News |5 min read

Ways to Help Patients Feel Comfortable

Betsy Cord Portis, DAADOM with text, "Real-world insights from AADOM authors"

The past several months have put a strain on customer service.

Everywhere I go, I feel like I’m offending someone just by breathing.

It has been a long time since I felt welcome in any place of business, and I have even avoided patronizing some businesses because of that feeling.

Being that we work in a place most people try to avoid visiting, we have to make a special effort to make our patients feel welcome.

It’s time to “up” our game.

Customer service starts with phone skills

My mother taught classes on etiquette when I was a child, so I was educated in the proper way to welcome guests at a young age.

Growing up, I had to answer the phone, “Cord residence, Betsy speaking.”

Can you imagine hearing that from a child?!

It’s funny thinking back on it because I thought that was normal. I thought everyone answered the phone that way. That simple act had a tremendous effect on me as a person.

To this day, I still get compliments on my telephone etiquette.

The way you talk to people matters a great deal.

It can make a new patient feel comfortable with your office immediately, or it can put them off.

It can de-escalate an emotional or combative conversation, or it can fuel the fire.

You get to choose how the conversation goes.

Think of each patient as a friend you want to keep. Your phone skills don’t have to be impersonal to be professional. People always appreciate authenticity.

Answer every phone call with a smile, as though you are thrilled to hear from them.

When the patient introduces themselves, you can respond with, “Hi Bill! I’m so glad to hear from you! How is your morning going?”

This response tells patients that you remember them, which makes them more comfortable with you. In turn, this action results in:

  • More frequent visits
  • more referrals to your practice
  • A higher level of treatment acceptance

Reception services

The reception area is my favorite place in the office.

Waiting room? No way!

This is reception – the place you ‘receive’ your guests.

Front office team members should take special pride in making patients feel comfortable when they arrive.

If the room is styled with cozy, inviting seats like plush couches or massage chairs, patients will NEVER mind waiting when the schedule is running a little behind.

Always acknowledge a patient as soon as they walk in the door.

If you’re on the phone and unable to welcome them verbally, then a simple wave and smile are sufficient.

When you hang up the phone, you can be more thorough with your welcome. Stand up and move out from behind your desk, saying, “Hi Betty, I have been looking forward to seeing you today! How are you?”

The act of moving out from your desk to speak to them is one of the friendliest gestures you can make to your patients.

Some might argue that chatting with your patients is a waste of your time, but it makes a world of difference in their comfort level.

I’m not saying you should completely ignore your other duties but giving each person a moment of your time markedly improves their patient experience. Learn one thing about each patient and ask them about it at their next visit.

Every practice management system has a place to record notes like these bits of information. As a result, your patients will feel genuinely touched that you remembered what was going on in their life.

After your verbal welcome, offer them a drink. Having water, coffee, juice, or soft drinks available will make guests feel more relaxed in their environment. Evocative of their favorite coffee shop rather than their dental office.

A study by Lawrence E. Williams and John A. Bargh at Yale University suggests that holding a warm drink makes a person feel more generous and more at ease.

We should be handing out coffee and tea like it’s the cure for COVID-19!

If you really want to go over the top, have pre-packaged snacks or treats available for patients to grab on their way out.

During the colder winter months, set up a hot cocoa bar with all the fun and delicious amenities. People love this!

There are numerous economical ways to impress your patients in the reception area.

Finally, make sure your magazines are the newest issue. This simple detail signifies that you are modern, up-to-date, and reflects on your ability to keep up with the latest treatments and technology.

Nobody wants a dentist who is behind the times.

Clinical services

To implement some easy services into your clinical area, remember the study I mentioned earlier.

When people feel warm, they feel more comfortable.

Offer heating blankets, weighted blankets, or heated neck warmers during treatments, and warm face cloths for post-treatment clean-up.

This can be a little tricky when it comes to infection control, so make sure everything you offer is launderable or single-use.

Most importantly, don’t ever make your patients wait past their appointment time. Running on time is an absolute must in customer service.

When you respect your patient’s time, they’ll respect yours.

A little personal care goes a long way.

We’ve all been through so much sorrow and hardship since March 2020. It’s time to offer our patients more kindness and comfort during their visits with us.

The uncomplicated act of offering comfort to another person also gives us a personal boost of oxytocin, so everybody wins!

Start with one easy, inexpensive idea and build off that.

Soon your office will be an oasis of tranquility and warmth that you can be proud of.

Share your ideas for going the extra mile in our member forum, and we can help each other ascend!

Meet the Author

Betsy Cord in a black and white blazer and black top, presenting on reopening your practiceBetsy is the office administrator for Ryan F. Mueller, DMD in Downtown Portland, Oregon. She single-handedly runs the front office of Dr. Mueller’s busy private practice, analogous to an octopus, with a hand in all areas of patient care and practice management.

Betsy also presides over the local PPortland Metro AADOM Chapter… This text opens a new tab to the Portland AADOM website….

In 2018, she was named AADOM’s Practice Administrator of the Year, and in 2021, she was inducted into AADOM’s first class of Diplomates.



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