Küster Dental Blog

Posts Tagged ‘practice management’

Gotta Know How to Smile

Posted on: May 14th, 2014 by James Kuester No Comments


There is a woman that works as a barista at my local Starbucks that makes me cringe whenever she is on the cash register when I come in. Occasionally, as I sit contemplating my next blog post, I’ll watch her and the other baristas as they hustle and work hard to serve up the various coffee beverages and keep the morning line moving. This particular woman probably hustles more than most of her coworkers. She is never idle. If there is a lull in traffic she is immediately looking to see what needs to be done next and jumps to it. There is no question that she takes her job seriously and puts tremendous effort into trying to do it well. However, she doesn’t seem to know how to interact with customers.

Being a barista requires one to interact with the customers. A significant part of the coffeehouse culture, and an area where Starbucks normally shines, is that they have consistently warm, friendly baristas that learn customers’ names, take time in spite of crushing lines to banter with them, and always provide service with a smile. This particular woman doesn’t seem to be able to do this. Perhaps it is her personality. Perhaps the manager has not bothered to coach her on her demeanor. Whatever the case, she is diminishing the coffee house experience with her gruff manner and lack of rapport with customers.

We see this same problem when performing Patient Experience Evaluations for clients. Front line personnel that are gruff and terse with patients have an immediate dampening effect on patient experience ratings. Patients want to be treated with respect and dignity and not like they are an annoying interruption to the person’s day. A warm smile and greeting go a long way toward helping to reduce patient anxiety.

For some people learning to smile, laugh, and engage with patients does not come naturally, especially while under pressure. This behavior requires training and coaching and consistent reinforcement until it becomes second nature. We believe everyone has the ability to learn to be warm and engaging if properly coached. As an employer one doesn’t have to hire for “type” – nor should they. But, one does need to understand the roll doing the entire job right plays in creating a positive patient experience and not just the technical proficiency portion of the job description.

Stanford Kicks the Coal Habit

Posted on: May 12th, 2014 by James Kuester No Comments
Smoke Stacks and Carbon Emissions

Smoke Stacks and Carbon Emissions

Stanford University’s Board of Trustees voted to divest the university endowment from coal. Following a strategy used to fight apartheid, a student group led a campaign against the carbon rich fossil fuel, and they are hoping this catches on with other large institutional investors. Coming in the same week that President Obama announced a renewed battle to fight climate change, one can only hope that Stanford truly is at the forefront in the fight against coal.

The odds of a large move against coal are not good. Europe has fallen in love with inexpensive coal from the U.S. As countries such as China and India continue to push their economies forward, they are going to need more energy and not less. With the U.S. on a new energy independence high, weaning the country off its low-cost fossil fuel isn’t going to be easy. Cleaning our air is going to have to be a global initiative and not a “one country going alone” approach.

As small business owners, dentists can certainly do their part by critically analyzing their practices and reducing energy consumption at every turn. As homeowners we can all make strides in reducing carbon by reducing our energy consumption, too. As communities, generating electricity from natural gas produces half the carbon emissions as burning coal. Along with recycling and water usage reduction programs we can all contribute in making great strides toward reducing the total amount of carbon emissions. We can also all join together in encouraging other large, institutional investors to divest from fossil fuels, and coal in particular. I remember when the world banded together and divested from South Africa and the sweeping change that brought. Let’s join Stanford’s Board of Trustees and make this a global change. We’ll all feel better – literally.

You Have them at “Hello”

Posted on: May 9th, 2014 by James Kuester No Comments


Remember the old adage that you only have one chance to make a first impression? Well, we may not have as long as we’ve thought to make that impression. A recent research project has found that we humans form impressions of people from the very first “hello.” Michelle Trudeau on NPR’s “Morning Edition” reported on the research this past week. The way men and women say hello immediately causes us to form instinctive judgments on how trustworthy the speaker is, along with a host of other important attributes that were very important in keeping humans alive over the years.

Think about your dental office and how the receptionist answers the phone or says “hello” to people when they first walk in. I’ve always been shocked at how many offices I walk into to be greeted gruffly or with an irritated tone – like I’m interrupting their day. During our Patient Experience Evaluations this is one of the things we notice right away. If that first word out of the greeter’s mouth isn’t warm, friendly, and welcoming it sets a bad tone for the entire visit. The entire dental team has an uphill battle at that point to salvage the experience and send the patient away happy. Luckily, research has also shown that the way the patient is sent out the door has a very strong impact on how the entire experience is remembered.

Why set the dental team up for this much effort when proper training can avert potential disaster? Evidently, the famous line from Jerry Maquire, “You had me at hello,” isn’t all that far off.

How Do You Know Whether Your Office is a Hit?

Posted on: March 21st, 2014 by James Kuester No Comments

HandsClappingYou go to a show.  You thoroughly enjoy it.  So do all the people around you.  At the end you, along with everyone else in the theatre erupt into enthusiastic applause and leap to your feet.  As you leave the theatre you can’t stop talking about how wonderful the performance was, which were your favorite scenes – your favorite lines.  The next day you’re still talking about it to everyone you meet.  The sow was obviously a hit.

But, you run a dental office, not a theatre troupe.  How do you know if your dental practice is a “hit” with your patients?  You’ve just spent good money remodeling the practice after taking over from the retiring, senior associate.  Was that money well spent?  Have you achieved your goal of providing an exceptional patient experience?  Well, are your patients talking about you?

How would you know whether your patients are talking about you?  One of the first ways is to be tracking referrals.  The time to start tracking both patient referrals and appointment cancellations is before you embark on your remodel or some other major change in the practice operations.  The more baseline data you have the more certain you’ll be of the results after the change.  If you’ve been successful in improving the patient experience you should see referrals go up and cancellations fall.

You can also survey your patients asking them about their experience.  Again, if you can do this before the change doing so afterwards will give you comparative data.  Having a third-party survey your patients is probably a better choice than having someone from the office call.  Patients are more likely to be honest with a third-party than someone in the office they know – especially if they have a complaint.  Email surveys are also good as they are less expensive and you can reach out to every patient that you have an email address for.

Then there is social media.  You can look to see what your patients are saying on your Facebook page.  You can build quick Facebook surveys that can help you ask specific questions about changes in the practice and solicit responses.

As Lady Gaga says, “[we] live for the applause.” In the case of a dental office hit, the applause is a vibrant, growing practice.

One Reason 30 Years May Be Too Long

Posted on: February 10th, 2014 by James Kuester No Comments
Does this chair make a good impression?

Does this chair make a good impression?

While at a party over the weekend one of the other guests after finding out that I design dental offices said, “I’ve been going to the same dentist for thirty years now, and he’s not updated anything in his office this entire time except putting up new wallpaper, once about 15 years ago.”  Really? After hearing this I wondered what his book of business was like.  My guess is that the patient base is dwindling and there are very few new patients coming to the practice.

I fully realize that once one finds a dentist they like, they’ll most likely stick with them through thick-and-thin. New people to an area when deciding to choose a dentist will keep looking when they see a tired, thread-bare office that hasn’t been updated in thirty years.  Patients want to feel confident that they are going to receive good oral health care when they choose a dentist.  They want one they can trust not to cause pain or to oversell services.  The state of the dental office is one of the key criteria people use to judge the quality of a practice.  If the office hasn’t been updated in decades odds are the equipment, techniques, and skills of the dental team haven’t been updated, either.  Dentistry is an every advancing profession, with new technologies and breakthroughs, and patients are fully aware of this.  In today’s fast-paced, high-tech world, patients expect change and improvements and a stagnant office design does not communicate this.

So, why does one care if the book of business is diminishing?  Dentistry is a business like any other and at some point the dentist is going to want to retire.  What’s the exit strategy?  If he’s just going to turn out the lights and walk away then he doesn’t need to worry about the size of the patient base.  He can just keep serving the patients he has until they all age out or move away.  However, if he’s looking to sell the practice a thriving patient base is one of the key assets the business has.  Without one finding a willing buyer may be a challenge.

TV’s – They’re Everywhere, But Are They A Force for Good?

Posted on: February 3rd, 2014 by James Kuester No Comments
Over the fireplace is a favorite location for TV's

Traditional wood-burning fireplace converted to gas

Sitting watching The Big Game last night made me realize how important to our society televisions have become.  They’re everywhere.  There is hardly a bar or restaurant that I go into that doesn’t have at least one TV monitor hanging on a wall somewhere.  Walking through the airport they are everywhere. So, it only makes sense that these devices have also become a fixture in most dental offices.

We agree that the TV monitor is an important tool for promoting the dental health of one’s patients.  In operatories they can provide dual duty by providing an entertainment stream for patients while waiting between exam steps and when integrated with the dental office network a great educational and sales tool to really show the patient what is going on inside his/her mouth.  In consultation rooms they are incredibly valuable sales tools for the very same reason.  Who isn’t going to sign up to have oral work done when they are shown the true state of their health right in front of them on a screen?  Oral cameras, digital x-rays, and touch-screen monitors make communicating with patients easier than ever.  Consequently, they are great assets in helping patients move forward with treatment.  Gone are the days of, “You really need this.  Trust me.”

Waiting Areas and Reception have been a venue for TV’s and monitors for years it seems, and we’re definitely guilty of incorporating them into our clients’ dental office designs.  Unfortunately, so often we find these used to display endless streams of videos showing examples of poor oral health and discussions of treatment options.  The Waiting Area is not the place for these types of videos.  They only serve to stress and gross patients out and do nothing to help them to relax and look forward to their exam.  Who really wants to sit in a room with pictures of gum disease streaming endlessly overhead?

The judicious use of televisions and monitors can greatly enhance the patient experience and lead to increased sales and referrals, but the wrong kind of content will only serve to make patients uncomfortable and undermine the positive aspects of the dental practice.  Before slapping a monitor on a wall somewhere give some thought to its role in enhancing the patient experience and improving the bottom-line.

How Well Does Your Dental Office Due at Delivering An Excellent Patient Experience?

Posted on: August 2nd, 2013 by James Kuester No Comments
Be Amazing!

Be Amazing!

My sister and I were comparing notes recently about how poor customer service in grocery stores is getting.  She lives in Wisconsin and shops at an entirely unrelated chain of stores than I do in Indiana, but so many of our experiences are the same: rude cashiers, insufficient number of cashiers to handle the volume of customers, lack of baggers that are trained how to do their job.  One has to wonder what is going on in the world of grocery stores that the same problems are occurring across the industry.

Unfortunately, the customer service complaints we hear about dental offices are quite similar.  We hear patients complain about rude receptionists – both on the phone and in person; waiting for 30 minutes or more past the appointment time to be called in for service; waiting on hold when calling to make appointments.  These are just a few examples – none of which produce a positive patient experience.

Why is it that dental offices seem so content to deliver such a poor patient experience?  Given the fact that there seems to be increasing competition and soft demand for dental services, one would think that dental offices would be striving for ways to improve their practice management in order to deliver an ever better patient experience.  Often the problem stems from both poor procedures – or the lack of them – and poor training of the staff on how to interact with patients.  A practice management coach, such as Gary Takacs can assist with getting the offices’ procedures in shape, and a coach like Starla West can train the staff on how to improve their interactions with patients.

In this age of heightened competition no one’s practice can stand to be turning patients away due to a lousy patient experience.

Do You Value Your Patients’ Time?

Posted on: July 3rd, 2013 by James Kuester No Comments
Our most precious resource,

Our most precious resource,

Earlier this week I took my father to the doctor for a follow-up appointment from his emergency retinal surgery in May.  We arrived at the office a bit early and were surprised when they called us in right away.  The eye tech performed a series of preliminary examinations and asked Dad how he was getting along.  Then she directed us to an inner waiting room and said the doctor would be with us shortly.  One hour and forty minutes later we were finally called to see the doctor.  I find this outrageous, and as a professional that makes my living billing for my time really want to send the doctor and invoice for wasting it without any apologies or explanations.

The doctor and his staff walked about the office, coming and going, with sour looks on their faces like keeping people waiting for hours was routine.  This was the first time I’d taken Dad for one of his follow-up appointments.  Mom usually does, but she wasn’t feeling well that day.  According to Dad this was a typical visit.  Seriously? No wonder they all have such sour dispositions.  If the office has no better time management and control over the schedule than was demonstrated during our visit I can understand why working there would be miserable every day.

As service professionals we owe it to our patients and clients to show them the same courtesy for their time as we expect from them for ours.  I see signs at reception desks all the time saying patients will be invoiced for missed appointments and please call ahead if running late.  I never see anything about how the office will compensate the patient if the office gets behind in its schedule.  Why not?  Don’t patients deserve to be treated better than we expect them to treat us?

Does Your Dental Office Design Encourage Biking?

Posted on: July 1st, 2013 by James Kuester No Comments
Your bike rack may be simple like this single hoop

Your bike rack may be simple like this single hoop

What does your dental office design do to encourage you, your staff, and your patients to lead a more healthy lifestyle? Does it also help greenhouse gases at the same time? One idea is to install bike racks at your dental office.  Not having bike racks may not seem like it would keep people from biking to work or to their appointments, but it can be immensely frustrating arriving at a destination with nowhere to lock up the bike.  After installing the bike racks make sure your patients know they are there.  This is an excellent opportunity to engage patients in conversation on your Facebook page and Tweet about their arrival.  Heck, you may even want to hold a contest for the patient of the week that bikes the farthest to their appointment!

For you and your staff it might be nice to install a shower and changing room to make changing from bike clothes to work uniform easier and nicer.  This can be fairly easily done by turning a bathroom into a shower room.  Of course, setting the example by biking to the office yourself is always a great idea.

Once you’ve got your staff and patients all biking to the dental office, just think how much better everyone is going to feel.  They’ll be smiling more and showing off that great dental work!

Or, your rack may be a more complex curve to hold many bikes

Or, your rack may be a more complex curve to hold many bikes

How To Keep Patients Coming Back

Posted on: June 12th, 2013 by James Kuester No Comments

I came across this FaceBook post by my good friend Starla West of Starla West International the other day relating an experience she had while shopping with a client.  This is so applicable to patient relations in dental practices that I asked her immediately if I could repost it here.  Thankfully, she agreed.

Want to know how to keep customers coming back?

SWI [Starla West International] spent just over $1500 on clothing and accessory purchases for a client two weeks ago. Of the six stores where these purchases we made, only ONE sent a Thank You Note. The note was handwritten by the sales associate who assisted us, AND he personalized it by making note of our unique conversation.

This personal touch certainly made the COACH store stand out among all the rest. I suspect our team will continue to visit that store.

On the flipside, one store asked for our email address stating, “We will email your receipt to you. And don’t worry, we won’t send any advertising emails or anything.” That turned out to be a blatant lie. Within 24-hours the first of many “advertising” emails landed in our inbox.

We unsubscribed and moved this store to the bottom of our list. It is unlikely we will return. And, if we have to (for client purposes), we will do so begrudgingly.

We are amazed at how few dental practices do not thank their patients for their patronage and engage in practices more akin to those of the “other” store mentioned above.  Just imagine what a positive impression your dental practice would make on your patients if a hand-written thank you note was sent after every appointment.  Too much to ask?  I’d wager there is a much better return on investment from this marketing activity than ads in the phone book.