Customer service: why we’re still not getting it


Recently we organised a workshop for our Pioneer Group of dental principals, where an ex-Breathe client (who has now sold his practice and has stayed on as an associate) talked about how he and his (ex)practice delivers customer service.

A few minutes into his presentation it became clear that his passionate approach to great customer service and the lovely way in which he treated his support team simply reflected one of his core values. It mattered enormously to our client that any businesses he dealt with:

  • Did what they said they were going to do
  • On time
  • On budget
  • Treated their customers and staff with respect, courtesy and fairness
  • Went the extra mile

And so it was essential that his practice also behaved in this way, delivering on their promises, treating everyone well and exceeding expectations.

Although every dental website I have ever read promises some version of “world class” customer service, most practices I meet simply don’t deliver it. Here are my top 10 most common customer service failures by dental practices:

They don’t:

  • Promise and deliver painless treatment
  • Answer the phone promptly or well (I waited 19 minutes to have a call answered by a human being in a dental practice recently and when I mentioned it to the owner, he shrugged…)
  • Answer emails within an hour during working hours
  • Run on time (even some hygienists run late)
  • Have all their clinicians collect their patients from the waiting area and deliver them back to reception
  • Tell the client the fees before they get to reception
  • Send out complex treatment plans within two working days
  • Engage with patients in the waiting area, instead they direct patients off to a room and then ignore them
  • Respect their patients’ diaries, often cancelling or re-arranging patients at short notice
  • Have a team who are passionate about customer service, have initiative, keep the clinicians on their toes and go the extra mile, over-delivering for their patients

Most practices behave in ways I would describe as being “mildly disappointing”. Sometimes, they hit the heights of good customer service, sometimes (well, quite often actually) they screw up. In a word, they behave inconsistently. As always in dental practice, the devil is in the detail. Recently, I got a letter from my practice, a small corporate, that began “Dear Hocken Simon”. I mean, really…

However, there are many behaviours which can make customer service in a dental practice remarkable (because frankly, the standard is still pretty low, even in so-called “high-end practices”).

If your practice’s customer service is to rise above “mildly disappointing” then like our ex-client, you and your team have to believe that it is important. Ringing phones, running late and discourtesy simply won’t cut it. In my experience, dentists still create practices that reflect themselves, creating a practice they would choose to attend. Bluntly, what I’m suggesting is that you are unlikely to succeed at providing great customer service unless it is really important to you when you deal with businesses as a customer yourself.

While I’m on the subject of creating a practice that you would like to attend, here’s a great question. “If you and your clinicians were paying patients at your practice, would you/they be happy to pay your practice’s fees? And what about your associates and your hygienists? Ask them! If they believe the practice fees are high or the value is poor, how are they supposed to comfortably recommend treatment to patients? This might explain why they are so keen to discount the fees or give away treatment for the patients…

I often start my sales and communication training with this sort of question and I’m amazed at how few associates and hygienists would be willing to pay the fees they are being asked to charge. Unless you sort this one out, their discomfort and lack of confidence in the practice’s fees will always scupper any sales training that I (or anyone else) can deliver!

Anyway, our ex-client sold a practice where both the customer service and the dentistry is remarkable. Fortunately, the new owner really values this too and is determined to maintain or even improve on what they’ve inherited.

If you would like some help with getting your customer service right, building processes or having your clinicians confidently charge your fees, contact me on:

  2. 07770 430576

Best wishes


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