Have you ever used tripadvisor.com to help you make a vacation decision? TripAdvisor's mission statement is, “Help people around the world plan and have the perfect trip.” They do this by giving consumers an open forum to share their experiences on the Internet. If a vacationer has their expectations exceeded, they typically share a positive review. If their expectations are met, they usually don’t comment … and if their experience is less than ideal, they usually leave a negative review.

dental patient expectations

The same thing is happening to our dental offices - exceed expectations with an amazing experience and build a positive reputation. Exceed expectations and people talk.

A visit to the dentist is an experience for new patients. It can be a good experience, which usually means that the team and the doctor exceeded expectations. Or it could be a bad experience, which typically means the office fell short of the patient's expectations. The key here is EXPECTATIONS. We have to be able to accurately identify what someone expects from our office before we can deliver the appropriate experience.

I believe there are four types of patients that can come into an office, each having slightly different expectations. It is crucial to always ask new patients how they found out about your office, because it can have a big impact on what they expect.

Here are the four types of patients:

  1. A patient referred from another patient:
    • These types of patients are most likely going to have higher expectations of our office, usually because their friend or family member that referred them talked up the office.
  2. A patient referred from another doctor/dentist:
    • Again, they’re most likely going to have a higher set of expectations. The other doctor is usually already selling the patient on your practice and the experience to expect.
  3. A patient referred from the yellow pages or a sign on the building:
    • Most likely, their expectations are going to be completely based on their previous dental experience. It could be a good experience because they liked their previous office, a bad experience because they weren’t happy or it could be indifference (not really expecting much from a dental visit).
    • You need to be somewhat careful with these types of patients. Exceeding their expectations can sometimes overwhelm them and make them start to think that it’s all just too much, too different, too fast.
  4. A patient referred from the internet:
    • In our office, we are constantly striving to improve our online presence so that it matches our core beliefs and values. We are constantly working to get more patient reviews so that people hear about us. Nowadays, online reviews are the new word-of-mouth. So if you have a good online presence, these patients may have higher expectations as well.  

Now that we understand patients’ expectations … it’s time to “wow” them! 

We recently rewrote our mission statement for our office: “We aim to REDEFINE the dental experience by exceeding our patients’ expectations. We will deliver a warm, welcoming and compassionate environment while giving our patients control over their treatment decisions.”

Ask the general public to explain a dental experience and the majority of them will give you similar answers: painful, expensive, anxiety-provoking, nerve-wracking, etc.

dental patient fears and experiences

Redefining that experience is our mission. We want people to not only tolerate us, we want them to ENJOY (yes, dental visits can be enjoyable) their experience and then BRAG about us.   

Here are just three examples of ways that we create an experience that people will talk about:

  1. Deliver a small office feel with large office amenities:
    • One of my favorite places to stay when I go on vacation is a bed and breakfast. I like it because it feels personal and unique. The Ritz Carlton (the other end of the size spectrum) is like a bed and breakfast on steroids, but with all the amenities of a luxury hotel. They try to get to know YOU, your tendencies, your family, your job. This is our office model in a nutshell. In a small dental office, everyone knows everyone, but they can’t always provide all of the technology, cross-education and availability that a large office has. On the staff’s end, they usually lose out on all the perks of being with a larger, more corporate office. On the flip side, a larger office usually has state-of-the-art technology, lots of availability and takes lots of insurance, but they don’t have the warm, family feel. And while they may have more perks, employees usually don’t feel valuable and empowered.

      We aren’t a small office. We have 31 team members. We work hard to have very low turnover by respecting our staff, giving them autonomy in their positions and compensating well, all while making the workplace feel like their second home. This is crucial for continuity and evoking that small office feel for patients, because familiar, smiling faces make people happy and keep things consistent.
    • We also constantly remember to document the small details about our patients so that we treat them like more than just a customer. We try to have pictures of the patients in their account so we can greet even the newer patients by name. We treat them like family and friends.  We do this by reading off personal details (birthdays, colleges, job titles, etc.) at the morning meeting every day. We also encourage our New Patient Coordinator to pick up on small details when taking the New Patient Phone call and document them so when these patients come in, we can connect with them on a slightly deeper level right off the bat.
  2. Respect time:
    • I don’t like to wait when I go to the doctor. I don’t want our patients to have to wait either. We don’t overbook our schedules. We do this by customizing the amount of time we need for particular procedures. A typical single-unit crown prep takes me about 50 minutes to prep, impress and temporize. Problem is, not every prep is the same because not every patient is the same. What may take me 50 minutes on the typical patient, may take me 70 minutes on a gagger or a talker. We build extra time into our appointments when necessary. This keeps us running on time and keeps our patients happy. Their time is valuable and we need to respect it. Production NEVER trumps patient experience in our office.
  3. Commit to co-discovery:
    • Patients are informed nowadays. The authoritarian days of dentistry are over. People have information at their fingertips. We have to acknowledge this and adapt our chairside manner. I believe strongly in having patients PARTICIPATE in their treatment planning. The last line in our mission statement is “give patients control over their treatment decisions.” I don’t want to tell people what to do. I want to give them all the information they need to make an informed decision. Patients that participate and feel like they have control in the process don’t just ACCEPT treatment, they COMMIT to treatment.    

Exceeding expectations … that’s what it’s all about. It’s another tool to help build relationships, build trust and build a brand.

Mike Monokian, D.M.D.


Commenter's Profile Image Shawn S.
October 31st, 2017
Thankyou for such a concise, to the point, simple, and well said article. We try to do these things in our office everyday and most days get it done. However I would say that you mention some "little" things that I certainly could benefit from doing more of and will without a doubt apply them right away. Thanks again for posting this useful article and best regards from Wolfeboro NH
Commenter's Profile Image Michael M.
October 31st, 2017
Thanks Shawn for your kind words about the article. Glad to hear your practice is ahead of the game and already exceeding expectations. I constantly try to attend different practice management seminars and workshops with my team so we can pick up little pearls to implement in our practice. Wishing you all the best in your path forward.