Customer Service Is the New Differentiator
After warning everyone against catering to their patients and calling it customer service, it’s time to talk about what customer service means to your dental practice.
What does customer service actually mean? It means being nice to your patients, of course, but it’s also a whole lot more than that.
Customer Service as Differentiator
It’s not just in dentistry. Customer service is the new differentiator in almost every industry.
Why? Because of the internet.
Before the internet, most people did business with the companies that were close at hand. If you were looking for a product or service, you looked in the Yellow Pages and found a business or two in your town and got whatever you needed from them.
The internet changed all that. Suddenly, you could get products and services from any business anywhere in the world.
Competition among businesses increased a thousand fold. For a while, convenience, price cutting, free shipping and the like enabled companies to differentiate themselves. But eventually every company was offering basically the same thing.
The next on the list? Customer service. Customer service became the new differentiator. And as it did, it transformed consumer expectations.
And while many businesses, such as dental practices, still operate locally out of necessity (you can’t do a filling online), the transformation trickled down.
More and more, patient satisfaction (i.e., customer satisfaction) is becoming a primary concern for dentists and healthcare providers.
Back in the day, patient satisfaction was simply a byproduct of providing good care. If you were nice and listened and took good care of your patients, chances were pretty good that they would stay your patients and you would acquire new patients.
While patient satisfaction is still a byproduct of good care, it’s also now a byproduct of good customer service.
Transformation of healthcare is underway from sellers’ market to consumers’ market, where the satisfaction of the patients’ need is a primary concern while defining the service quality.
Hence, commitment to providing a high-quality service and achieving patients’ satisfaction becomes an important issue for dental health care providers.
…[Our study showed] that perception and expectation differed significantly, except [in terms of] responsiveness [i.e., how well staff assist the dentist]…The most important factor in evaluating patient satisfaction is the response given by administration staff related to long waiting time…followed by dental assistant’s knowledge about the patient’s need during treatment…and [the] explanation that was given by the dentist.
It can be inferred…that priority should be given to dentist’s communication and dental assistant’s knowledge toward patient’s needs to enhance the service quality.
– Dental Research Journal
In other words, it’s not enough to provide good care to your patients; you also have to provide a good experience while they’re at your practice.
Establishing a Relationship
Furthermore, not only do you have to provide a good experience for your patients while they’re at your office, you also have to provide a good experience in between visits.
In small-town America a few decades ago (and still today, in some places), that would have meant stopping on the street to say hello and have a chat, catching up at the kids’ baseball game or even seeing each other socially through mutual friends.
But this isn’t small-town America anymore. Even small-town America isn’t the same as it was as far as your practice is concerned.
While some of you may still be fortunate enough to bump into your patients on the street, most of you aren’t and, even for those who are, you don’t communicate with your patients the way you would have in the past.
Establishing relationships with patients today requires use of the latest communication avenues available.
Today, you’re a lot more likely to connect with patients on Facebook than you are on the street. And you can get a message to your patients a lot quicker via Twitter than at the next parent-teacher conference. It’s just the way of the world today, and dentists have to adapt.
What Goes Into Good Customer Service?
So, how are we supposed to provide good customer service? The same way that other businesses do: through a variety of means all aimed at taking good care of patients, establishing relationships with them online and adapting our services to accommodate their needs.
According Dental Economics, here is what dentists and healthcare providers who offer good customer service look like:
- These [dentists] have regularly changed their practices and services over time.
- They have spent a great deal of time and money training their teams, including the use of outside consultants to impart the highest level of knowledge to the team so the dentists can focus on growing the practice.
- They upgrade their systems on a regular basis, realizing that steady growth requires updated systems, even if these systems have only been implemented within the past five years.
- They have strong internal marketing and communications programs that educate patients about all available services.
- All staff and [dentists] have excellent interpersonal skills to interact with patients in a positive way and develop excellent relationships.
- Case acceptance is very high. Not every dentist in this group claimed to have a superlatively high number of new patients, but they all enhanced their ability to present treatment and have it accepted on a regular basis.
- They offer a variety of payment options, including outside financing from a company such as CareCredit®, to make treatment affordable.
- The patient experience in the practice is simply superior to the experience patients have as consumers in most other businesses or practices.
Customer service is the last frontier of differentiators, not just for retail- and service-based businesses but for dentists and healthcare providers as well.
Without catering to patients, you have to explore this new frontier to remain competitive. You have to provide good care while at the same time nurturing relationships via online communication avenues and continuously adapting and upgrading the services you offer.