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3 things your dental practice can learn from Starbucks


3 things your dental practice can learn from Starbucks

I was recently attending the Southwest Dental Conference and had to step out of a class to take a call. I found some tables that were outside the exhibit hall so I parked there to concentrate on my conversation. As I hung up, I noticed something very interesting. It was in the middle of “class time” and the line to Starbucks was quite long -- so long that I was compelled to count.

There were 43 people standing waiting for coffee. I remembered walking into the convention center earlier in the day and laughing to myself at the line that was three times that long before classes began. Now I’m intrigued. I thought maybe there was a lull in the classes, which caused the line.

I sat there for another 30 minutes and watched. The line was never shorter and even grew longer at times. The most interesting part of this was that there was a counter That Place Next Door to the Starbucks that served breakfast foods, snacks, water, soft drinks, and, yes, coffee. That Place Next Door rarely had more than 2 people in line at a time.

What does Starbucks have that That Place Next Door doesn’t have? Why are people drawn to one place, even if it means that they have to stand in line and wait to be served? And, finally, what can a dental office learn from the Starbucks model to get loyal patients who are willing to go to any length for their service?


I started asking people what draws them to Starbucks, where they have to wait in line, rather than zip in and out at That Place Next Door? I kept getting one of three answers:

Consistency They always know exactly what they would be getting, how it would be served, and how it would taste, even if they don’t get the same drink every time.

Convenient There is a Starbucks on practically every corner, but the convenience also was in the variety of products served not just coffee but also items that would appeal to children. Anyone can find something to like there.

Comfortable It is trendy and has a sophisticated culture. The stores have comfortable furniture, good music, and free Wi-Fi. It’s easy to meet people there.

I asked if they realized that there was That Place Next Door that served coffee, but that didn’t seem to matter. They wanted their Starbucks.


I decided to break it down to see if a dental office could create that same atmosphere. There are obvious barriers: you don’t need to get your teeth cleaned every day, or even visit every month, so having one on every corner isn’t important and you probably wouldn’t meet up with people at your dental office, but what a great concept. Let’s give this a try:

Consistency This is hitting the mark the same way every time. It doesn’t matter if you have a clinic type atmosphere or a fee-for-service culture. It means that your patients know and want the service that you promise them.

Imagine your patients bragging on the fact that they never have to wait to be seen at their dental office. They know to be on time because you will be. You each respect each other’s schedule.

The hygienist gives the best cleaning ever every time!

Little things are tended to like ChapStick applied during treatment, or gloves that smell like mint, a warm cloth to wipe one’s face is handed out after treatment, or a blanket is made available since the operatories are often cold to the patient.

The office is always on the top of one’s mind because the communication is second to none:

Reminder phone calls, texts, and e-mails

Post-op calls to anyone who has had an injection

Post-treatment letters with instructions on protecting their dental investment

Email blasts announcing whitening specials for prom, weddings, and graduations

Monthly newsletters with dental tidbits, introducing new team members or even some dental humor

Thank you cards, signed by the entire team, when a referral comes from an existing patient.

Convenient This is not necessarily referring to having an office on every corner, but more about having dental needs met conveniently. There are ways to accommodate a patient without putting the office into a bind.

Squeezing in that little filling that was diagnosed during the hygiene visit.

Calling the specialist to help patients schedule their RCT, extraction, or perio evaluation. By the way, this is also an excellent way to create great relationships with the specialists in your area.

Did you realize that teeth-whitening is the #1 searched product on the Internet? Whether you offer bleaching services or not, there are many products that you could offer to your patients:

Take-home whitening trays, strips, or pens

Electric toothbrushes and asking about refills at each hygiene visit. There are even travel-size electric toothbrushes that make great stocking stuffers.

I’ve heard that some offices offer different products to their patients and all “proceeds” go toward the Christmas party or some other fun event.

Comfortable This is where the customer service comes in.

Take a good look at your reception area. Are the chairs comfortable? Do you have up-to-date magazines? Is there Wi-Fi available for your patients (make sure it’s HIPAA-compliant by having a guest login and not using the main office login)?

Do you greet every patient who walks in the door? Even if the admin team is on the phone or with a patient, make eye contact and wave.

When was the last time that you sat in your treatment chairs? Could you sit/lay there for 2 hours for a crown prep?

One day while your office is in full motion, stop and listen. Is there music? Does it calm you? Is there laughter and upbeat talking like during a pleasant gathering?

Finally, look around, are the bathrooms clean, walls freshly painted, and floors free of debris?

This is true customer service. Starbucks doesn’t claim to have the best coffee, but they have an excellent business model. The reputation that they set out to accomplish meets the standard at each and every location. What is the acceptable standard in your office? Is it met every single time? Now I think I will go try that Vendi Caramel Macchiato with a reduced-fat berry coffee cake with lemon crumble.

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