The dental industry continues to grow at a record clip, as the number of practicing dentists is projected to increase by 18 percent from 2014 to 2024, a much faster rate than the average for all occupations (U.S. News Staff, 2016). So dental practice leaders are tasked with strengthening their ability to identify and solve problems, adapt to customers’ wants and needs, and efficiently deliver high quality customer service. If you don’t respond by transitioning from a traditional command-and-control organizational structure to a team-centric model that inspires a culture of collaboration, your practice isn’t likely to gain or maintain a competitive advantage.
In his blog post, “How Effective Team Collaboration Equals Great Customer Service” (Customer Think. October 9, 2017) Ryan Kh explains why collaboration is critical in providing a superlative customer experience. The following are his reasons, accompanied by some thoughts of our own:
- Collaboration improves efficiency. Thirty years ago, organizations had a relatively small number of people, armed with inadequate tools, charged with handling customer service, who could be overwhelmed when having to deal with complaining customers. We would add that today the tools are available, but many dental practices still don’t take advantage of them. iDENTIfy’s 3-year pilot study revealed that efficiency greatly improved, as did customer service, when dental teams utilized simple and common collaborative tools such as Google Drive and cell phones, and held frequent (at least monthly) meetings, across teams and departments. The increase in communication and the frequent and real-time sharing of information made all the difference. Examples of such collaborative projects include marketing plans, practice improvement plans and employee team-building activities and volunteer work. Our advice: experiment with what’s out there until you find what works best for your practice.
- Collaboration increases the amount and quality of knowledge. Bigger teams, says Kh, possess more knowledge, and are thus better equipped to answer customer’s questions and address their problems. We agree that the more knowledge the better, but would argue that you don’t have to have a large dental team to acquire it.
High Reliability Organizations (HROs) are ‘continuous learners.’ Only dental practices who continuously enhance their knowledge will be able to effectively respond to change and/or answer patients’ objections effectively. At iDENTIfy, we encourage dental teams, regardless of size, to continually expand their capacity to create desired results. From our experience, most employees want to learn and grow, and as the world continues to evolve technologically, it is indispensable to the growth and prosperity of your dental practice. The alternative to a learning culture is one that remains stationary, repeats mistakes and has high turnover, due to employees who are present in body but not in mind.
The market is flooded with books and e-learning courses aimed at improving basic customer service and sales techniques that can benefit staff and doctors. We at iDENTIfy have found that vendors can also be very helpful in offering lunch-n-learns and even individual coaching sessions for staff and doctors—the key is asking for help. In addition, targeted social media groups offer a plethora of information and support, especially for supervisors, doctors and practice leaders. We would like to warn you, however, not to use patients’ real names or pictures, as this could violate HIPAA laws when participating online. In addition, we encourage you to ensure that you remain in compliance with state and federal employment laws when you ask employees to acquire knowledge. Most laws require that employees be compensated for their time anytime the information is required and work-related.
- Collaborating with customers helps satisfy their needs, too.Collaboration shouldn’t be confined to company employees. Kh cites a global study conducted by Steven Van Bellegam, a managing partner at InSites Consulting, the results of which were published in Fast Company (May 9, 2013). Said Van Bellegam: “the conclusion is inescapable: the majority of consumers favor a self-service solution, including the safety net of personal contact if the consumer so chooses.” We agree, and recommend that as dental practices implement practice improvement solutions such as iDENTIfy, it is important to include all stakeholders (patients, staff and doctors) in the process.
Says Dr. David Shen, an iDENTIfy orthodontic advisor:
Collaborating with patients, or what Trude refers to as “Leading From the Patient’s Perspective,” is a game-changing strategy and will remain a top priority in my practice. When we asked patients for their help through iDENTIfy’s e-survey Patient Communications Platform, it was obvious that they were glad to assist. As a result, we implemented many great ideas that have improved our practice all-around. The alternative is stagnant growth and patients who don’t feel valued and appreciated and as a result, take their complaints to social media for the world have to hear.
Like employees, patients want to be heard and furthermore, now that millennials constitute such a large segment of the dental industry’s patient and parent base, it is increasingly important to include them as well as meet their needs.
We also recommend that you share news of your improvements with patients, as well as implement a ‘virtual open-door policy.’ For example, during our pilot study a mother indicated in a patient feedback survey that the doctor disregarded her daughter’s painful gum irritation caused by the rough edges of her aligners. After learning of the disappointment through a real-time feedback survey, a doctor called the mother and immediately resolved the issue. Furthermore, before hanging up, the doctor provided the woman with her email address, in case she had any future concerns. “Patients really appreciate having access to someone they perceive as having authority,” says Dr. Shen, but adds, “anyone can be successful if they are a good listener, empathetic and demonstrate that they are willing to take prompt action.”
At iDENTIfy, we also recommend publicizing your findings and improvements in your practice newsletter, for example, so that your patients can keep up with how they have contributed to your practice improvements. This lets them know that you are listening, responding appropriately and actively improving the practice. It demonstrates, moreover, how their feedback has influenced the decision-making and quality improvement initiatives undertaken by your practice.
In his piece, Kh also discusses his “secrets to a collaborative customer service.” We will talk about these in our next blog (Part 2) as well as provide you with tips on how you can easily implement them in your dental practice.
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Trude Henderson is the founder of iDENTIfy, Inc., a startup elective dental and medical practice improvement software company. In 2016, she was the first to introduce High Reliability Organizational Concepts to the dental industry. For questions, contact her directly at Trude@GetIdentify.com. Follow Trude on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/trudehenderson/ (no email required)
Go to iDENTIfy’s website: www.getidentify.com
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