For Loyal Patients, Aim to 'Surprise and Delight'

July 24, 2017
Jared Kaltwasser

Entrepreneurship is an essential element of running a successful practice, and with the rise of corporate dentistry, it is more important to distinguish yourself now than ever. Expert Amy Morgan sat down with DMD to talk about how to catch a patients' eye and keep them coming back, and being a good dentist isn't enough. Continue below to find out more.

Pride Institute CEO Amy Morgan will lecture at the Dentrix Business of Dentistry meeting, Aug. 17-19, in Las Vegas

So you’ve just completed a complicated procedure with unimpeachable clinical accuracy. Surely you’ve just won the patient’s loyalty for life, right?

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Think again.

“Dentists still make the assumption that their marginal integrity and excellent composites are going to be the make or break point for success when it comes to engaging the hearts and minds of their patients and creating that kind of rabid fan who stays loyal against any and all obstacles,” said Amy Morgan, CEO of the Pride Institute, a California-based practice management consultancy.

Unfortunately, Morgan said, loyal customers base their judgments on much more than clinical accuracy. They look at the entire experience — everything from appointment reminders to follow-ups to birthday cards.

“It’s absolutely 100 percent the fact that the patient’s going to define their level of connection through the entire experience, not the outcomes and results,” she told Dentist’s Money Digest.

Morgan will be sharing her expertise in optimizing customer experience at the Dentrix Business of Dentistry meeting, Aug. 17-19, in Las Vegas.

So how can a dentist create that connection and provide excellent customer service? For better or worse, Morgan said, there is no cookie-cutter solution because patients aren’t identical. Lavender-scented towels might impress a patient on the first visit but won’t suffice to keep that customer coming back indefinitely.

“They need an experience that surprises or delights to get them talking about you in the community,” Morgan said.

The “surprise” part is key — dentists and staff need to regularly think of new ways to improve the customer experience and make an impact on particular patients. They need to show that they truly know their patients on an individual basis, Morgan said.

For instance, an unexpected card congratulating a patient on her son’s high school graduation would show that the practice truly knows the patient and is willing to go above and beyond. The connection and warmth generated by the surprise card will help solidify the bond with the patient, even or perhaps especially if the patient has been with the dentist for a long time.

All this is not to say clinical proficiency isn’t important, Morgan cautioned.

“Great customer service is never going to replace excellent dentistry — it enhances excellent dentistry,” Morgan said.

However, she said, dentists have to grab patients by the heart before they can grab them by the brain. A before-and-after photo isn’t going to win over a customer unless you’ve first made an emotional connection with the customer.

Morgan also defines customer service as surprising and delighting staff, which she refers to as “internal customers.”

“You had better have a happy team if you want happy customers, because it is your team [members] that are the brand ambassadors,” she said.

Morgan advises starting with a robust and personalized training program for new employees — one that makes them feel secure in the practice and also empowers them to go above and beyond their job title.

Next, avoid micromanaging. Morgan said it’s important to recognize and encourage staff while also giving them the autonomy to do work without constant fear of being corrected.

In other words, Morgan said, don’t be a “seagull,” who “only swoops in and squawks when they do something wrong.”

Morgan suggests dentists plan a retreat at least once per year to set strategic goals and plans and create a marketing calendar. That marketing calendar should extend beyond advertising and include refining and optimizing the customer experience. Ask yourself, “What do we do that our patients love?”

That kind of careful planning can create an environment where staff and doctors provide excellent service that goes above and beyond.

“It is just like everything, marketing and customer service is a process, not an event,” Morgan said. “There are no silver bullets here. It’s that perpetual engagement and connection that creates rabid fans and committed ambassadors to care.”

And while there are no silver bullets to great customer care, great customer care itself can be a solution to many of the concerns weighing on dentists’ minds, Morgan said. Many dentists are stressed out about the rise of corporate dentistry, tussles with insurers, changing demographics and broad economic uncertainty.

“If you want to feel protected against any and all of the challenges we just listed, look at your own house,” she said. “Is your practice really competitive when it comes to the service and results?”

Those things may seem fundamental, but to patients, they’re game-changers.

“Loyal patients — true loyalists — will rise above any and all obstacles and insist their friends and family do business with you,” she said.

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