Are we really living in a service economy?

June 4, 2012
Kevin Henry, Cofounder,

I’ve heard that we are now living in a service economy ... so where exactly is the service? We can all entertain each other at dental meetings with horror stories of airline travel and missing hotel and rental car reservations, and those eye-rolling stories aren’t just limited to the travel and hospitality industries. Most of us have similar not-so-great experiences with banks, cable television, Internet providers, hospitals, and the department of motor vehicles. And let’s face it … fast food is a misnomer (except for In-n-Out, of course, but you already knew that). I think we can all look at our personal and professional lives and find several examples where the service industry simply lacked service.

So what about our industry? Dental products manufactured here in the United States are some of the best in the world. If you’ve been to a meeting overseas, you’ve seen that there is a healthy appetite for American dental products around the world because of the quality, technical innovations, high manufacturing standards, reliability, and cost. Distributor partners work hard to deliver quality products and equipment to practitioners in a timely and efficient manner. It’s a great system … but it can get better.

One area where our industry is falling down on service is at dental meetings and trade shows. Each year in the U.S. there are approximately 160 dental meetings. Most of these dental meetings have some type of trade show component. When I am walking the show floor, I often see exhibitors still writing orders in a fashion similar to Sam the butcher from the Brady Bunch. At the end of each day, exhibitors who sell through distribution channels tally up the orders and dispatch the orders to the home office so they can be routed to the appropriate distributor for processing and customer delivery.

As managing editor for Dental Economics (one of the other hats I wear here at PennWell), I’ve heard stories of orders unfulfilled weeks after a dental meeting. When the shipment finally arrives, it is returned because the office manager made a purchase at the dental office when supplies ran low. I also hear about four and five UPS packages arriving at the same time, filling orders placed at multiple booths at the exhibition. Meanwhile, supermarkets are scanning and tracking every purchase and delivery at the store on a daily basis – seven days a week. Our manufacturers and distributors can take weeks to tally up and process orders from one dental show. Thank goodness we’re not selling bananas or ground beef.

In other industries, there are current and reliable technologies that enable exhibitors to track and process sales orders in real time. For distributors, this technology allows them to expedite and bundle orders for efficiencies and eliminate overnight delivery costs. It would also seem to virtually eliminate losing orders placed at an exhibition. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is currently used in many other industries and I’ve heard good things about it from our sister divisions at PennWell. On the surface, the cost doesn’t seem to be a deal-breaker in other industries, and just imagine the data we could all share if we knew how many dentists were actually visiting the exhibit hall and for what periods of time. These new show metrics would help companies determine the number of booth personnel needed and for which days of the exhibition. Picture touch screens on the iPad with all products and quantities. In a flash, a sales rep can capture the customer’s name, address, and sales information. At the same instant, that sale has been recorded and sent along to the home office for final processing.

As we attempt to keep improving as an industry, I hope we will all stop and consider the tools and technologies now readily available. As an industry, we can be doing more to step up our customer service. This is a good place to start … and it’s a good place for all of us to start working together to make it happen.

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About the Author

Kevin Henry | Cofounder,

With more than 20 years in the dental publishing industry, Kevin Henry is the former group editorial director for Dental Products Report and managing editor for Dental Economics. Currently, he is the editor-in-chief for He has spoken to dental assistants throughout the world, in person and through the Dental Assistant Nation podcast series, reminding them of the important role they play every day in their practice. He is also certified as a DiSC trainer, helping dental practices learn how to understand each other better through personality assessments and training.