I find it hard to look at pictures of myself like this one on the left without laughing – especially when I compare the me in that photo to the one on the right that was taken recently.

Imtiaz Manji then
Imtiaz Manji now

You might be laughing too, but the truth is we all have photos like this that make us laugh at the way we used to look – the way we styled our hair, the clothes we wore. But of course at the time we thought it was great. This is an example of what I was talking about in my recent article, about how our points of reference can change. Society changes, tastes and priorities change – just look at the rise in popularity of health clubs over the last generation, or how we are interacting with the world digitally. We have new points of reference that many of us never dreamed about even a decade ago.

A reader of that article offers another compelling example with this insightful comment:

“Look how Starbucks changed the way we think and pay for coffee. Changing the point of reference seems impossible given that dentistry is associated with pain, expense, etc. But what do dentists have today that past dentists did not have to change the patient's point of reference? Visual aids, such as photography and the animations in Patient Education. Any other ideas?”

It’s a great question, and I think Starbucks is actually an excellent example to use to illustrate the answer because they were masters at changing the point of reference people had about coffee. At the time that Starbucks came on the scene, coffee-drinking had been declining for years, especially among younger people. It was something mom and dad, or grandma and grandpa, drank—and it cost 50 cents a cup at a diner. A few years later, there was a Starbucks in seemingly every neighborhood in America, where people – especially younger people – lined up to buy $5 lattes.

How did this happen? Starbucks didn’t create coffee as a beverage (although they got people more interested in the range of coffees available). What they did was create a new, inviting and interesting experience around coffee-drinking. Comfortable environments that encouraged customers to linger and socialize. Free Wi-Fi. And fully customizable drink orders prepared for you by your barista (for many people, their Starbucks order is as uniquely identifying as their signature). Starbucks didn’t re-invent coffee; they re-imagined the coffee-drinking experience.

And that’s how dentists need to look at changing the point of reference for patients. Yes, tools such as intra-oral cameras and patient education videos are helpful, but that’s exactly what they are: tools. But they are not magic solutions, any more than installing an espresso machine will transform any roadside diner into a Starbucks. Patient education tools need to be used within the context of a comprehensive patient experience – one that makes a patient say, “I have never experienced this in a dental office before.”

(Click here to see our dental CE course on the new dental patient experience.)

meeting dental patient expectationsThat’s where real success occurs, where the experience you provide and patients’ expectations meet. Dental patients today, as I have often said, are not just clinical patients. They are clients, in the sense that they are paying customers. And they are consumers, in the sense that they have wants and needs – they want to look good and feel good, and they are savvy about finding the best providers that meet their expectations.

Keep in mind, too, that personal points of reference can be different for different patients, at different times. That patient who had no interest for years in esthetic procedures, but has now had a promotion at work, or is newly single, will have a whole different way of looking at the value of the procedures you can offer than they did before. The important thing is, as long as you are consistent in the value you project, you will be ready when they are, and your points of reference will intersect.

(Click this link for more dental practice management articles by Imtiaz Manji.)