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Why Customer Service and Patient Experience Matter

by adminjay

This article originally appeared in March/2024 on DentistryToday.com.

By: Jackie Ulasewich Cullen

I get excited when a dentist tells me that they roll out the red carpet for their patients—creating the best experience possible, listening to them, and generally providing exceptional customer service—and the patient reviews echo this. These practices are really on the ball. On the other hand, some dentists swear that their patient experience is outstanding, but what I hear from the patients themselves and the team doesn’t back that up. These practices need to get their head in the game because now, more than ever, patients care about customer service.

Let’s not assume that a person looking for a new dentist has friends or family in the area who could make a recommendation. Even if they do, they will usually want to conduct additional research before making a final decision. There was a time when customer service in dentistry was not much of a priority. However, with the internet and the birth of social media and online reviews that are freely available, the reality of the patient’s experience is out there for all to see. Online reviews are often the deciding factor, prompting a new patient to go with one practice over another. As much as good reviews will attract patients, reviews that reflect a less-than-stellar patient experience could be driving new patients away.

How to Compete with the 5-Star Practices in Your Market

On the whole, patients are honest in their reviews. They will make it known when they encounter exceptional customer service or have a negative experience. The most effective way to prevent new patients from going to a competitor is to concentrate on improving customer service. This means more than greeting people and being polite. Customer service starts from first contact and continues with each interaction.

  1. Return phone calls and respond to online appointment requests promptly — So often, people seeking a new dentist complain that no one responded to their initial inquiry. Ignoring online requests and voicemails or waiting too long to respond will drive potential new patients to another practice simply because they respond. That is like giving free money to your competitor. Designating time daily to address inquiries from online forms and return phone calls and tracking results will instantly reverse this trend.
  2. Train team members how to answer the phone and carry on a customer-service-oriented conversation — The office gets hectic, and there is no way to anticipate when someone will call to inquire about the practice. Any team member answering the phone at any time of day should be prepared to field questions and know how to convert an inquiry into an appointment. No matter how busy it gets, the patient on the other end of the phone should never feel brushed aside, rushed, or disrespected.
  3. Make patients feel welcome, always — Going the extra mile pays off. On the phone, in person, during a consultation, in the middle of a treatment, during check–out, and beyond: these are all opportunities to shine in front of patients. Some of the most impactful testimonials we have seen are from patients who received a phone call from the dentist after treatment to check on them or were shown exceptional kindness that helped them overcome their fears.
  4. Listen — Dental professionals have a lot of professional skills and love to share their knowledge. Sometimes, this results in a one-sided conversation with the patient, especially when the solution seems evident within the first few seconds of an exam or consultation. Jumping in without first letting the patient express themselves can be off putting, regardless of whether there is a straightforward solution without the need for any explanation. Patients want their concerns to be heard so that they feel comfortable and confident in their decision to move forward with treatment. Any healthcare professional’s most valuable skill is truly listening to their patients.
  5. Don’t forget about patients once they leave the office — Focusing solely on attracting new patients and ignoring existing ones is a huge mistake. Existing patients are a tremendous resource for referrals, testimonials, and repeat business. Catering to existing patients with emails, social media posts, and special services will prevent the “revolving door” effect by encouraging loyalty.

There are practices in every market that have these steps down and excel at providing patients with top-notch service. It shows in their patient video testimonials, their solid patient base, and the number of new patients on the books every month. If your practice is not the practice all the patients are flocking to, it is essential to plan and implement some customer-service changes as soon as possible or risk losing out.

No one wants to lose patients to another practice for a reason that could have easily been remedied with more attention to the patient experience. Don’t let the practice down the street outshine yours. Focus on building a reputation for good customer service, and soon, your practice will be the one outshining all the others.

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