Customer Service Blues: Some Days Are Better Than Others!

Real World Insights from AADOM Authors - Kelly Lynch

Some mornings you wake up, put your feet on the floor and welcome the prospect of a new day.

Some mornings you wake up and think, “dear Lord, just let me sleep.”

You hit the snooze button, throw the covers over your head, roll over, and say a little prayer for strength to tackle the day ahead!

The reality is we’ve all had mornings like this.

As a dental office manager who’s been in the industry for over 30 years, I truly love that I was given the opportunity to lead teams and help doctors realize their dreams.

I dreamed of creating amazing practices where patients were cared for at the highest levels of clinical care and customer service. I worked in offices that baked bread and cookies for their patients every day. The aroma as you walked into the office was enchanting. Handshakes, hugs, laughter, goodie bags, massage chairs, beverage bars, and many other amenities were the norm in our journey to provide exceptional customer service for our patients. “I can help you” was the standard greeting from everyone in the office.

And then, customer service disappeared!

Rewind to January of 2020. A virus was taking over the world, killing millions and isolating millions more. COVID threw the hammer down on customer service. People did all they could do to keep their families safe. Businesses that had no idea how to pivot to the new reality fizzled out. COVID was making its move.

My gut became twisted, headaches began, and my body started rebelling from the stress.

In addition to being an office manager, I am also a dental speaker. My last speaking presentation was for Chicago Mid-Winter. After that, my remaining 2020 and 2021 speaking gigs were all canceled or moved to virtual zoom platforms.

My doctor was in a panic, wondering if she would have to close her practice for good. My team was scared! Scared to return to work and take the virus home to their families. My family, although all living within 5 miles of each other, were isolated from each other. The world was in lockdown and it was every person for themselves.

Random fun fact: I am a fan of The Walking Dead series. How ironic that the store shelves were becoming bare, medicines were hard to get, and basic needs like toilet paper were impossible to find. I imagine this was what it was like for the survivors of the “fall” of the world.

Fast forward to 2023 where we and the world are recovering from the past two years. 2022 brought some semblance of normalcy, and the world began reopening. Travel has normalized, employers realize remote workers are happy working from home, and store shelves are filling up. Concerts, theaters, schools, and businesses are rebounding.

But there is one missing piece, customer service.

What Are the Main Causes of Poor Customer Service?

#1. Your employees

Are they right for your practice? Are they trained well? Is their clarity in their expectations and boundaries? Do they feel appreciated and heard? Are they overworked and burning out?

The quality of customer service provided by your practice depends on the team that is hired for the job. Having the right employees will make delivering quality customer service easy. Apart from qualification, relevant experience, and skills, each team member should share similar core values as the owner doctor. Your employees should have an attitude of gratitude, a team player mindset, and a genuine willingness to want to help people.

#2. Unclear expectations

Clarity and setting expectations are vital in creating positive customer service.

In today’s digitally connected, tech-savvy business world, highly demanding consumers want immediate results, efficient systems, and clarity across all touchpoints. Misunderstanding patient expectations and failing to meet them will inevitably cause poor customer service experiences. This leads to unhappy patients spreading negative word-of-mouth comments to their friends and family.

What percentage of unhappy customers don’t complain?

96% of unhappy customers don’t complain, however 91% of those will simply leave and never come back. A dissatisfied customer will tell between 9-15 people about their experience. Around 13% of dissatisfied customers tell more than 20 people. (White House Office of Consumer Affairs.)

According to Forbes…Click to read more in a new window…, 96% of customers will leave a business due to poor customer service.

#3. Not presenting treatment and financial expectations in writing

If a patient is unclear at any point in the treatment conversation, this will be a negative hit for your practice. Imagine a patient hears you say the word “filling” when you are discussing “filling an area” with an implant or bridge. We know there is a huge difference, yet the patient only heard “filling.”

Social media has become an inseparable part of most people’s lives; dental practices cannot afford to ignore unhappy patients. These patients can easily destroy the practice image by sharing negative comments that usually snowball very quickly.

What Is the Best Way to Handle an Unhappy Patient?

Before jumping straight to offering solutions, show some empathy. Let a patient know he/she is heard and understood. A great deal of care from the team is often needed to de-escalate the situation and make the patient feel better. After that, thank the patient for sharing the feedback with you. Ask follow-up questions to ensure a complete understanding of the issue and the real reason behind the patient’s frustration.

Acknowledge the problem and take responsibility. Transparency and ownership of the situation will go a long way in mending the misunderstanding between your practice and the patient’s perception. Not every problem can be solved immediately. It is perfectly fine to ask the patient for permission to research the concern before offering a solution. Let them know you hear them and will work to a mutually agreeable resolution. This will go a very long way in mending the relationship.

Unfortunately, not all problems will be resolved to satisfy the patient’s expectations. Treatment costs, your practice hours, being unable to provide the service the patient is looking for, and being out of network with their insurance plan, are just a few reasons patients leave a practice.

In these situations, if you genuinely enjoy having this patient as part of your dental family, let them know you respect their decision. Let them know that your doors are always open should they change their mind and want to return.

Establishing a standard of high-quality care, providing genuine customer service, and actively listening to your patients is the secret sauce that will have your patients singing your praises.

Add in some amazing amenities that contribute to patient comfort, surround yourself with a highly committed and trained team, and strive for exceptional clinical outcomes. Your practice will be the talk of the town.

About the Author

Headshot of Kelly Lynch

Kelly Lynch, MAADOM retired from dental office management in 2022 and is currently working as a team development coach with Productive Dentist Academy. She travels the nation, helping turn dental team members into highly productive, cohesive, and successful teams by implementing systems and introducing team-building activities.

Kelly is a Lifetime member of AADOM and received her MAADOM designation in 2021. She is a member of the Speaking Consulting Network and DSI and loves speaking to audiences and helping them ignite their passion for the greatest profession ever, Dental Practice Management.

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