By Larry Wintersteen, BA, MA, CMT
Published: Dental Economics
For some people it is easy to look in the mirror each day. They are comfortable with what they see and how those images affect their feelings. They know that the mirror reflects strengths as well as imperfections. They also know that the mirror can distort, cloud, or enhance the perceptions they may already have in their mind’s eye. Yet, they also know if they look into the mirror with another person, they can possibly discover new images—positive and negative.
“O was some power the giftie gie us to see oursels as ithers see us!”
– Robbie Burns
When we get too comfortable, we are traditionally not teachable or flexible— which is unwise in a changing competitive world. Periodically, look at yourself in a mirror; review your practice, your team, your life and your effect on others. You cannot be all things to all people, nor can you please all people. But, you can do some perception checking to identify positive and negative trends. Of course be certain to dwell on the Positive.
Dentistry is first a behavioral art and second a clinical science. People may not always appreciate your dental skills, but they do respond to your behavioral/people skills.
Ask yourself these questions as you strive for excellence in your dental practice:
What is it like to be a patient in your practice?
How do your decisions affect your patients?
What Patients See
There are three ways in which to determine what patients think about your practice: (1) on the spot conversation, (2) written questionnaire, or (3) third-party observations/survey (for example, a telephone survey).
Since 1974, I have interviewed thousands of patients and have found a constant reference to their expectations and public relations needs. When asked to prioritize, in order, the patient relation skills important to them, 19,620 patients responded as follows:
▸ Office personnel make the difference.
▸ Money is more on their mind than service.
▸ If the nurses are going to do so much – they should not charge so much.
▸ Be on time – our time is valuable also.
▸ Explaining things before doing things would be preferred.
▸ When staffs are unhappy – they need to cover it up.
▸ I hate finding out the price after the work is done.
▸ Pay attention to me at the front desk – not the phone.
In addition to interviewing patients within a practice, I have done some random street tracting. I simply put on my casual clothes and hit the streets. I ask random people to tell me the first word that comes to their mind when I say “dentist.” The results are informative. For example, in Chicago, Seattle, Hollywood and Atlanta – I spoke with a collective total of 342 people. I grouped and identified the top ten words that came to their minds, according to the frequency of response:
▸ Ouch or Yuk (or other guttural sounds)
▸ Specific name of their dentist
▸ Teeth, drill and water
▸ Needles & Shots
I don’t always know why people respond the way they do, but their responses give us insights into attitudes and perceptions of the profession. Review the list with your team. Explore how these perceptions can be used to your advantage or in educating the consumer that enters your office.
Listen to your staff
As you continue to look into the mirror of your practice, do not forget to include your staff’s perceptions. Your team players can make a difference in your success and in your perception of the profession. Your team looks to you for leadership, example, and motivation. Each member becomes an extension of the other members. Together you send messages to your patients.
A few years ago I asked 3,270 staff members from practices throughout the United States to complete a written questionnaire. One of the questions I asked was “If you could improve one thing in this practice, what would it be?”
These are the top 10 staff responses: (in order)
- “Our team is too territorial – we need to help each other more.”
- “It would be nice to hear something more positive and encouraging from the Dr.”
- “Dr. takes for ever to make a decision.”
- “Dr. always pleads poverty and yet they are always spending money.”
- “Drs talking so much cause us to get behind schedule – constantly.”
- “Dr is wishy washy – afraid to tell staff and patients what they need.”
- “Getting a raise without having to ask for it would be nice.”
- “Drs expect you to be on time and be dependable but, they do not always show a good example.”
- “Just tell us what you expect and don’t accept fooling or sub-standard performance.”
- “Drs doing things other than what is on the schedule is really a hardship on the staff and the patient.”
Ask your staff the same question. Find out ONE thing they would like to see improved if possible.
Because you work with the public, you are constantly being judged. Therefore, practice some preventive measures by listening to your patients, listening to your staff, and being honest with yourself.
Consider the following suggestions for practice improvement:
▸ Consider your patients in all decisions.
▸ Identify your practice goals and standards with yourself and your staff.
▸ Create safe communication opportunities with your team.
▸ Sharpen your verbal and non-verbal communication skills.
▸ Stamp out indifference in your practice. Don’t be just another dental office.
▸ Educate, motivate, and communicate.
▸ Send messages of professionalism, courtesy, cleanliness, and excitement toward your profession.
▸ Keep a balance between your task skills, your clinical skills and your people skills.
▸ Balance quality time with your practice and with your personal stewardship.
▸ Never forget that positive messages are more lasting and motivational than criticism without hope.
As you look into the mirror, be a possibility thinker. Stretch into excellence. Feel good about letting your face show to all those you serve and love.
Also, as you look into the mirror, look beyond the exterior. Take the time to get acquainted with yourself. Be comfortable with the part of you that brings forth caring and service. Touch lives in a positive manner and end each day with peace.
Get to know “ME” – and enjoy success.
Only half of me is what I am,
The rest is what I ought to be.
These halves, they fight and twist inside.
And waste a lot of energy.
The world cried out its need for me,
But I can’t help,
Till these two halves in me agree.
It’s Never Too Late.