When I was 16, I had my first car, and thus needed my first oil change. I found a mechanic, made an appointment and had the “pleasure” of sitting in a dirty, oily-smelling waiting room with no amenities for 45 minutes. The appointment culminated with an equally oily individual telling me condescendingly my air filter needed replacing. This was fine. It was normal. The experience did not cause frustration or resentment. I gladly paid for the service, jumped into my broken down Daihatsu and went on my way.
That was then. Now, getting an oil change is a delight. I make sure not to brew coffee at my home those mornings, because I am so excited about the various flavored K-Cups awaiting me, along with the comfortable couches, up-to-date magazines, strong Wi-Fi, a pleasant smelling reception room and getting service from a well-dressed courteous individual (who still encourages me to change my air filter).
I am convinced that when a consumer is exposed to a welcoming, luxurious environment from the moment they walk into a business of any kind, they will (unfairly) judge the service that they receive as superior. I know I do. After I enjoy my coffee and Wi-Fi, a subjective part of my brain simply assumes that the mechanics did a nice job with my car. The opposite is also true. When I take my dog to a highly skilled and experienced veterinarian whose office might happen to smell like poo, I unfairly assume that the quality of care the dog received was just satisfactory.
I have visited a lot of highly impressive dental offices and learned some of their techniques in creating an extraordinary experience for the patient. Here are some of my favorite ideas:
- Provide form-fitting neck wraps for patients in the dental chair, preferably those that can be heated. Ideally, you would have enough for all of your patients, but you start small by using this wonderfully soothing item with patients scheduled for a longer, more stressful procedure.
- When you have a moment to spare and the reception area has several waiting patients, take a few moments to sit in the reception area and chat. This seems simple, but it is tremendously rare and well appreciated.
- Create a small, partially enclosed area apart from the main reception area with coloring books, large building blocks, toys, puzzles and games that will keep patients’ children busy and entertained. It’s OK if this area gets cluttered and trashed, as parents are just appreciative to have a place for their kids.
- Invest in a couple of high quality large umbrellas. When it is pouring rain outside, a front-desk employee can grab an umbrella, accompany the patient out the door and make sure he or she gets to the car dry.
- Get a Keurig, a nice variety pack of K-Cups, and mugs and to-go cups (preferably with your practice’s name and logo on them). Coffee is magic for a lot of people. They might walk in with a bad mood, but when they are offered coffee, their edges become softened.
- On special occasions (holidays, big sports games, etc.), buy small tokens to give every patient as they finish their appointment. Items such as ornaments for Christmas, mint chocolate four-leaf clovers for St. Patrick’s day, and single serving packs of ice cream before July 4th will all have patients thinking highly of your office before the holiday. Plan it out a year in advance and purchase nonperishable items well before the holiday.
- Have a fresh flower arrangement delivered to your office once a week to beautify your reception area. On the last day of the week, give those flowers to a deserving patient.
- When a new patient calls to make an appointment, make sure to get their address. Then, print Google map directions from their home to the office, include them with a standard welcome letter, and have the person who spoke with the patient on the phone write a personal note on the letter. You could also throw in a small Starbucks gift card as a “thank you” for choosing your office (remember to keep gifts nominal in value to comply with any anti-kickback statutes).
You don’t have to implement all of these strategies. Choose one or two you and your team would want to invest in and commit to. Over time, one individual or another in your office will simply take on the role of “gift card person” or “umbrella person” and the idea will stick. When that happens, your office will be doing something that 95 percent of other offices don’t, and patients will notice.
Dr. Gupta is a general dentist in Cleveland, OH. He frequently lectures to dental and community groups throughout the country and invites readers to contact him with questions and comments at drgupta@northridgevillefamilydentistry. His practice website is North Ridgeville Family Dentistry.