Could Silence and Lack of Empathy be Killing Your Dental Practice?

Doctor comforting patient

By: Trude Henderson

(Part 1 of 3)

Over the years, I have visited numerous dental and medical practices (as part of my work as a dental and medical consultant and startup co-founder), as well as spas (for pleasure). Based on observations culled from these experiences, as well as my gleanings from Identify’s 3-year pilot study, I have reached a conclusion that I would like to share with you – too much silence and a lack of empathy will make your competition easier to accept than your treatment!

My recent experience at a spa, described below, has prompted me to blog about this topic, not only because the same patterns have surfaced and re-surfaced several times during our pilot study of dental practices in the Western US, but because I feel so strongly about the close relationship between a great customer experience (one that’s memorable and consistently good) and the longevity of your practice. After all, the customer experience is about how you make people feel!

In this introductory blog, I will briefly mention the first of what we believe are several ‘root causes’ of too much silence, and not enough empathy, in a practice. Then, in Parts 2 and 3, I will elaborate, drawing on my experience working with High Reliability Organizations (HROs), and on the results of the pilot study.

My Visit to a Spa

Last month, while visiting a city in Texas, I chose a spa for a day of pampering. As usual, I checked the popular social media sites, carefully perusing reviews until a spa with 69 reviews and averaging a 5-star rating caught my eye. I said to myself, “This is the one, just what I’m looking for” and booked an appointment for what I was sure would be several hours of serene contentment. Almost immediately upon my arrival the following day, however, I sensed with shock that the experience I had anticipated was probably not going to materialize: as I set foot inside the room, the silence was deafening. I had to wait another 5 minutes to be greeted, as there was another customer being waited on, and then when it finally did come, it was in the form of a nondescript, apathetic-sounding voice behind the counter droning, “Please have a seat, it’s going to be a while.”

As I was shuffled from one place to another, I hoped that this was only another bad day for one employee, but then I overheard two people talking in the breakroom and I realized that one of them was the owner of the spa, busy preparing my coffee. As I sat in a hallway equipped solely with bar stools (whose idea was to it to offer only bar stools to spa patrons?) waiting for my upcoming procedure, the owner handed me a cup of coffee, a packet of sweetener, a spoon and a half-gallon of creamer! All I could do was snicker and ask myself, “What am I supposed to do with all of this?”

Based on these preliminaries, you can easily draw your own conclusions about how well my experience ended, but I just want to add that my first minutes in the spa exhibited, to an extraordinary degree, a lack of the attention to detail and mindfulness that one would expect to see at a spa.


It should surprise no one that there is a steady and noticeable increase in competition in the dental industry, as the number of practicing dentists is “projected to grow by 18% from 2014 to 2024, a much faster rate than the average for all occupations” (U.S. News Staff, 2016). So, it is easy to understand why the need to show more value and beat the competition couldn’t be more important.

In addition, corporate dentistry has experienced explosive growth over the past few years. Our research reveals that fees are the focus and prospective corporate buyers are not only rewarding owners with higher valuations, but showing a willingness to pay more. The reasons for this, says practice transition expert Roger K. Hill (Hill, 2016): “In some cases they want to enter or gain market share in a particular area, but in most cases, they are confident that they can significantly increase profit potential of the practice through making management changes.” In other words, they believe that many practice leaders leave too much money on the table, and that by cleaning up the business, they can reap big rewards! In an article entitled Crunch the Numbers, well-known orthodontist and international speaker, Dr. Ben Burris, DDS, MSD, substantially agrees will Hill: “Most orthodontists’ gut reaction is that the only way to compete is to compete on fee” (Burris, 2016).

Hill’s take on this is that instead of lowering fees in response to a declining close ratio, practice leaders should look at other factors, as the data shows that the top two concerns patients have that are under management control are “quality and comfort.” This was certainly the case of the spa I visited last month. We would also like to make the point again that, essential as it is, technical competence will not by itself enable your dental practice to enjoy its full potential.


This leads us into the first ‘root cause’ of too much silence and lack of empathy – a lack of leadership – which, with the others, we will discuss in our next blog.

Works Cited

Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services LLC. (2008). High Reliability Operations: A Practical Guide to Avoid the System Accident. Amarillo: U.S. Department of Energy.

Burris, B. D. (2016, July 14). Crunch the Numbers. Retrieved from

Hill, R. (2016, Feb). McGill Advisory Articles. Retrieved from McGill & Hill Group:

U.S. News Staff. (2016, January). Careers. Retrieved from U.S. News & World Report:


Read our blogs about HRO

Ten Steps You Can Take Right Away to Improve the Reliability of Your Dental Practice

High Reliability Concepts: Insights of Value to any organization.


Follow iDENTIfy Inc. on LinkedIn or on Twitter

Connect with Trude Henderson on LinkedIn

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  • I totally agree I have been in the Dental Field now for 37 years , and I find when any patient walks through the door of an dental office that is courage . We don’t take it personal but how many patients like to visit a dental office ?. I work in a private small office and it is important to me to make everyone feel comfortable when they come in, one thing I train myself in is to always remember their names and address them properly . I am the first person they meet, so if I am cold and silent there goes the red flag .

    • Hi Madeline. Thank you for your great comments. What a great example you are for your team members! It sounds like you are doing all the right things when it comes to a great customer experience. Please keep in touch and thank you for reading! Please read part2 posted today!

  • […] Please read Part 1 in this series, “Could Silence and Lack of Empathy be Killing your Dental Practice?” […]

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