The Winding Road to Great Customer Service

Our facilities are located just off of a major thoroughfare in our city Athens, Georgia. Turn right onto this highway and there is a large retail commercial zone a couple of miles up the road. For years I have had to go through this area. Every year from Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve, I would have to steel my nerves to get through the holiday traffic with its discourteous and aggressive drivers. What should have taken 7-8 minutes driving time any other month of the year, would suddenly take 30-40 minutes.

This year is different. Traffic is denser than usual to be sure, but it adds only 2 minutes to the trip, not 20 minutes. When I mentioned it to Lynette, my wife and business partner, she said that over the last couple of years, holiday traffic has significantly reduced (she is far more observant than I am). She casually said, “It’s due to poor customer service.” I looked at her in disbelief (she is the customer service expert in our operation, and I am not). I said, “So are people just so fed up with bad customer service, that they quit Christmas shopping?” “Oh, they are still shopping more than ever, but most of it is online.” Thinking about it, I conceded the point to her, after all, I do most of the purchasing for the business online, and this year we both have done 99% of our holiday shopping online.

“The lack of traffic is evidence that more and more people are shopping online,” she confirmed. “Well, it is just a lot more convenient and efficient to shop from my desk than it is to get out,” I said. She came back at me immediately, “That’s you, not me! I used love shopping with the girls and grandkids! It was a yearly ritual to take them to expensive specialty shops and the big department stores. The problem isn’t the high volume of traffic, the hunt for a close parking place or the crush of shoppers. All that was actually part of the fun. It’s just that in most stores now, no one is willing to help you. So, when I am ignored, unappreciated and avoided by the store clerks who are supposed to be there to attend to me, I get frustrated and angry.”

She was just getting warmed up, “They are only there to get a paycheck, not to serve the client. All they want from me is to pay and leave, they don’t care about whether I have had a good experience or not. In-store shopping has become basically a self-service event and as for me, I have opted for peaceful online shopping. If I need help, I can chat with the virtual attendant who is generally polite and well-informed. I have seen this same lack of customer service kill good dental practices, too,” Lynette adds. Over the last twelve years as a dental consultant, she has visited hundreds of offices and knows of what she speaks.

She is right: Customer service really is a huge factor in the dental industry, and yet many doctors cannot see that fact. If you have a practice that can’t seem to grow your new patient numbers, then you need to take a hard look at your staff’s level of customer. Be pro-active and open to change. But it is not too late for the dental profession because Amazon can’t sell braces and bridges (yet, that is.)

So what can a dentist take away from this observation? Take the customer experience you offer to your patients seriously. Have nice, comfortable facilities, but most importantly, hire the right people to work in your office. People who WANT to work in the service of others. Lynette calls it staff members with a servant’s heart. They will make new patients feel welcome and existing patients glad to be back in the office. In the end, all other things being equal, there will be one factor –How well you can make your patients feel served and cared for –  that will separate you from your competition.

John Ross