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Building Loyalty

Simple techniques to impress and retain patients
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Believe it or not, patients don’t ask for much. Excellent service is such a rarity these days that the slightest uptick in attention will impress most people. For instance, if you ordered dinner at a restaurant and it seems like it is taking forever to get your food, a server who takes a minute to apologize for the wait can help you immediately relax. But if you just sit there unattended, you’re probably starting to compose a stinging Yelp review in your head.

It’s often the same in health care. There are many little things you can do as a dentist or team member that will calm patients’ concerns and help them build trust in your care.

Run on time

Certainly there are situations in which the schedule goes south. But a tendency to chronically run behind is a fixable problem. A real morning huddle can help you and your team predict where there may be problems staying on time and how they can be avoided.

  • Are today’s patients’ cases back from the laboratory?
  • Have you built in extra time for patients you know might be anxious, frightened or defensive?
  • Does the hygiene schedule work with the doctor’s availability?
  • Are the instruments ready for special procedures, like implant impressions or implant crown placement?
  • With a little extra effort and planning, a practice can easily run on time most of the time.

If you are running behind

Occasionally, something will cause a delay. If the scheduler knows far enough in advance, he or she can call the patient and offer to adjust the time or reschedule before they arrive. If the patient is already waiting, inform him or her about the delay and the anticipated wait time and offer a cup of coffee or offer to reschedule. A little lost production time is offset by excellent service. Develop a standard apology letter or email that you can personalize and send after a delayed appointment and consider sending it with a small gift card from a coffee shop. Patients will remember your thoughtfulness.

Lean forward

Showing interest in what someone is saying is a very comforting service. Patients deserve your attention and there are little things that will speak volumes about your level of interest.

  • First, sit down and face the patient. Get at eye level and look them in the eye.
  • Next, open your body position to invite their message.
  • Then, lean forward to show your interest.
  • Repeat their message back to them to show that you have heard them and to confirm accuracy.
  • Last, repeat your awareness of the patient’s concerns often as you perform an examination or other procedure.

Be cheerful

Everyone has experienced a delicious meal at a restaurant they choose not to return to because the wait staff was surly or distracted. Great service doesn’t always mean that the patient should feel idolized. Most patients would feel well treated if they spent their time in a happy environment where the dentist and team members seemed glad to see them and enjoyed working together to care for them.

  • The dentist and the team should bring a positive attitude into the office. Bringing a positive attitude into the office will spread among those who might otherwise find reasons to complain. Maintaining an open, listening environment to address potential problems before they escalate will help keep a team cheerful.
  • Complimenting each other, including the dentist to team members, the hygienist and assistants to the dentist and team members to one another, is a powerful way to build and maintain a positive attitude.
  • Celebrating success as an office and recognizing that each person on the team plays an important role in the success of the practice will build confidence and cheerfulness throughout the practice.

Certainly a practice can spend lavishly to build a spa-like atmosphere and to impress patients, but it’s often the thoughtful little things that build confidence and loyalty between patients and the practice. Using your experiences as a consumer outside the office to see what draws you to return to certain businesses can help you define how the dental team can make a big difference in patient loyalty and their willingness to refer their family and friends to the practice.

Dr. van Dyk practices general dentistry in San Pablo, California, and teaches in the department of Dental Practice at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry at the University of the Pacific.

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