Managing the client

March 21, 2012

Knowing the right material (or materials) for a particular case is part of the equation, but if it’s not the material requested on the prescription, the first step becomes getting the dentist to agree to your recommendation.

Knowing the right material (or materials) for a particular case is part of the equation, but if it’s not the material requested on the prescription, the first step becomes getting the dentist to agree to your recommendation.

That can be a difficult conversation and it gets me thinking about the whole range of difficult conversations that are sometimes necessary. Materials, proper preparations, impression quality (or lack thereof), bill payment, remake responsibility, are all potentially “hot” topics that need to be discussed at one time or another if you own or manage a dental laboratory business.

Given the pace of change in our world today I suspect management of clients and difficult conversations will be more frequent than ever going forward. How you handle these difficult discussions can have a tremendous impact on the success of your business.

Why discuss at all?

After all the dentist is the one with the degree, he or she is the customer, and the customer is always right…right? Well, yes, but to keep your business running smoothly and productively there are just some things you can’t do. Not getting paid comes to mind here, but it also applies to materials and the technical capabilities of your lab, too. If you truly want to serve your client in the best possible manner, that means sharing your knowledge and expertise as well. Having the difficult discussion has one of two outcomes. Either you improve the productivity/efficiency of your lab operations because you remove a problem or you build more profitable business from the client. A successful discussion does both!

Not only should you communicate with your clients when the topic is uncomfortable, you need to do it sooner rather than later. Deferring or avoiding the discussion just makes things fester and festering problems get worse, not better.
three keys to a successful discussion

1. Relationship. One extremely important key to achieving positive outcomes from that difficult discussion is the relationship you have with the dentist. Sensitive topics are more difficult to discuss if it’s the first time you have talked to them. Think about how much more likely you would be to take recommendations on materials from a manufacturer sales rep you have known for years and who has proven himself knowledgeable.

Start communicating with new dentist clients from the first case and make a point of continuing contact with your clients. Showing concern, learning about the practice and understanding their needs builds trust and credibility that will be invaluable when discussions get in to sensitive areas. A track record of good performance, solid advice, and familiarity pays dividends. It’s not always possible because of distances, etc., but make a point of meeting your dentists in person. Not that a relationship can’t be built over the phone, it can, but face to face contact moves the process along faster.

2. Respect. They are the dentists, and they are your customers, so you need to treat them with respect. As a professional yourself and a supplier of needed services you also deserve respect. Keep the discussion away from personal fault or failures and on the subject of solving the problem at hand. “Suggesting” solutions or alternative courses of action shows more respect than simply stating or demanding what needs to happen. It also helps guide the conversation to your desired result. Just as the doctor does not fully understand the dental lab world, you probably don’t completely understand their world either. Be polite but firm in conveying your message. 

3. Words are important. The words and phrases you chose can impact the direction the discussion will go. Try to minimize the use of “I” and maximizes the use of “we.” For example, “Doctor, we could get a much better result on Mr. Smith’s case with a new impression,” works better than, “Doctor, I need a new impression for the Smith case.”

“We” indicates you view your relationship as a partnership. The use of “Mr. Smith” is a more personalized way of referring to the case (if you can include the patient’s first name that’s even better) and helping both you and the doctor focus on the patient. Start the conversation with questions, particularly open ended ones, to get the dentist talking. “Doctor we were wondering why you prescribed xyz material for Mr. Smith’s six unit anterior case?”

Communication is key

Like most businesses, at its heart, the dental lab business is all about people. When people are involved there are always going to be issues that come up. Good communication enables you to successfully handle the difficult client discussion and turn mediocre or good clients into great ones.