Here’s how dental staff conflict is costing you patients

Sept. 16, 2019
Are your team members driving away patients due to their disagreements? Ideally the dentist-boss needs to prevent conflict in the first place, but when it does occur, it needs to be taken care of.
Sally McKenzie, CEO of McKenzie Management

Dealing with staff conflict makes most dentists uncomfortable. Yes, they notice the tension and know something isn’t right, but they tell themselves their team members are adults and can work out their problems on their own. So instead of getting involved, dentists ignore what’s going on and hope it all gets resolved. It usually doesn’t.  

Unresolved staff conflict can do a lot of damage to a practice—including costing you patients. This leads to reduced productivity and revenues and does nothing to help with what’s likely already low team morale.

When you see conflict brewing in your practice, it’s important to sit down with the team members involved and work together to find a solution to the problem, no matter how much you’d rather avoid it. If you don’t, you’ll lose patients and money.

Still don’t think you need to become involved when conflict pops up? These three reasons patients will opt to find a new dental home when they sense tension in your practice just might change your mind:

Conflict makes them feel uncomfortable

If there’s tension among team members, your patients will notice, and they won’t care for it. They’ll feel the negativity in the air, which doesn’t do much to put them at ease as they wait to see the doctor. This is especially upsetting for patients who are already nervous about their appointments. They want to know the team is focused on them, not issues they have with each other.

Sometimes the negativity is more than just a feeling. Patients might actually hear team members complaining about each other. Not only does this create awkward situations, it doesn’t do anything to help patients feel more connected to your practice. It just makes them want to call the practice down the street when it’s time to make their next appointment.  

Patients want to be greeted by a friendly team that works well together, not one that’s dysfunctional. This negative environment could prompt even your most loyal patients to leave, which hurts your patient retention numbers and your bottom line.

Customer service is no longer a priority

When team members are y gossiping and complaining about each other, they’re not focusing on what matters most: the patients. This means customer service and patient experiences suffer.

Your team members should be trained to greet patients with a friendly smile and to do what they can to put patients at ease. Creating an exceptional patient experience and providing excellent care should be their top priority. That’s how you earn patient loyalty. But when conflict takes over, it becomes difficult to create that exceptional experience and develop connections with patients. Team members’ goal is to get through the day and out of the negative working environment.

When team members are unhappy, it shows in every patient interaction. They’re not as friendly or as helpful as they should be, and this leaves patients feeling like they’re not important to the practice.  When patients feel like they’re not important, they don’t return.

The quality of the care you provide suffers

Conflict leaves team members feeling distracted and unhappy with their roles. Instead of focusing on providing top-notch patient care, they’re counting down until it’s time to go home and thinking about looking for another job once they get there.

This isn’t how appointments should go. Team members should spend time educating patients about their conditions and that the services the practice provides will help them meet their oral health goals. They should make an effort to develop a rapport with patients and create those all-important connections that foster loyalty. When conflict is on their mind, this doesn’t happen, which is why it’s critical for you to address problems that come up right away.

You’ll never completely avoid conflict in your practice, no matter how much you might like to. As soon as you notice problems brewing, take the team members involved aside and work toward a solution. Don’t place blame. Instead, focus on using the conflict to create positive change in your practice. Remind everyone that you have the same goals, and that it’s important to work together to move the practice forward. The conflict will be resolved before it causes any real damage. Team members can get back to focusing on their jobs and providing exceptional customer service and patient care.

Need more guidance? No problem, I can help. If conflict is an issue in your practice, consider taking my conflict competency training. This assessment instrument deals with conflict behaviors in the workplace and can help you and your team members improve the way you respond to conflict. The course will give you the tools you need to properly handle conflict, which leads to happier team members and happier patients. 

Sally McKenzie is CEO of McKenzie Management, a full-service, nationwide dental practice management company. For over 30 years, Sally has immersed herself in techniques, systems, and methods to improve the performance of dental practices. She was a dental auxiliary, dental business administrator, and dental educator for several years prior to founding McKenzie Management in 1980. Contact her at (877) 777-6151 or [email protected].