Customer service is defined as the ability of knowledgeable, capable, and enthusiastic employees to deliver products and services to their internal and external customers in a manner that satisfies identified and unidentified needs.
Additionally, customer service is essential to the success of all businesses, and this rightfully includes dental practices. In fact, it is fair to say that it is one of the most important aspects of any successful practice. As someone well versed in all things customer service, I have both seen and experienced really good customer service practices and really bad ones. It is not hard, being in the field so long, to develop bad habits. But bad customer service can cost you big time. With more and more dental practices popping up in Canadian cities, the competition for new patients is higher; therefore, it is even more important to retain the patients you currently have. Loyalty is key in this growing industry, and the only way to foster that loyalty is by practicing excellent customer service and knowing what bad customer service habits to avoid:
- Asking the wrong questions
When a patient comes in or calls with an issue, the immediate response of any front desk staff is to find out first what the problem is; however if you’ve been asking the following:
“What exactly is your problem?”
“What problem are you experiencing?
I hate to say it, but you’re asking the wrong questions.
It’s easy to get caught up in the what? Because without the what (the problem), you can’t get to the how (the resolution). But, according to Alex Zlatin’s book, “Responsible Dental Ownership” asking the questions above only provides you with the patient’s interpretation of the problem.
He suggests an alternative: Ask what the patient is trying to achieve and what happened before the problem was discovered. These questions help the patient to focus on what they really need, in turn making it easier for you to find an optimal solution.
- Forgetting to follow up
The patient comes in, gets work done, pays, and leaves. Now what? Do you go back to your tasks and simply forget about that patient? Customer service is not just for the first interaction. It is for all interactions. You give 110% at the beginning but only 20% in the middle and the end, you will not convince that particular patient to return.
The one thing it’s easy to forget to do but that is so imperative to returning patients is the follow-up call. This call tells the patient that they are not just a number, not just a dollar value, but an actual person with feelings. The follow-up call also promotes your practice as a legitimate healthcare institution and gives you the opportunity to learn of any other issues that may need to be resolved.
In the case of an unresolved issue, it is then even more important to follow up. When you remember to follow up, you show the patient that you have not forgotten or abandoned them and that you are working on a resolution.
This is a huge no-no! Gossiping holds the clinic in a bad light and fosters a negative attitude between staff and patients. Even though communication is good, gossip is the exact opposite. Gossip is usually based on rumors that are most of the time untrue. I have seen how gossip can destroy a team. It’s not just bad for the practice, it’s toxic.
What’s worse than gossip, though? Gossip when it involves a patient’s medical history. Do not do this. Not only is it disrespectful to the patient, but it also goes against the privacy laws which could land your team and your practice in hot legal waters. A patient’s medical information is confidential and should only be talked about with the patient present.
Gossip can be addictive and once you start, it’s a hard habit to break, so be aware of yourself and what you say to others. Don’t allow yourself or members of your team to get caught up in this bad customer service habit as it could be damaging to your entire business.
As someone who has worked in customer service for almost two decades, I know how it is to say the same lines over and over and over again, every time the smile slowly diminishing until the words feel monotonous. All of a sudden, your attempt to be sincere with every patient starts to become stagnant.
We are inherently creatures of habit, so if you find yourself speaking in a monotone voice, your smile turning to plastic on your face, it’s time to take a step back and reassess. Patients are keenly aware of when someone is being insincere and insincerity has a negative effect. Are you being sincere on the phone or in-person? Or do the words feel rehearsed now?
To break the habit of repetition, which can eventually lead to lack of purpose and depression, remember why you joined this dental team and what your purpose at the start was. Once you are able to establish your purpose again, the calls you receive will feel much more sincere. Don’t let yourself fall into the habit of answering the same way every time, either. Shake it up. Instead of reading from a script, have a conversation.
Insincerity is one of the main reasons I have abandoned doctors and dentists. I, as a patient, need to feel like I’m being taken care of by my dentist and their team. To me, sincerity is one of the most important factors of gaining true patient loyalty.
- Zlatin, A. (2018). Responsible Dental Ownership: Balancing Ethics and Business Through Purpose. Charleston, SC: Advantage.
Robert W. Lucas, Customer Service: Skills for Success (6th Edition), McGraw-Hill Education, New York, NY. 2015.