By Janis Peiser
As a dental professional, you may think the quality of your care is what keeps your patients coming back year after year. But that isn’t necessarily the case. A number of factors determine whether patients continue seeing a physician; the services they receive only account for part of that decision.
The culture of your practice, or the way in which you and your staff communicate with each other and in turn your patients, is an essential part of patient retention. It’s important that dentists do everything they can to ensure patients are happy with every interaction, from waiting in the lobby to checking-out once the appointment is over.
It only takes three seconds for your patients to develop a first impression upon entering your office. If your lobby is messy, disorganized or outdated, patients are likely to be turned-off. Work with your staff to see to it that your waiting room conveys professionalism and is welcoming to your patients. Ask your receptionist or assistant to perform periodic checks throughout the day to make sure the reception area stays neat and tidy.
The attitude of your staff is perhaps even more important than a good first impression. A 2012 study from the PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute found that 70 percent of patients considered a friendly, helpful staff to be the key deciding factor in choosing a medical provider. This percentage is much higher than in other industries (even airlines!), and indicates dentists must be vigilant about the quality of care their staff provides.
Having the ability to actually talk to a person on the phone is huge. While an automated phone system is efficient, it is often a turn-off to patients. It gives the impression that customer service and personal attention is not a priority. Patients don’t want to have to push 3 or 4 numbers to get to the person they want to reach, only to find out they need to leave a message or wait on hold.
As the head of your practice, it’s up to the you to empower the front office staff to provide excellent customer service. Because doctors are often so busy tending to patients at the back of the practice, they often aren’t aware of patient-personnel issues until it’s too late. As such, it’s best to regularly monitor your office’s operations and make sure your staff is working to provide the best service possible.
You should also remember that a happy staff means happy patients. If your staff feels engaged in the practice they will be more motivated to keep patients happy. Establish an incentive system that rewards good work, and make it a point to recognize your staff when you see them doing a good job. When you see customer service missteps, take the time to educate your employees on what they’ve done wrong and how they can improve next time.
All of these components of the front office experience may be dererminates as to whether patients want to continue seeing a provider. If one or more of these elements is out of sync, it could negatively impact your practice. To determine if your front office experience is satisfying your patients, just ask them. A survey provided at the end of the appointment can help you collect data and identify weak points in your front office.
No dentist can ensure a perfect visit, but correcting a few minor issues could mean retaining patients you would have otherwise lost. Maintaining a practice that is comfortable, professional and staffed by friendly, helpful people is a proven formula for making patients happy and keeping them coming back.
Note: This content is accurate as of the date published above and is subject to change. Please seek professional advice before acting on any matter contained in this article.