Reprinted with permission from Sally McKenzie and McKenzie Management.
Strolling through the shoe department at Nordstrom recently, I struck up a conversation with one of the associates. There were several of them working in the department that day, each more eager than the last to assist me — proudly demonstrating Nordstrom’s legendary customer service.
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“Russ,” who I would say is in his mid-to-late-forties, was telling me about the latest spring styles. As we were making small talk, Russ asked me if I was visiting the area. I explained that I was in town for a dental meeting. That was all Russ needed. His face lit up like a five-year-old on Christmas morning. In an instant he went from shoe department sales clerk to dental evangelist and proceeded to tell me about his “great” dentist. Grinning from ear to ear, his perfect smile gleamed. He pointed to his top teeth and then the bottom. “See these?” he said. “I love my smile. I waited years to get this done. I invested thousands of dollars and I’m so happy I finally did it. I have eight veneers on top and another eight on the bottom. I could have bought a car, but I wanted to do this.”
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I couldn’t help but wonder how many dentists would have never considered recommending elective treatment to this department store shoe salesman. Of course, being in the dental field you hear about these stories, but when the patient is sharing his personal experience and genuine appreciation for what dentistry has done for him it is nothing short of powerful.
How many dentists would have had the courage to recommend veneers to the shoe salesman? After all, if you are going to put yourself out there and propose a $15,000-$20,000 treatment plan, you want to present it to someone you assume can afford to pay for it, right? Evidently, Russ’ dentist didn’t let this patient’s seemingly modest professional status get in his way. Perhaps he introduced Russ to the possibilities with a more conservative recommendation of veneers on the top four anterior teeth. Or maybe Russ walked in and told the doctor exactly what he wanted, and he was prepared to pay whatever was necessary to get it. One thing is certain; the dentist listened to this patient. As a result, Russ happily shares his positive experience with total strangers.
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The takeaway here is obvious. Give patients what they want, and start giving them what they want well before they are in the chair. Let me explain. You simply never know when a patient like Russ is calling your practice to schedule a new patient appointment. However, too many practices have specific procedures for “managing” new patients. They call these protocols. I call these obstacles. Rather than paying attention to what the patient is asking and making every effort to accommodate the patient’s request, practice staff insist on “educating” the patient about payment policies, insurance policies, cancellation policies, doctor’s policies. For example, a new patient calls because they want to come in for a prophy, but the staff has to educate them about how the doctor wants things done. “Before we can schedule you for a cleaning, the doctor’s policy is to do a comprehensive dental exam and take X-rays first.” This shortsighted, overly controlling approach makes it clear to prospective patients that their desires come second to the practice policies.
Instead, stop and really listen to what patients want. When a prospective patient calls and asks for a cleaning, he or she should be scheduled for that procedure within one week. If the patient has a clinical concern, schedule him or her to see the doctor as soon as possible. Give them a fantastic introduction to the practice first and save the "practice policies education" for another time. For many of you, this is common sense standard operating procedure. For others, however, it’s a stretch.
When a new patient comes to your practice, treat them like a rock star. This is the beginning of what both of you hope will be a long and happy relationship. You simply never know when the department store shoe salesman is going to show up and request a multi-thousand-dollar treatment plan.