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Customer service: how to make it first-class in your dental practice

First-class customer service is vital in the dental industry. Making your clients feel valued and respected helps your practice stand out in today’s competitive marketplace and builds a genuine loyalty that will not only result in many repeated visits, but great recommendations, too. If your customers get a happy, warm feeling when they visit you instead of a dreaded pit in their stomach, you bet they’ll be at their next appointment on time and will tell their friends and family about your practice.

Here are five ways to improve customer service in your dental practice and make your clients feel important.

1. Create a relaxing, welcoming environment

No one likes going to the dentist. But if you can create a calming, stress-free space for your patients as soon as they walk through the door, they’ll feel a lot better about their visit and will be much more likely to show up for their follow-up appointments.

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Start by making sure every part of the building your customers have access to is neat and tidy — from the waiting area to the restrooms. You get used to viewing a pile of paperwork or unruly potted plant as just part of the scenery when you see it every day. So look at your surroundings with the fresh eyes of a first-time customer and make sure there’s nothing visible that shouldn’t be there.

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When you’ve got a clear canvas to work with, introduce little extras that engage all the senses to put your patients at ease. Try fresh flowers on the reception desk, plump cushions on the sofas in the waiting room, artwork on the walls in the hallway or noise-cancelling headphones for long procedures and those involving drilling. Any technique you can add that will distract your clients’ senses will help them feel at ease and happier to return.

2. Be polite and understanding

From the second a patient walks through the door, they should feel respected and important. Greet them as soon as you can. Saying a quick “Good morning, _____” and letting them know you’ll be with them in just a minute is better than leaving them stood there, thinking they’re being ignored. 

Be sure to address each client appropriately. This will not only differ from place to place, but client to client, too. Some people prefer “Sir” or “Ma’am”, while others prefer “Mr.”, “Mrs.” or even their first name. This might seem a little pedantic, but it really helps you get off to a great start. 

Remember that each client has set aside a part of their day to be here and their time is just as valuable as yours, no matter how busy you are. Don’t treat them like an inconvenience. Treat them as an expected guest you’re happy to have in the dental practice.

A little understanding also goes a long way. Whether the client shows up late after a stressful morning, is showing signs of fear or is clearly in pain, always be understanding and let them know you care about what they’re going through and that you’re there to help.

3. Keep your patients informed

When your patient knows exactly what’s happening and what’s going to happen, they’ll be much more relaxed. As soon as they arrive at the front desk, let them know how long they can expect to wait. Remember to be honest. If the practice is running 30 minutes behind schedule, that’s not great. But telling your patient they’ll be seen in five minutes isn’t going to help.

Any new patients who have never had work done at the practice should be given a brief tour and introduced to members of staff who aren’t busy with other patients. Taking the time to show patients around and point out any pieces of important technology (especially any that will be used during their procedure) will help them feel more like they’re in the driver's seat and comfortable with what’s about to happen.  

When a patient sits in the dental chair, run over exactly what’s going to happen, how long each step will take and who will be performing it. For example, “We’re going to do an x-ray now, it will only take a few minutes. Then Sarah will take care of your cleaning and Dr. Green will be over after that to do your exam.” Remember that a lot of the words you use every day are total technical jargon to the average person. Try to explain or describe each relevant phrase that isn’t obvious.

Equally, when the patient is moving from one member of staff to another, it’s important they see you doing a thorough hand-off. This gives them peace of mind in that the next person fully understands what’s already happened and what needs to be done. It also allows them to mentally check off one stage of the procedure so they know they’re one step closer to finishing. 

4. Be accurate with billing

A survey given to dental patients revealed that one of the biggest complaints is being charged incorrectly. Mistakes happen and most of the time it’s just human error. But people reading between the lines can come up with all sorts of behind-the-scenes scenarios. Like, “If you made a mistake with your billing, what other mistakes have you made?” Or, “If you get my bill mixed up with someone else’s bill, you can’t care for each of your patients that much.”

If a billing mistake does happen and a client complains, fix it as soon as possible. However, prevention is always preferable and it’s best to double check bills before sending them. Taking a couple of minutes to check the figures will save you a lot of time later creating new bills and trying to soothe an angry client. 

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5. Follow up with patients shortly after

Many dental practices are guilty of only getting in touch with a patient to remind them to make a check-up appointment. This creates an idea in the patient’s mind that the only time you ever contact them is to line your pocket. You don’t have to become their best friend, but showing you care about their health and wellbeing will make a huge difference.

For first time patients, those who have gone through intense procedures or those who had a tough time in the practice due to stress or fear, follow up a week or so later. This can be via a phone call, text message or email. Let them know you’re contacting them to see how they feel after the dental work they had. Ask them if they have any questions, problems or feedback. You’d be surprised at how many people would rather live with worries or pain than reach out to find out what’s going on. 

Your next steps

All this information is only helpful if you act upon it. Review the points above and make a note to discuss them with your staff during your next meeting. Come up with a plan to help you implement the aspects your business is missing into the daily routine. It’s also a good idea to create a list highlighting which points you find most important to put into action and pass it on to any temporary dental staff so they can fit in seamlessly.