Survey says dental patients are dissatisfied: Solving the patient experience problem

A recent survey reveals that dental patients are not very satisfied with their experiences at their dentist's office. Yet dentists don't believe that "customer experience" is important in dentistry. It's time they change their thinking.

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A recent survey reveals that dental patients are not very satisfied with their experiences at their dentist's office. Yet dentists don't believe that "customer experience" is important in dentistry. It's time they change their thinking.

This article originally appeared in the Principles of Practice Management e-newsletter. Subscribe to this informative twice monthly practice management ENL here.

Dentists have a new challenge on their hands. According to a recent study, the majority of dental patients would not recommend doing business with their current dental provider. In an increasingly consumer-driven marketplace, this is problematic for both providers and payers.

The study, which surveyed more than 2,000 dental patients, aimed to assign a Net Promoter Score (NPS) to the dental sector. This widely-used metric assesses loyalty by asking customers how they would rate a business on a scale of 0 to 10. Those results are then calculated into a composite score between -100 and 100.

The study found that overall, the typical dental provider earned an NPS of 1. To put this into perspective, other industry NPS averages are 36 for insurance, 39 for financial services, and 46 for retail. The message from these results? The dental sector is lagging other industries when it comes to focusing on customer experience.

Providers may argue that customer experience isn’t as important in dentistry as it is in other industries, but they should consider how the sector is changing. As with many other verticals, dentistry is being increasingly defined by a consumer-driven model where patients shop around for providers based on public customer review sites, modern amenities, flexibility, and communication methods. In this way, dentistry is beginning to look a lot like retail. This is why dentists should turn to retail for lessons learned and best practices in customer experience success.

As consumerism continues to gain traction in health care, dental providers and payers should view customer experience as a key differentiating factor. By following these three strategic recommendations, they can deliver a higher quality of service that will pay dividends in both patient retention and new business.

1. Reevaluate your objectives–Many dental providers are understandably focused on growth-oriented goals such as adding new locations. But it’s important to factor customer needs into any growth plan. Embedding dentists in schools and workplaces or building out mobile app offerings for a more streamlined experience might better fulfill customers’ needs than growth-focused initiatives. On this point, the consensus is clear. According to a separate West Monroe survey, nine out of 10 health-care consumers whose providers offer an app say they regularly use it for communication.

2. Listen to your customers—Most providers could do a lot more to actively engage with their customers. The survey showed that dental customers want their voices heard, and they will gravitate toward providers that offer the opportunity. Fortunately, this isn’t difficult to achieve; it can be as simple as providing patients with a survey after their appointment asking them about their experience. Even this simple step can offer providers a wealth of actionable feedback to create a better experience.

3. Tap into the broader ecosystem—Patients’ experiences with dentistry encompasses more than a trip to their dentist; they also include their interactions with payers, oral care products, and even other providers in orthodontics and oral surgery. By forging better partnerships in the dental ecosystem, providers can optimally equip themselves to provide a better patient experience.

The bottom line is that customer loyalty matters. Just as we see retailers with high NPS scores earning the best and most consistent business, we will start to see a similar trend in dentistry. Give your patients reason to appreciate your services and they’ll serve as your promoters.


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Kristin Irving is a senior director with the business and technology consulting firm West Monroe Partners. She has more than 17 years of management consulting experience developing technology-enabled business solutions, with particular specialization in the dental industry. Her primary focus is on expanding dental payer strategy and solutions for the firm’s health care and life sciences practice.

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