The New Patient:The most fragile relatioinship

Did you know that of all your patient relationships, the most fragile is the new patient relationship? The old adage, “You only get one chance to make a good first impression” may be worn, but it’s true.

Sep 1st, 2005

Dianne Glasscoe

Did you know that of all your patient relationships, the most fragile is the new patient relationship? The old adage, “You only get one chance to make a good first impression” may be worn, but it’s true.

What are you doing in your practice to make people want to come back? Are you or your staff members doing anything to guarantee that new patients will come back to your practice?

Since I moved, I’ve had a terrible time finding a new nail salon. I visited my fifth one today, and I won’t go back. Here are my complaints:

Salon One - The nail technician ignored me. Yes, she did my nails, but she didn’t speak more than five words to me. However, she did carry on a conversation with her co-worker in a foreign language.

Salon Two - There were images of idol gods scattered throughout the salon with little bowls of food placed in front of them. Gave me the creeps!

Salon Three - The nail technician hurt me by roughly handling my hands and nails.

Salon Four - The place looked dirty. There was nail dust on the edge of the table, and I didn’t see a sterilizer anywhere. Also, the technician blew her nose and did not wash her hands before returning to work on my nails.

Salon Five - After removing my nail polish, the technician informed me that I needed a complete redo of my nails, not just the fill-in I usually get. Keep in mind that I have been getting my acrylic nails done every two weeks for the last six years, and I’ve never been told this. When I asked why, she said there were air pockets under the acrylic. Then she took her little pliers and nearly ripped off my pinkie nail in an attempt to remove the existing acrylic. I told her if she couldn’t do a fill, I’d go somewhere else. She shrugged and finished the fill.

Customer service is still important

The quality of the dentistry you do is important. Your best marketing tool is referrals from satisfied patients. If you produce low-quality dentistry, your practice will suffer from the inability to retain patients. Further, I’ve never met a dentist who believes he or she produces poor dentistry.

However, to most patients, a dentist is a dentist. Your license is proof that you satisfied a long and arduous course of study that now qualifies you to take care of people’s dental needs. Most patients do not consider that some doctors may be more skilled than others by virtue of their natural abilities or continuing education.

So why do patients come to you? Because of your superior ability? You may be surprised to learn that there are factors that influence patients that rank higher than technical ability.

Lessons learned from nail salons

In my nail salon examples, I listed five scenarios that turned me off. What are the analogies we can draw from these? In other words, what are some things that can turn off your patients about your practice?

Indignant or uncaring attitude. You need to set the tone for how you want your patients to be treated, and you need congenial staff members who act genuinely happy to see patients. Every time you enter an operatory with a patient seated in the chair, your greeting should express gratitude, warmth, and friendliness. If you have trouble expressing your gratitude, remember that this person has come to give you money. In fact, if you retain a patient for a lifetime, he or she will give you thousands of dollars. Also, never carry on a conversation over your patient with your assistant that does not involve the patient. Your patient will feel the same as I did in Salon One - uncomfortable and ignored.

Uncomfortable or offensive atmosphere. Make sure your office is tastefully decorated with up-to-date furnishings and flooring. Change the art on the walls every two years. Make sure artificial plants are not dusty. Do not allow dirty windows or blinds, peeling wallpaper, or cobwebs. Keep nonoffensive reading material, and play music that will soothe and calm patients who are nervously waiting their turn. The patient restroom is of prime importance! Someone needs to check it frequently for cleanliness, ample towels and soap, and empty trashcans.

Causing pain on the first visit. Don’t ever hurt a patient on the first visit! If you do, apologize immediately. The reason many people don’t seek dental care is because they expect to get hurt. If you fulfill that expectation on the first visit, chances are very good the patient will not come back. My good friend and colleague, Linda Miles, advises dentists to refrain from hurting people physically, emotionally, and financially. Physical pain is easy to understand. Emotional pain comes when a patient is made to feel stupid. Financial pain comes when you surprise a patient with an unexpected fee.

Office is unkempt, unclean, or cluttered. Keep every part of the office clean and free of clutter. Many offices look dirty because they are cluttered. Keep walls free of clutter by not taping notices or kids’ drawings on them. Keep operatory countertops free of supplies. Sit in your own operatory chair and look at the treatment room from a patient’s perspective. You will probably see things that need to be changed.

Mistrust. One of the best ways to scare off a new patient is to hit him or her with a big treatment plan on the first visit. Before patients will submit to extensive dentistry, they must trust you. It might take a few visits to build that trust. If a new patient needs extensive dentistry, schedule a separate appointment to talk over the details.

Day after day, you are building a reputation in your community. If your patients feel welcome, the chances are good that you will build and maintain a thriving practice. However, if your customer service is substandard, like the many nail salons I visited, you will have a difficult time attracting and keeping patients, no matter how excellent your dentistry is.

The first impression is a lasting impression, and you get only one chance to do it right. First, make sure you hire good people who are warm and caring. Teach your staff members how to deliver excellent customer service. And most importantly, make sure you walk the walk and talk the talk!

Dianne Glasscoe

Ms. Glasscoe is a speaker, consultant, and writer for the dental industry with more than 30 years’ experience. She is CEO of Professional Dental Management, Inc., in Frederick, Md. Reach her at (301) 874-5240,, or visit www.professional

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