Last month was very strange. I actually visited several dentists’ offices and had the opportunity to critique what I observed as an outsider. These four practices were located in large modern cities with a lot of dentists on every corner. Overall the staffs and doctors were very nice. What surprised me was the complete lack of understanding of what is important when it comes to consumerism. Patients are telling you what they want, but I am afraid that most of you are not listening. These doctors were in their early 40’s to 55. At a time when they should be producing more with a great overhead, they were struggling. Not just struggling, but really clueless. As a small consumer business where nothing happens until the consumer says yes, each of us needs to understand that everything matters. You don’t want to believe this, but patients actually judge the quality of the dentistry you deliver by the look, smell, clutter, wear and tear, and location of your practice. If there are bugs in the lights, pictures are crooked, and there is general clutter in the office, you can bet that patients assume that you do poor dentistry and are not a state of the art dental practice. If you don’t care how your staff, office, or personal appearance looks why should your dentistry be any different? Below I reproduced (with the names dropped to protect the innocent) the shortest and least critical assessment of what I saw (the others were far longer and much worse) that was written to the Summit coach that would be helping this doctor. I was afraid that if I reproduced the last one I visited you wouldn’t believe it, because it was four times as long and far more critical. Read it and think about your own office.
Initial Office Visit — Dr. ______________________________
Overall the office is very dated with musty smells, dirty carpet, and dated decorations with most of the rooms being cluttered. When you walk in, the first thing you notice is the obvious 1950-ish style and look. It has no windows in the reception area and has the glass fogged sliding window separating the front desk from the clinical area. The restroom is so small you have to walk in and back out. You literally cannot close the door without straddling the toilet.
The two office staff members seem nice and want to work there and want to be involved with the changes. They just feel thankful to have a job and don’t want to rock the boat. They know there are problems.
There is a complete lack of systems for anything at the front desk. The front desk would love to have systems to fall back on. There are no systems. Currently a majority of their accounts receivable are over 120 days. This is primarily due to older patients for whom the doctor continues to carry the accounts at whatever payment the patient wants to make. You will have your work cut out for you. Start anywhere and you will find a need. Every system in a normal dental practice is missing here.
The doctor is very nice and caring, but he seems to lack any understanding of what and why consumers choose one office over another. I went over this in our meeting with the staff. The biggest concern I have is that even though the practice is a low producing with great overhead, the doctor could not list one thing when asked about what he thought were shortcomings in the office. There is a complete disconnect from reality, business, consumerism and the results he is experiencing in his office. It is as though he has no idea why anyone would not want to see him. I tried to explain that patients notice all of these things from dated office to lack of cleanliness, no technology, no hygienist, and no systems. When they do notice it, they don’t make an appointment, and certainly don’t refer.
The ratio of Doctor to population is terrible at 1:367, but even worse when you consider that the unemployment and below poverty numbers are at 27% and over 45% of the population has been there over 5 years. That means it will almost be impossible to affect a real rally when it comes to new patients. His expectations are realistic as to new patients. We will need to see what percentage of his budget he is willing to commit to marketing. He has never done any in the past. I would stress a new resident mailer, along with a little direct mail. The main thing to do is get the office spruced up: Carpet cleaned, de-cluttered, some paint, front door, decorations and improve the air quality, and dress the staff as a team.
He needs to set up a goal vs. time to purchase digital x-rays and begin to integrate technology in his office. He was unaware that there is a national mandate to implement digital electronic patient records by 2015. The front desk person had worked in an Endodontist’s office prior to this job and is familiar with how to do it. Currently they just send in copies of the x-rays by mail. Truly, they are not an office that is in step with the current stage of dentistry.
The staff does not have the faintest idea of how to schedule using the computers. I don’t know what to say. Everything needs fixing. I am not sure if this is good or extremely bad for a consultant. I am afraid that the office will truly need to change every little thing. Other than the doctor’s good bedside manner, you will have to address everything else.
How do you approach an office like this to offer consulting and advice? Could they actually handle the truth? In the past we have found that most offices can’t handle it, or should I say most doctors can’t handle it. They feel like they are doing most things right and they just need a web site or a little fine-tuning. This is the furthest thing from the truth. It is time to stop and look at what you’re doing or not doing. Like it or not, it’s your practice and you have to make the right choices or suffer the consequences.
So for the New Year, take another look at your office and staff appearance again, or for the first time. Look at it like a new patient: critically. You should arrange your office and staff as if someone really famous was going to visit. I guarantee that there would be no stone untouched. Every closet would be organized. All the dental materials and old publications that you will never use or read would be tossed. You would inspect the troops to make sure they were presentable. You might even bake some cookies and provide other refreshments. Every aspect of your practice would be organized, clean, and spotless. You owe this attitude to every patient that comes in your office. They expect it, need it, and will go elsewhere if they don’t find it. Now go tidy up and look the part of a caring, compassionate, successful dental practice that knows the value of customer service.
On January 27 and 28, 2012, we are hosting a two-day seminar that is absolutely free. Give us a call, get the details, bring your staffs, and invest the time to find the answers that will guarantee a more profitable productive future for your practice and families. You have never looked at your practice this way before.
Michael Abernathy, DDS