When you actually take the time to get to know your patients, it helps you treat them as a whole. They're more than just a tooth, says Timothy Stirneman, DDS.
When we think of dentistry and impressions, the first thing that comes to mind is the imprint of hard and soft tissues in the mouth from which a reproduction can be formed. But another type of impression, a lasting impression, may be just as, if not more important.
That’s because, as the expression goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. And the value of dentists making lasting impressions on their patients cannot be understated.
“Most patients come in very anxious,” says Timothy Stirneman, DDS, with All Smiles Dental in Algonquin, Illinois. “We often hear, ‘No offense doc, but I really don’t like dentists.’ If I had a dime for every time I heard that, I’d be a millionaire.”
And quelling those fears can go a long way toward creating that lasting impression.
The benefits of ‘nice’
Stirneman says knowing that patients are anxious, that they really don’t want to have their mouths poked and probed, dentists and staff simply need to be extra nice to patients in order to turn their perspective quickly. That starts, he says, by not making patients wait long when they arrive for their appointments.
“We try not to make them wait, because they’re so used to waiting everywhere and having people treat them like they’re just a number,” Stirneman says.
One of Stirneman’s favorite questions to patients is, “How do you feel about your teeth?” He usually gets responses like, “Wow, nobody has ever asked me that.” And by asking these questions, patients will often provide some amazing answers. For example, he says that a lot of people really feel bad about their teeth, for one reason or another. They go through life, and they don’t smile in pictures.
“Any dentist can be a tooth carpenter,” Stirneman says. “We’re all trained to fix teeth. But when you actually take the time to get to know your patients, it helps you treat them as a whole. They’re more than just a tooth.”
It’s about culture
Stirneman believes that creating that lasting impression with patients starts with the culture in your practice. It starts from the first time the patient phones in, or has contact with the office either face-to-face or through your website. And it needs to continue throughout the entire patient experience.
Toward that goal, Stirneman says that All Smiles Dental isn’t a typical dental office. For example, every treatment room has a theme. There’s a Paris room, a Las Vegas room, a jungle room, even a “Wizard of Oz” room.
“We’ve got an Egypt room where we have a big mural of the pyramids,” he explains. “For the Las Vegas room we have a large wallpaper rendering of the Strip. Patients don’t feel like they’re in a clinic, and it immediately takes the edge off.”
When patients arrive, staff is supposed to stand up, walk around the front desk, and greet them.
“The person who answers the phone, or the person who greets patients can make or break your practice,” Stirneman says. “A patient may have 20 different contacts with different team members when they come to the office, so you want to make sure everybody is onboard with the fact that this patient is really important. If you just want to punch a clock and come to work 9 to 5, this isn’t the place for you.”
He and his staff also “do a really good job of hiding all the scary looking instruments.” And, he keeps a watchful eye on what other industries are doing with regard to customer service.
For example, Stirneman says that if you get your hair cut or you go to a spa to get a massage, the way that they talk to you, the way that they treat you, is all about creating a very good customer experience.
“I’m like always looking at how people are doing things, and I try to bring those to our office,” he says.
The bottom line
Stirneman says that consumers tend to think all dental practices are alike. And they don’t want to pay any more than they feel they have to.
“It’s gotten to the point where you have to get really good at what you do,” he explains. “You have to be very competitive with your fees. And the best way to really affect your bottom line is to just make sure people keep coming back.”
That means paying attention to patients’ needs, and when they want to schedule appointments. As such, Stirneman’s practice is open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday. He’s also in the process of re-branding the practice as Compassionate Dental Care.
“I wanted to set us up to really have our name match what I feel is our philosophy in the office every day,” he says. “And also to kind of put my team on notice that this is what we expect.”