Empathy Key to Customer Service

put yourself in the customers' shoes for good customer service

As healthcare and dentistry fall under the spell of consumerism, it’s vital that practices provide good customer service – not just good patient care but also good customer service.

How do you do that? The most important aspect of providing good customer service is to put yourselves into your patients’ shoes and walk along with them through their patient, or customer, journey.

Escaping Myopia

One of the most common mistakes businesses make is to look at things from their own point of view (all businesses, not just dental or healthcare practices).

It’s hard for people who run a business to extricate themselves from the decisions they make – to get outside of themselves and take an objective look at their business.

Actually, it’s a hard thing for anyone to do, not just in professional life but also in private life. It requires three difficult things:

  1. It requires imagination. To be able to look at things from a viewpoint other than your own, which is full of memories, ideas and emotions that you’ve built up over years.
  2. It requires letting go. To let go of all those memories, ideas and emotions so you can look at your business not through your own eyes but through others’ eyes.
  3. It requires, perhaps most difficult, acceptance. To see things how they really are and accept whatever is there, no matter how uncomfortable.

Again, not an easy thing to do.

A Walk in Their Shoes

As consumerism hits dentistry and healthcare in general, patients are transferring the expectations they have as consumers into the experiences they have as patients.

Regardless of how you may feel about this phenomenon, it’s already happening and there’s nothing much we can do except adapt to it.

There’s the old saying that the customer is always right. Businesses have adopted this approach to try their best to make every experience a good one for every customer. It’s an impossible task, but they do what they can.

However, this simply doesn’t work in healthcare. The patient isn’t always right. How could they be? They didn’t go to dental school. They simply don’t have the knowledge to provide themselves with good care. If they did, they wouldn’t be in our office.

But decisions about care aren’t what we’re talking about here. In that arena, dentists have the final say.

We’re talking about the experience that patients have when they come to our practice: their customer experience.

In a nutshell, every patient needs to walk out of our practice feeling that everyone there treated them as a person, listened to them, cared about them and tried very hard to make their experience a good one in all aspects.

That’s not an easy thing to do, especially when our primary concern is the care we provide and not necessarily the customer service we provide.

In the fast-paced dental practice environment, it’s sometimes hard to find time to pay attention to the finer details, and making sure that patients are provided with great service from the very first interaction can be a challenge when a practice has so many points of contact.

…[But] with immediate communication now a part of everyday life, practices cannot afford to take any aspect of the patient journey for granted. Delivering great customer service is a vital part of ensuring patient loyalty and encouraging word of mouth recommendation.

If practices can get this right, customer satisfaction forms part of the solid foundation on which a practice can grow its reputation, its patient numbers, its revenue and profit.


Attending to every step of the patient journey – ensuring that each step is a good one – requires dentists and dental assistants and everyone else in the practice to walk the journey with our patients.

We have to put ourselves in their shoes, and we have to ask ourselves at every juncture if they’re receiving the kind of care and attention that we would want ourselves.

It’s a Relationship, Like Any Other

Good customer service requires the ability to get outside of yourself, understand what your patients want and then provide those things.

What if it were me?

That’s the question you need to ask yourself before you make any decision regarding patient and customer care for your practice. If that were me, what would I want?

We’re getting into an area that’s suspiciously close to psychology here and equally applicable to relationships with our friends, families and partners. But that’s kind of the point.

The relationships between you and the people you treat are more than just doctor to patient or service provider to customer. It’s a relationship like any other: human to human.

Demonstrating a strong commitment to customer service, education and home care results in patient appreciation of the interest the dental team has in their well-being rather than simply treating problems.

When patients recognize the staff in a dental practice is focused on prevention and at-home oral health care, they will more likely partner with the practice for a lifetime of excellent oral health care.

Journal of Contemporary Dental Practice

What If It Were Me?

Providing good customer service requires empathy. During all phases of the patient journey, you need to ask yourself what you would want if you were the patient.

And you need to remind yourself that your patient is a person first. Patient and also customer, yes, but person first.


By Quinn Dufurrena, DDS