If one believes what they read in a business magazine or when to listening to commercials, today’s companies are overflowing with stories of exemplary customer service. However, the real life experience is much less than exemplary. Let’s detail a single day. Your cable goes out and so you call the company, after you wade through the voice mail menu, the robo-voice tells you that most problems can be taken care of by unplugging your cable box and re-booting it. You, of course, knew this and had done it before you called, “you’re being transferred to a customer service representative, your wait time is approximately 30 minutes”. You have a question with a credit card payment, again you navigate the voice mail menu and after 20 minutes you are connected to a call center in another county whose customer service representative is happy to help you, but you have trouble understanding them, they don’t have the power to help you and you are cut off after 15 minutes of explaining your problem. You go to the mall to buy a sweater. Retail companies believe that the online shopping experience is hurting their sales so they have cut back on salespeople, and those that they keep are paid minimum wage. There is no one in the store to ask questions of and when you decide to purchase a product, you can’t find a cashier until you go to another department where the line is six people long. In the headlines currently, how about the Uber data breach, it happened a year ago and we’re just hearing about it now. Were they looking out for my well-being when they kept that information from me and paid the hackers $100,000 to destroy the data, (as if you can trust hackers to do what they promised)? How about the use of your data to make companies richer? “Big data”, we hear it all of the time, they try to tell us it is to “enrich our buying experience”, I see it as a way to exploit me and benefit the seller. I could go on forever and I’m sure that you could add your nightmare stories to the list. The bottom line is, customer service is talked about but doesn’t really exist in most of our day to day contacts with businesses. You have to fight to purchase and use a company’s product. This isn’t customer service, it is “use the customer and their data to make me rich”.
What is the ramification then for your dental practice? It’s that even a little bit of true empathy, caring and helpfulness will pay big rewards for your company. Dental students ask me all the time, “How can I succeed in my practice?” “Let me read a book on how to run a dental practice and then I can succeed”. I tell them to read Tom Peters, “In Search of Excellence”, or The Ritz Carlton’s “Gold Standards”. Those will give you a real introduction to customer service. People are longing for true customer service, and that includes, maybe even is entirely made up of, “real person”, contact and empathy with the customer. Remember the difference between empathy and sympathy, you feel sympathy “for“ someone, you empathize “with” someone and feel their distress.
Do you provide customer service? What do you do when a patient calls at 4 PM and they have broken a front tooth, do you stay or do you have them wait until tomorrow? If a new patient calls you and says that they are just in town visiting and they broke their temporary, do you see them or tell them to be sure and visit their dentist when they return home. Do you view a patient as a root planning and three crowns, or do you talk to them about what they want?
There is a new movement in medicine and dentistry called “person centered” care, not “patient centered”, which we have all heard of, but “person centered”. Sheri Fink in her review of Atul Gawande’s book, “Being Mortal”, paraphrases him when she says, a modern doctor “should be neither paternalistic or informative but rather interpretive, helping patients determine their priorities and achieve them” (Fink, 2014). This takes us one step further than patient centered care to person centered care. Using person centered care you not only give the patient the information that they need to make a rational decision, but you also talk to them and ask them how the possible treatment fits into their hopes, needs and wants. Are they interested mainly in aesthetics? Do they want to chew better? Do they want to have a pain free mouth? What are their long term goals? What else is going on in their life that might influence their decision? These are all things that one should consider when presenting treatment plans to patients. This is a person centered dental office.
To use the title of this piece, if there is a dearth of customer service, if people are thirsty for good customer service, or what we frequently refer to as patient centered care, then what would happen with an office that provides person centered care. I believe it would thrive.
Fink, S. (2014, Nov. 6, 2014). Atul Gawande’s ‘Being Mortal’. New York Times.