. 2007 Jul;92(4):1177-1187.

10. Salanova M, Agut S, Peiró JM. Linking organizational resources and work engagement to employee performance and customer loyalty: the mediation of service climate. J Appl Psychol. 2005 Nov;90(6):1217-1227.

11. Brown S. Improving customer service on the phone: a multidimensional effort with a big payback. J Med Pract Manage. 2005 Jan-Feb;20(4):188-191.

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