Top 5 professional habits you should commit to in 2014

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With every new year, comes an overwhelming amount of commentary on new year resolutions and goals. A lot of them are common sense no brainers mixed with an equal amount of recommendations we know are unattainable. Reflecting upon 2013, I would like to shift the conversation to some things I believe have become overlooked.

I have discovered that many people have forgotten the basics. It annoys me when the professionals I work with don’t afford me these common courtesies. If you want to gain respect from your colleagues, patients, customers and employees and you want them to offer you the same respect in return, it is absolutely essential that you follow these very basic rules of business etiquette in 2014.

Here are my TOP 5 No-Brainers every business professional should commit to in the new year:

Number 5: Don’t interrupt.
Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule and if you made it through high school, you can surely figure out what those are. I’m talking about people who cut you off in mid-sentence because they believe what they have to say is more important than what you are expressing. It indicates they are not listening. It comes off as rude, disrespectful and confrontational. If you are guilty of this, listen more, talk less. If someone else violates this rule, let them know you weren’t finished with your thought.

Number 4: Do what you say and say what you do.
If you tell someone you are going to do something, don’t just talk about it. Do it! If you aren’t sure you will follow through, don’t commit to it. How many times have you been disappointed by someone who has said they were going to do something then dropped the ball? And it adds additional insult when they don’t give you the courtesy of letting you know, which leads me to 4a:

4a) If you commit to something then discover it was unrealistic or you can’t follow through, own it.   It’s as simple as saying you’ve discovered you’ve bitten off more than you can chew or your time commitments have gotten the best of you. You will continue to earn respect from your peers, co-workers, and employees when you are honest with them about your shortcomings.

Number 3: If you change your mind, say so.
Everyone has that right. But changing your mind and not telling us is not OK. People will have different expectations and you will inevitably disappoint them – possibly make them angry – if you don’t tell them your thinking has changed. We will continue to think you have your original mindset unless you tell us otherwise.

Number 2: If you are in a meeting or conversation, DO NOT LOOK AT YOUR CELL PHONE!
We’ve all been on the receiving side of someone who shifts their attention from us to their “next-best friend”. Why would anyone think this is appropriate? This is rude and disrespectful. Period. But it is occurring at epic proportions these days. Just because others engage in this behavior doesn’t mean it’s OK. It says they could care less about what’s happening outside the edges of their smartphone screen – so why should we? Business owners and CEOs can often be the biggest violators of this. Regardless of how important someone is, your time is equally important. If someone does this to you, stop talking until they look up and tell them you’d be happy to continue when they aren’t pre-occupied. Let’s shut this behavior down in 2014.

Number 1: Reply to emails. And do it in a timely manner.
Just like the sign in the public bathroom stall that says; “please flush after use”, this is so basic that I shouldn’t have to mention it. That being said, a large percentage of the emails I send out go unanswered. If email isn’t your thing, tell people up front or simply don’t give out your email address. Otherwise, people expect an acknowledgement or reply – THAT’S WHY WE SEND EMAILS! If you don’t reply, it’s the same as saying you don’t care or the sender isn’t worth your time. Your lack of response indicates your lack of interest which erodes your credibility, regardless of your position or role in any business.

Are you starting to see a pattern here? Every one of these has to do with professional courtesy and respect. And if we want people to respect us and behave in a certain way, we have to commit to that behavior ourselves. That is the hallmark of a leader. And yes, these are basic. That’s where we have to begin to build a solid foundation of professionalism, gain respect from others and to further develop our effective communication skills.

Do you have something you would like to add to this list? Let’s start a dialog and spread the word in 2014.

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Help! My Staff is Holding Me Hostage!

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Help! My Staff is Holding Me Hostage!

The voicemail message sounded desperate. Call me back as soon as you can. I need your help right away!”

What caused such distress? What made the situation so urgent?  As it turned out, the dentist was having difficulty keeping a chairside assistant and was faced with hiring for the third time in less than one year. His receptionist had left but he wasn’t happy with the performance of her replacement. Each day brought another drama with the hygienist whose personal life was in total disarray. The practice was totally unstable and he feared losing another employee every day. What would his patients think when every time they came in there were different staff members?

After a short discussion, it was quickly clear his staff was calling the shots:

“My hygienist didn’t show up for our meeting yesterday and didn’t even offer an explanation.  We are constantly bailing her out of personal situations. I know it’s hard for her – she’s a single mother and doing the best she can. Then, my chairside assistant refuses to do things that are part of her job. I end up having to pick up the slack at the end of the day before I leave. I overheard them complaining in the lab today about a continuing ed program I was paying for them to go to on their day off. They joked that  they would just sit in the back and text on their phones. I’m afraid to lose them because our patients seem to love them and I’d have to spend time breaking in new staff but I don’t know how much longer I can go on. I feel like a doormat”.

While this scenario may vary from one specific practice to another, the problem is basically the same in many: dentists who neither know nor enforce their boundaries and expectations because they are afraid they may lose staff. Indeed, their staff is holding them hostage. How does it get to this point?

Let’s examine the factors that contribute to this phenomenon:

1) The dentist’s personal relationship with staff makes it awkward to set and maintain standards and/or fire a low-performing employee

While we all have busy, challenging lives that can effect our professional lives, these issues should never dictate office policy. This is an area in which many dentists confuse their personal relationship with their work relationship. It stands to reason that because you work together closely all week, you might easily develop a strong bond with one another. You may find yourself identifying with your staffs’ personal problems, like managing a home and family and trying to make ends meet. Express your empathy, of course, when appropriate, but as an employer you must establish clear boundaries. Do not advance paychecks, pay rent, loan cars, or pick up kids. Do not make concessions for days off outside a very rare and unavoidable situation. By doing this you will set a very dangerous precedent. Other employees will consider it favoritism and they will expect you to afford them the same concessions.

If you have already “let that horse out of the barn”, you can reverse this trend.  Gather your group together and apologize. Explain that you care about each person on the staff and this has clouded your judgment.  It has created a problem for you and others. You must now establish a new set of boundaries that are in the best interest of the practice and your patients. Then you must outline where you went wrong and what you are no longer willing to sponsor. They may not like it but they will understand.

If you believe your personal relationship with an employee has gone so far that the two of you can no longer be effective working together, give us a call. We can help you sort out what the appropriate next step should be.

2) Even if it’s written down in the manual, not every employee will know what’s expected and will follow through.

Your employee manual means nothing without two things.  First, your staff needs to understand the bigger picture.  It is your job to clearly convey to each person what your practice is there to accomplish and how their efforts are expected to help make that happen. The big picture is crucial. More than the step-by-step guide that a manual provides, your explanation of the practices’ purpose, as well as your beliefs and tangible examples of how this purpose is played out on a daily basis is vital. It will give them a guidepost to follow in their day-to-day challenge of making decisions about what is in the best interest of the practice and the patients.

Second, every employee must be on board with your purpose. Each must be in alignment with your belief system and share the same basic values. And you must have their agreement about their role and responsibility. This can best be accomplished as a group discussion where each staff person has an opportunity to ask questions and gain perspective. Time consuming? You bet. But without this clarity your staff will be working without a clear direction which often works at cross-purposes with the practice goals and will cause a great deal of frustration for everyone.

3) Hiring and training the right way often takes a back seat to retaining under-performing staff.

A good way to think about your problem employees is the bad girlfriend or boyfriend you may have had. You knew long before you broke it off that things weren’t working out but you avoided it hoping things would get better. They rarely do. Then, when you finally got up the nerve to end it, you thought to yourself, “I should have done this a long time ago”.

Your under-performing staff are robbing the practice. Pure and simple.  You simply can’t afford to work with people who are inefficient, ineffective, and cost your practice time, money and resources. The focus and energy these employees sap from your patients and practice deprive you of much more. You can not be as effective in your job when you are worrying about staff doing their job. It stands to reason that the under-achievers aren’t dedicated to your practice purpose and patients are not receiving the same care and attention you strive to provide.

While hiring and training (and doing it right once) requires time and energy, doing it over an over again takes you away from focusing on dentistry. And it’s not a lot of fun. Cutting your losses and embarking on the hiring process can be an opportunity to make a course correction. If you approach this process correctly, you will avoid having to carry dead weight on your team. You will have a solid and stable group of individuals for a longer time. Approaching the hiring process correctly is essential.

You can bring your new hires on with a strategy for success that includes a thoughtful training plan designed to help them succeed. Equally important are periodic evaluations (for everyone) to keep your team performing at a high level, stay motivated and focused on the big picture.

4) Good people are hard to find but not impossible. Now Hiring

There are way too many dentists “making do” with staff because they are afraid they won’t find a better replacement.  While high-performing employees are more rare and difficult to find, they are out there. It is just a matter of knowing where to find them and how to attract them. They may be disenchanted with their current job or looking for a greater challenge or more responsibility. Perhaps they don’t feel they are appreciated or they deserve more compensation for what they do.  Those are your candidates. It just requires more diligence on your part to find them.  It takes a dedicated effort, creativity, and a solid plan to attract that exceptional staff member. It starts with an exceptional ad that is masterfully written and trying new and innovative strategies to distribute your ad. Most practices do a lousy job at this and dread the process.  The pool of candidates often reflects the quality of the ad, which often misses the mark.

Are you being held hostage? Stop letting your staff dictate what happens in your practice and take control. If you believe it is a matter of establishing clear boundaries and re-establishing expectations, start the process today.  You can no longer afford to allow this to go on.  If you know in your heart that there are one or more staff people who would be better off somewhere else, start making plans today to embark on the hiring and training process.

Of course, we can help guide you through this. We can help you clarify where you need to make changes and develop a thoughtful process for implementation.

If you plan to hire, consider calling on us for support or using the tools in our hiring kit. You can learn more by clicking below or calling us at 800-848-8326.

http://www.prosynergy.com/hiring.html

Laying Down the Law With Patients

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Laying Down the Law With Patients

While it’s clear that our patients have expectations – sometimes valid, sometimes unrealistic – we have expectations too!  And how often is it that our patients disappoint us because they don’t do what we expect of them? While this blog article could turn into a full-on gripe session about those darn patients and how they constantly let us down, I believe how we think and what we do or don’t do, have a great impact on how our patients act and if we want them to change, we have to change first.

Here’s the deal; First, there are some things that we don’t get a vote on and there are other things we do. Second, how can we hold our patients to accountable to any expectations if we don’t come right out and have an honest conversation about them? Expectations are reasonable only when they are clearly conveyed, discussed and agreed-to by both parties.

So, what are the valid expectations? In our opinion, we believe there are only four things you can ask of your patients. I think you will strongly agree;

1) SHOW UP – and on time

I could devote a book to this subject. How often does a patient let you down by no-showing, or arriving late (and thinking it’s OK, I might add)?  How dare they? First, this is a professional business arrangement. It can’t be treated casually. Having your patient sign a form with your “office policy”  is not good enough.  (How many people read it anyway?) You must look your patient in the eye and tell her you have reserved this time with “fill-in-the-blank” just for her, you will be fully prepared when she arrives, and ready to get started. “Can I get your commitment to that?” THAT will get their attention.

What doesn’t work?  A recall system or any other communication that conveys the message that you “request the courtesy of  — hours notice in the event of cancellation”. You’ve, in essence, given them a ticket to reschedule. And putting them in the penalty box by “fining” them for not showing will just put a strain on the relationship without addressing the problem.  Instead, speak to the obvious;

“Bob, we were expecting you this morning for your appointment with Dr. Norris and honestly, we are disappointed you didn’t make it. We had that time set aside just for you.”

How can you assure this won’t happen in the future?:

“ I can arrange your next visit in one of two ways; a deposit of $fill-in-the-blank will reserve your time or, I can call you on a day when an opening avails itself to see if that will work with your schedule.”

Same thing with people who habitually show up late.  Speak to the obvious;

“Lisa, I’m glad you finally made it. I only have 35 minutes of time left before my next patient arrives so, I promise I will get as much accomplished as I can. It might mean we will need to schedule another time to have you come back to finish what we can’t take care of today.”

Message: you’re late, I run on time. I will not inconvenience my next patient, you will still pay for your full appointment, and you might have to come back again. Reasonable? I think so.

2) PAY AS AGREED

Aside from insurance claims, there should be no reason for you to have any outstanding accounts with patients. Period. How is it that practices get into the accounts receivable business with patients in the first place?  Unspoken or unclear understandings about 1) the fee and 2) the terms for paying the fee.

No dentistry should be performed without an actual discussion about the cost associated with the treatment recommendation, what the patient will be expected to pay, how that fee can be made, and a mutual agreement with the patient on the terms. Something as simple as:

“Gentry, the fee for the treatment you have chosen is $fill-in-the-blank and our first preference is that be paid  (in full at the first appointment or a % to reserve the appointment and remainder on the first appointment, etc.). Will that arrangement work for you?” If it does, great. You are done. If it doesn’t, you find an alternative that works for both of you.

Remember, it is better to NOT do the dentistry than to do the dentistry and NOT get paid.

3) BE HONEST

What would we want our patients to be honest about?

#1 on the list: Let us know how you are feeling and what you are thinking.

You can’t read your patient’s mind. You need to know if he is apprehensive, if he isn’t sure the treatment you’ve recommended is right, or if finances are an issue. That is why having a dedicated and gifted facilitator on your team can help you connect with patients at a deeper level and help them voice what might otherwise be left unsaid.

#2 Lifestyle, health issues or recreational/prescription meds. These have a huge impact on what your recommendations might be and the outcome.

#3 Don’t make an appointment if you don’t intend to show up, or agree to treatment if you aren’t sure, etc.

These could be uncomfortable conversations. Coming right out and asking your patient to be honest may imply that you think they are lying. So, how do you convey this very important value? You can suggest the ways in which you hope they will tell you the truth. If you use context to frame the idea, it will make the conversation go more smoothly;

“Some people are reluctant to share personal lifestyle information with us such as their recreational drug use or the state of their health but these issues have tremendous impact on how we might treat someone or the outcome of treatment. I want you to encourage you to be as open as you can with us and know that we will respect your honesty and never make judgments based on what you tell us. In exchange, we will never mislead you or withhold information that we believe is in your best interest.”

Or encourage honestly by speaking to the obvious…

“Something tells me you aren’t fully committed to the treatment we have recommended. Before we go any further, please share with me what you are thinking and what concerns you still have.”

4) BE GOOD NATURED

We’ve all had them. The patients who show up on your schedule and you break out in a sweat. You plan a strategy to be in the lab when she arrives. You avoid engaging her in conversation and ignore the terse comments. In my opinion, that is NOT OK. If there are patients in your practice who are bullies, they need to be called on it.

When my kids were little and one of them would come to me complaining, “Mom, Casey’s chasing me”, my reply would always be, “Then stop running”. The same is true with nasty-tempered patients.

Yes, it is uncomfortable to address someone when they are behaving badly but it can be done with grace and one of two things will happen: it will either defuse the situation and she will recognize, apologize or explain herself OR she won’t get it and the relationship will end. Either way, you win.

Here’s the grace part:

“Hilda, I get the sense that you aren’t very happy about something, and if it’s something we’ve done to make you that way, we would want to know about it. What’s going on?”

You will know very soon by her response where to take the conversation next.

“ Goodness, I had no idea. Thank you for being honest with me. Let’s see what we can do to make it right.”

Or

“You know, Hilda, it is becoming clear that despite our best efforts, we may not be able to make you happy. I am more than willing to transfer your records to another provider if you like.”

Conveying your expectations makes such good sense because it prevents a myriad of problems before they occur. And you will find that there are many remedial systems that can be eliminated when you front-end your relationships with a conversation about expectations.

Having direct conversations with patients about these expectations requires team members with courage, confidence and finesse. It requires level thinking, maturity and most important, time. That is a big investment but pays off quickly by eliminating many of the issues that cause us stress. 

Great Expectations

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girl full of dreams      It’s prom season! If you or your children have gone through the prom experience, you know there are a lot of expectations about this life event – your date, the friends you will go with, what you will wear, the transportation to get you there, where you will have dinner beforehand and what afterparty you will attend. If you were like me, my expectations for this magical night were not the same as my reality.

What does this have to do with dentistry? While as teens, we gave a lot of thought to prom and we discussed it at length with our friends and our parents, the expectations our patients have may not be as thought-out or clear.  BUT THEY DO HAVE EXPECTATIONS.

These expectations aren’t tattooed on their forehead – they are internal. And they are formed over a period of time based on previous experiences. Patients rarely leave a practice and move on if they are happy with their dentist. Consider that most people who call your practice are recycled patients who, with the exception of having just moved to the area or their dentist has retired, have likely not had their needs or expectations met.

In a recent Facilitator Study Club teleconference, we discussed this topic and gathered a list of some expectations patients might typically have:

Time: How much time do they think it will take? Do they want an appointment quickly? Do they want to get in and get out quickly or do they want the dentist to spend a lot of time explaining or answering questions?

Conditions and treatment: What do they believe the dentist will find? What do they hope the dentist will find? What do they believe the solution will be?

Pain or discomfort: Do they think it will hurt? Do they expect it not to hurt? Are they hoping to have sedation?

The practice: Do they expect simply the basics or do they anticipate amenities like refreshments, entertainment options, warm blankets and the like? What about clinical standards?

Communication: How do they expect to be treated? Do they have a certain way they wish to be addressed? Are they accustomed to getting a reminder call, or text, or email about their next appointment? Do they like to interact socially or prefer you cut to the chase? Would they prefer more specifics and detail or just the bottom line?

Fees: How much do they believe it will cost? What are they prepared to pay? What role are they thinking insurance will play in their decision-making? How do they expect to pay for their treatment?

I’m sure you can come up with your own extensive list.

If you don’t know what your patient’s expectations are, how will you ever be able to meet, or better yet, exceed them? You would hate to find out what those expectations are by disappointing them. And more important, if your patient’s expectations are unrealistic, you would want to know sooner rather than later so you can prevent misunderstandings before they occur.

Your patients will tell you their expectations if they believe you:

1)    are genuinely interested

2)    will do your best to meet or exceed those expectations

How do you find out? The natural answer is YOU ASK.  But as simple as this sounds, it is often overlooked and not practiced consistently.  We see this play itself out in practices all the time. Team members guess, make things up, base it on assumptions, which are based on previous experiences with patients. Our own personal expectations or preferences may also play into our assumptions.

And because some patients may not be good at expressing their expectations without prompting, it is essential for you to create a curious culture and a framework for finding out. Make time at the onset of the relationship to have a conversation with your patient about what they expect and come to an understanding about what you can and, in some cases, cannot do. Don’t hand them a form to fill out. Instead, you might use a questionnaire as a guide to help you in this process. (If you would like a sample questionnaire, email me). Allocate time in the schedule for these conversations and assign the responsibility to the most behaviorally gifted person on your team. Provide this team member with additional support and training as well as the private space in which to have these conversations with patients.

The fact that you work at understanding your patients in this way sets you apart from most other practices. Through this information-gathering conversation, patients become clearer about what is important to them, you become clearer about how to serve them better and you establish the foundation of a strong relationship with more successful outcomes. Less patients will move on to be recycled again somewhere else.

NEXT TIME: Conveying practice expectations to patients.

Contact me for a copy of our sample questionnaire or to learn more about the Facilitator Study Club,

My Prediction for 2013

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Good news!  U. S. News and World Report has announced their list of the top jobs (those in greatest demand) for 2013 and topping the list at number one is dentist!  Following in the number ten position is dental hygienist! At the risk of angering some of you, I’m going to say it. No more whining! You can position your practice and seize the market. But you must decide to take a good hard look at your practice and make some improvements.  Look at these FIVE ELEMENTS and ask whether you are making the most of each opportunity:

1) Your Physical plant

Patients have very little in which to judge your expertise or competence and some will assess you by the appearance of your practice. From the exterior and signage to the decor, wall art and clutter, look at your practice with new eyes or ask a third party or professional to give you their honest opinion. And while you must like and be comfortable in your surroundings, the more important issue is who you are targeting and what will appeal to them.

2) How are patients welcomed?

The best investment you can make is to train the team members entrusted with answering the phone and welcoming new AND existing patients. NO AMOUNT OF ADVERTISING OR EXTERNAL MARKETING WILL BENEFIT YOU until your team members learn how to connect with people in the most effective way. The challenge is that you rarely know how your team members are engaging people because you are focused on doing dentistry. Enlist the help of a professional to both assess and train your team appropriately.

3) Work on building relationships

This may sound like a no-brainer but there is more to building a relationship than learning where your patients work, their children’s names or where they went on their last vacation. Everyone who works in the practice must be capable and willing to learn communication skills that will carry your relationships beyond the superficial. This requires learning why patients come to you, what they are asking and expecting of you, and how you can connect with them in ways that help them get what they want. The end result is more patients authorizing more dentistry sooner!

4) Fostering referrals

It stands to reason that if you manage expectations and give patients what they want, they will be happy and continue to come to your practice. Far too often, we don’t ask our best, most satisfied patients for referrals. Do you and your team know the art of asking for referrals in a genuine way? Do you have a referral program that encourages people to voluntarily share their experience in direct and viral ways? Enlist the help of a professional to AMP UP this highly overlooked goldmine.

5) Marketing

For you old-school guys and gals, WAKE UP!  It’s 2013 and if you aren’t getting your business out into the community, you will be left behind. For those of you who have marketing plans in place, now is the time to re-assess their effectiveness.  Keep these three essential elements in mind as you craft your campaigns:

Reach – who you are targeting

Frequency  –  how often you are sending messages out

Top of the Mind Awareness/Familiarity  –  being in the consumer’s mind when they are in the market or have a need

I encourage you to consider more non-traditional means of promoting your practice with a heavy emphasis on education and good-will marketing. Think creatively and out of the box. Don’t rely on a team member to try to implement your marketing when they “have time”. Instead, hire someone who can focus on it.

I predict that if you tackle all five of these goals this year, your practice will SOAR. I would love to help you with each of these areas to make 2013 your greatest year ever and be poised for success for years to come.

Practice Perception Part II: What messages might your staff be sending?

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In the first installment of Practice Perception, I asked; Does your physical plant represent your practice mission? We looked at the elements that contribute to painting a fuller picture of what your practice is about and is often the primary way patients can assess who you are and your level of professionalism and expertise.

Of course, there are other factors that contribute to your practice image.  One of the most powerful influencers is your staff. They can be a primary reason why patients are attracted to or end up leaving your practice.

Inside the practice, you certainly would want your team to be on their best behavior and represent you in a positive light. However, you can’t assume they will behave or act appropriately without being specific about your expectations. Make sure your employee manual contains specific guidelines for things as basic as the following:

PERSONAL APPEARANCE – include specifics on what you will or will not tolerate regarding: jewelry, piercings, tattoos, hair, personal hygiene, oral health, cologne or perfume, or tobacco smoke or smell.  

CLOTHING – if you supply uniforms, this should not be an issue. If you don’t, you must be specific about what is and is not appropriate.

CHATTER – quite often, dentists complain that the staff banter gets in the way of patient care. Patients who hear staff talking amongst themselves while they sit idly waiting will feel ignored. The hard and fast rule should be that the content of staff conversations in places outside the staff break room should be focused exclusively on patient care. In addition, remind your staff there should be no bad-mouthing or negative comments to other staff members or patients at any time.

PRIVACY – and of course, any conversations relating to patient care should be private and discussed in a place where they would not risk being overheard by others.

TEXTING, CELL PHONES AND SOCIAL MEDIA – team members gripe all the time about patients who use their phones during their appointments. Imagine how patients feel when a staff member diverts their attention from patients to text or use their phone or check their Facebook. It is rude and inappropriate. Period. Patients should not see or hear a staff member’s personal phone – not even a buzz when it’s placed on silent.

You cannot stop team members from using Facebook or other social media outlets outside of the practice, but you can remind them that what they post about their job or the practice is up for scrutiny. Depending on the comment, it could present the practice in a bad light. Comments can also cross privacy boundaries.  In order to protect themselves and the practice, you should request that they refrain from commenting on anything related to the practice.

ATTITUDE – you have probably experienced your share of passive-aggressive behavior by your team. It manifests itself in ways in which you may not be aware until it is brought to your attention by another team member or a patient; being surly or short with someone, slamming doors or banging things, ignoring others, sarcasm and responding in an overly exaggerated sweetness that is “put on”. Patients pick up on these behaviors and it reflects poorly on the practice and you as their leader.

OUTSIDE THE PRACTICE:

How many times have you been in public and seen one of your patients?  Whether it’s at the grocery store, gas station, sporting event or the countless other places you might go, you are keenly aware of how you might be perceived by your patients outside the practice. Your staff?  Not so much.  

When they aren’t working, your staff are probably not thinking about patients seeing them in a less-than-flattering light. And there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. However, you can encourage them to be on their best behavior. Remind them that they can be a powerful influencer to encourage patients to stay active in their dental care by the warm greeting or response they give patients outside the practice.

Enforcing these expectations can be difficult but it is essential that your staff understand  how vitally important they are in influencing practice perception. They are a huge part of the equation.

Practice Perception: From the inside out

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In my previous post, I mentioned a dying bamboo centerpiece we discovered in a restaurant to illustrate the importance of practice perception. My main point was that patients have no way to judge your clinical abilities and the indicators they will use to determine what your practice is about or gauge your expertise are the physical plant, the environment you create and the way you engage your patients in the process. Let’s take it one step further.

Does your physical plant represent your practice mission and is it in alignment with what you offer?

In this and future posts, I want to focus on the physical plant and environment and shed light on those areas you may want to evaluate in your practice.

For example, for new patients, the most important place in your practice is the reception area. This is where the look and feel of the practice is established and should be congruent with the image and messages you are sending into the marketplace. You want this space to set the stage for what the patient can come to expect from you and your team.

Let’s use a simple exercise and approach this process by using the five senses as a guide. If your practice specializes in working with anxious or fearful patients, how would you want your reception area to look, feel, sound, smell and even taste? Visualize in your mind how a person might enter into and experience the environment.You want to project the image of clean, soft, comforting, soothing, uncluttered space.

Sight

The colors would be blues, greens or violets to calm the mind, provide harmony and balance and encourage meditation. Artwork would be minimal and serene – no generic smiling people portraits. The space would be accented with side tables and you wouldn’t find ratty magazines or stand up displays promoting procedures or electric toothbrushes.  Instead, visitors might discover hardcover picture books about photography, travel, animals, or inspirational short stories. Plants would bring in the natural environment and remove the clinical feel. A couple of carefully-placed live flowers might dot the room showing your care and attention.

The lighting would not come from harsh overhead or can lights but instead would be a mixture of floor and table lamps and sconces, providing soft, warm pools of light through the space.

Touch

There would be soft, inviting comfy chairs or loveseats, perhaps with pillows. Massage chairs might be another option. The floor would be carpeted or would have throw rugs, which also softens the sound of footsteps and voices.

Sound

Patients might hear instrumental spa music just loud enough that sounds from the clinical area would be masked. A water feature like a fountain, or a live or virtual aquarium would support the calming environment and add a distraction for anxious patients. No loud phones ringing, no speaker phone, and the volume of voices would be kept low.

Smell

Candles or wall plug-ins would dispense the aroma of lavender, mint or jasmine to aid in calming fearful visitors. No clinical or “staff lunch” smells would be detected.

Taste

A coffee, tea and water station would invite visitors to make themselves at home with an assortment of flavors, including calming camomile.

Can you begin to see and experience this reception area in your mind’s eye? This sets the stage for what they will experience throughout their visit. The physical space and everything you do should be congruent with this.

You may want to gather your staff together and perform this exercise in your own practice.  Paint a picture for your team of the way you would like to treat your patients and how you want your practice to be perceived, based on your specialty and mission. Start with the physical plant. Come up with ways you can support the message.  Walk through the space and evaluate what is in the space now. What doesn’t belong? What would you want to change or how would you improve the features? Then do this same exercise for each area of the practice:

Entrance
Reception
Front desk
Clinical areas
Business office
Treatment consultation room
Other public areas: hallways, bathroom

I would love to see photos of your reception area to see how you welcome patients.

In my next blog posts, I will look at the following equally important areas of perception: Staff, external messages and marketing messages. Be sure to click on the “Follow” button so you will get notification of the next post.