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Dialogue Bubble

Your dental team represents you. Do you know what they’re saying?

Oct. 20, 2021
What your dental team members say to patients absolutely matters, even if their intentions are good. Training them to understand proper verbiage is paramount to good patient relations.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of compilation articles written by team members of DIY Digital Dental Consulting. The topic of this latest article is: Do you know what your team is saying about you and your practice? Here’s their hands-on advice. Read the consultants' earlier articles: Can your practice pass a risk management assessment? Time to update your new-patient experience, and Do you know what your dental patients want? 

Caramel is not butterscotch 

What are your employees are saying to your patients? My latest negative experience seems innocuous, but it’s not. It shows the blatant indifference toward customers that is pervasive in many industries. Whenever I experience poor customer service my first thought is, if only the bosses knew how their employees represent them, they would cringe! 

I was ordering my guilty pleasure at an ice cream shop. This was on a Wednesday when there’s a special, buy one sundae and get one free. As a kid, my sister and I enjoyed butterscotch sundaes on Wednesdays. Reminiscing about this, I asked the employee, “Do you still have butterscotch sundaes?” He didn’t look up; he just pointed to the container marked caramel. I said, “Caramel is not butterscotch.” He said, “It’s the same thing,” and walked away.

We all want to provide memorable five-star experiences. Perhaps if we change the term “customer service” and use “human exchanges” we could ensure improved experiences. Human exchanges that make a difference can be memorable. Sometimes words are not necessary; simply a smile or an act of kindness is enough. 

Are your team members allowed to say anything they want to your patients, vendors, and the public? More importantly, how do they interact with each other? With respect and kindness? That’s the true test because how you all interact with each other is how you interact with patients and the public. Start listening to how your team speaks to each other, especially those in authority, and more importantly, become aware of how you talk to your team. 

If public representation is essential to you, and I hope it is, then you will carve out the time to lead and guide your team. Create the time to decide what are acceptable and not acceptable human exchanges. How people feel about you and your team before, during, and after their appointments is paramount. 

- Nancy Clark Crossin

 Verbiage is everything!

I was at a dental practice doing an evaluation when I observed the front office employee answering the phone. Let’s call her Sally. Meeting Sally for the first time, my impression was that she was a sweet, happy-go-lucky person. Here is one of several conversations that I observed: 

Sally: Good morning! Thank you for calling Smiles Dental. How can I help you?

Patient: Hi. This is Joe Smith and I have to cancel my appointment for today. I know I’ve rescheduled a few times, but to be honest, the tooth isn’t hurting me and I’ve decided to go to the beach. 

Sally: Hi Joe. Oh, no problem. I know it’s a gorgeous day! Heck, I’m jealous I’m not there right now. You have fun and call us back when you can and we’ll get that crown rescheduled. 

Cut to the doctor sitting in his office with nothing to do and watching his bank account balance dwindling. Using the verbiage “no problem” when your patient is cancelling is a problem. There are proper responses, as well as practice policies that need to be created and implemented. 

It’s vital to know how your team is representing you and your practice. In this situation, Sally has a casual attitude, which gives the impression that the doctor is totally fine with cancellations and that completing treatment is not important. So, make sure what your team is saying represents you correctly because after all, verbiage is everything. 

- Candice Martin

What is your team saying?

Team communication with patients can be one of the greatest pain points for a struggling office. Dentists often assume that every team member will reinforce the same message despite the fact they’ve done nothing to clarify what that message should be. 

Team members have different interactions with patients than the dentist does. These can produce wildly different and confusing interactions for patients. 

I recall coaching an office on a chilly day in November when this point was made apparent. I was able to observe how a team member responded when a patient asked if it was necessary to continue with her scheduled, biweekly hygiene appointments. The patient was a young, single mother who, due to financial hardship, had neglected her oral health for years. 

After struggling for years, her luck had finally changed, and she landed a decent job—one complete with dental benefits! (I work in Canada, and the US insurance system is quite different.) 

This young mother had been excited to have her first dental appointment in years in October, and she seemed OK with the recommendation that she needed four separate hygiene appointments scheduled two weeks apart to address the extent of her plaque buildup. 

Her first appointment in early November proceeded without incident. I was there the day she came in for her second appointment. Since her previous visit, she’d learned that her dental benefits would not provide coverage for that many hygiene appointments and she would have to pay out-of-pocket. 

With her new job, she had promised her kids a special Christmas. Paying for dental treatment in late November would leave her no money for Christmas presents. So, she asked if the remaining appointments could be put off until the new year. The admin team member was also a young single mother who had seen lean years at Christmas and could empathize with this patient. Thinking she was providing responsive customer service she told the patient it would be OK to reschedule her appointments. 

Later that afternoon, the patient called and said she was moving her dental care elsewhere. The inconsistent communication had led her to believe the dentist was interested only in making money and had prescribed a treatment plan that was otherwise unnecessary. Inconsistent communication had broken the trust she had in her dentist. 

The dentist was quite angry about the situation and the admin team member felt terrible. But the reality was the team member’s heart was in the right place. She had no intention of undermining the dentist’s diagnosis. I told the dentist that the problem was his team had not been trained in how to best reinforce his diagnoses. New team members were not properly on-boarded to understand the impact of their interactions with patients. Training and role playing were not parts of this practice’s system. 

If you want your team to deliver a consistent message, you must train them to do so. Only then can you feel confident that your team is saying what you want them to say.

- Shawn Peers

It’s just a word, right?

How can we expect patients to value our services if we don’t? Whether speaking to a patient on the phone or in person, you should never ask if they “just need a cleaning,” or “just need a filling.” I once heard an assistant describe a Velscope screening as “just a light the doctor uses to see cancer.” Wow! There are several things that concern me about that wording. Teams need training to make sure their words are correct, and the message is consistent, regardless of who says it.

Using the word “just” undermines the importance of a patient’s dental health and urgent need for treatment. If we want patients to value our services, we must not minimize the perception of the doctor’s expertise or the procedure time involved. Stressing the importance of the procedure will help reduce no-shows or last-minute cancellations and increase case acceptance. 

- Theresa Sheppard, RDA

DIY Digital Dental Consulting founder Nancy Clark Crossin and the DIY affiliates collaborate to offer "a consulting experience redesigned for today's dental world." With more than 200 years of combined experience, their joy is sharing wisdom, knowledge, and experience with dental professionals.