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    The secret to great customer service

    Do you want your patients to refer their friends and family to your dental practice? Then show them compassion.

    What’s the secret to great customer service? The answer is compassion. Telling your patient, “I hope you feel better!” makes all the difference in the world. I experienced something in the healthcare world that crosses over quite neatly into our dental arena, which is that healthcare professionals are losing human compassion. You want to improve customer satisfaction? You want your patients to refer their friends and family to your dental practice? Then show them compassion. You have it — you just need to demonstrate it.

    Four weeks ago, I got that nasty flu. It caused havoc with my life. It knocked me out for 3 ½ weeks. I contacted my doctor to report I wasn’t getting better on the meds she had put me on. Five days passed without anyone contacting me back. I called the first day and emailed my doctor. No response. The weekend passed. I called on Monday and left a message for the doctor’s assistant. No response. On Tuesday, I called asking to be seen that day and the front desk made it happen. The physician’s assistant told me she had had 40 calls to return on that Friday and she could only call 20 people back. (Keep in mind, this was Tuesday.) She still had 20 calls to return from Friday. (What happened to those Monday calls?) Ok, they got slammed. But that isn’t a good enough reason for a patient to suffer for five days.

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    Dentist with patientThe doctor was great. She worked with me on the medications and figured out a plan I could live with. The pharmacy couldn’t fill the narcotic prescription in pill form; only one pharmacy could and that was 20 minutes away. They could do the narcotic in liquid form, but I had to go back to the doctor to get the corrected prescription since it was a narcotic. The other steroid medication was $500, not the $100 price my insurance had quoted. So, it was a mess and I had to return to the doctor’s office.

    I dragged myself back. I was just there 20 minutes before and they wanted to have me state what I wanted and leave. (I guess a flu patient with a mask hacking away in their waiting room wasn’t good for business!) I said, “I’m not leaving. I waited five days for you to get back to me. And no one did. If I leave, I would have to come back to get the prescription for the narcotic anyways.” The office manager brought me into the back office “to explain the process” to me. Again, they wanted me out of the office. This is how they treat a sick patient? I told her I wasn’t leaving until this was resolved. At this point, I knew I needed back up, so I called my parents.

    The Calvary arrived because I didn’t think I could advocate for myself since I was too ill. The doctor met with us and apologized for the problem and resolved the problems with the medication — or so we thought. My folks took me to the pharmacy where we were told that everything would go through no problem but it would be an hour. I couldn’t tolerate being upright anymore so went home. My dad returned to pick up the prescriptions and called me. The pharmacist asked to talk to me. He said, “Do you have any allergies to medicines?” “Yep, Vicodin,” I responded. He told me he couldn’t give me the narcotic because it is in the same drug family. It was 4:30 p.m. and there was no way he was going to get my doctor to order me something else that day. Unbelievable! That meant another night of suffering.

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    Are you wondering what this experience has to do with the dental industry? Well, it’s relevant because I adore this new doctor. Even though the practice is in disarray, I’m still sticking with this doctor. Why? Because EVERY contact I had with her, she said, “I am sorry for the delay” or “I am sorry for the mix up” or “I hope that you feel better.” Someone showing compassion when you are ill, in pain or scared is priceless. That office is a mess, but that’s why this is important for you and your dental practice. You need to show compassion. Let your patient know you’re sorry, that you feel bad and hope they get better. You might think that I’m just someone traumatized by my own personal experience and needed to vent, but in the end, this is about customer service. Compassion is the secret to keeping a patient even when mistakes get made. My call to action is for you to show compassion to the next patient who arrives to your office in dental pain. This is how you grow a practice and retain patients. That is the secret to great customer service.

    Lisa Newburger, LISW-S
    Lisa Newburger, a master's level social worker supervisor, helps audiences find humor in talking about tough topics. Her "in-your-face" ...


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