This month, Spear doctors and their teams have access to five new Conversation Essentials courses focused on managing complex or potentially tricky conversations with patients. These short video vignettes take the guesswork out of practice communication and focus on common questions teams may face when interacting with patients in the day-to-day.
These new releases are the first time these vignettes feature practice management expert Amy Morgan, Spear's VP of Consulting Strategy and a leading voice behind Spear Practice Solutions. These courses highlight touchy topics that many teams struggle to navigate and provide actionable tips on how to turn potentially negative situations into positive, trust-building interactions.
The five new courses include:
- Will My Insurance Cover This?
- I'm Only 15 Minutes Late - Can You Squeeze Me In?
- Can I Call to Schedule My Next Hygiene Appointment?
- How Much Is This Procedure?
- Give Me (Blank) or I'll Give You a Bad Yelp Review.
We caught up with Amy Morgan to discuss why these topics are so important for practice owners and teams today — and why communication is the most effective way to build trust with patients overwhelmed with mixed messages.
In your view, what is the common thread that makes all five of these new Conversation Essentials courses valuable for dental practice teams right now?
Amy Morgan: “It is that a patient question or blocker can be handled positively in a win-win fashion. I think that with team members, there's always that hated question that comes up that the team member immediately feels that either the patient's going to lose or they're going to lose. But with excellent communication, these questions can open the door to a deeper relationship, not damage the relationship.”
Why is creating deeper relationships with patients especially important for practices right now?
“A foundation of trust allows us to influence and inspire our patients, no matter how noisy the conversation gets.”
Amy Morgan: “I think it's always important for practice teams — however, there is a fair amount of noise and distraction right now. Loyalty, commitment and value start with trust. When you're talking about things like, "Will my insurance cover this?" or any of the things that we're talking about, it can create a breakdown of trust [if not handled correctly]. A foundation of trust allows us to influence and inspire our patients, no matter how noisy the conversation gets.”
“In all my years of working with teams, there's always the concept of relationships under pressure — pressure points. The pressure point is when I quote the approximate fee, or when the patient is two days late with an agreed-upon payment. The relationship under pressure is when the hygiene patient absolutely knows they're about to get busted because they haven't flossed since 1872 [laughs].”
“When relationships are under pressure, we can fight or flee. Anyone who's ever done any customer service work knows that it's not the best experiences that often get your raving fans, it's the experiences where the relationship was under pressure and you got through it — you got to the other side. That enhances the relationship and tends to exceed expectations. Pressure points are not to be feared, they're to be embraced because that is how you create that loyalty and commitment.”
Spear advisor and registered dental hygienist Jeanette Lalli recently wrote an article on tough conversations with the practice team. How does this relate to those pressure points?
“That's really what we're looking at here with most of our pressure points — is to walk away not feeling like I had to concede. We want to proceed, not concede.”
Amy Morgan: “It's about creating a win-win solution. When you talk about the art and science of negotiation, you're going not for a zero-sum game. Unfortunately, in politics and in so many of the things we're dealing with today, it looks like for someone to win, someone has to lose.”
“How do you make difficult situations a win-win? How do you make it so everybody walks away from the table feeling like that something for them got fulfilled? That's really what we're looking at here with most of our pressure points — is to walk away not feeling like I had to concede. We want to proceed, not concede.”
For team members who are new to patient communication or want to be more effective, how do you recommend that they utilize the Spear platform to build confidence?
“The bottom line is when [a response] feels artificial or inauthentic, it gets picked up no matter whether the words were correct or not.”
Amy Morgan: “Spear Online provides great scripts for handling those conversations — our Conversation Essentials vignettes. As hated as scripting is, I think what's more hated is being in a pressure point and not feeling like you have the skill [to navigate it successfully].”
“The whole idea of scripting and role-playing is not to put the spotlight on you and everybody laughs. Your brain can't tell the difference between live and memorized — so if you practice enough where you feel like it's integrated, you get the question [from the patient] and your brain goes, ‘Calm down, you got this one.' You know what to say and how to say it.”
“The bottom line is when [a response] feels artificial or inauthentic, it gets picked up no matter whether the words were correct or not. You don't think that your patients hear the hesitancy or the darting eyes or the cold, clammy hands as you're like, ‘Oh, shoot, I'm between a rock and a hard place.' If you've practiced it enough that it doesn't feel like an unwelcome surprise, then you're going to have a much better result.”
Consider doctors and practice leaders that have not made a point to do role-playing or scripting with the team because it feels awkward or nerve-wracking. Do you have any suggestions to help them present these exercises in a way to their team that feels like a win-win?
“Being willing to hold out for mastery is an important piece of the layered learning experience. We're not going to be experts and we're not going know this right away. The more we put our attention and energy into it, the more comfortable we'll become.”
Amy Morgan: “Here's the deal … the first thing you have to do is acknowledge the vulnerability. When you call your team into the icy waters of any change — whether we're talking about verbal skills or anything else — the doctor must be the first one to get in there and be vulnerable, turn red, say that they feel uncomfortable but are willing to do it anyway. It's not, ‘You guys go do role-play exercises, I'm going to go read the ADA News.'”
“Secondly, most of the personalities that are attracted to dentistry are processors. That's what makes them great scientists, right? When you have a team of processors, asking them to off the top of their heads by asking, "What would you say?" Well, you're going to get a blank stare. That goes back to letting people think through it by providing a sample script and asking how they would say it. Reading the script versus creating the script off the top of your head helps reduce that pressure of, ‘I don't have it mastered yet, therefore I can't think of what I would say.'”
“I'm a huge fan of layered learning and incremental success [because] most of us want to eat the elephant one bite at a time. I'll give you an example: At Spear Practice Solutions, we hear all the time, ‘Why we have to keep practicing the same thing?' It's like learning Latin. Just because you had a meeting on active listening does not mean that you and your entire team have mastered the fine art of active listening. I haven't even mastered the fine art of active listening! [laughs] Being willing to hold out for mastery is an important piece of the layered learning experience. We're not going to be experts and we're not going to know this right away. The more we put our attention and energy into it, the more comfortable we'll become.”
Why is repetition especially important when it comes to communication mastery?
Amy Morgan: “Anyone who ever took a language in high school who, after many years, can only say, "Where is the bathroom?" can answer that question. I took French, "Où est la salle de bain?" I remember that part. [chuckle] Beyond that, I'm not very proficient in French. It's another language — and the language of influence is another language.”
“No matter how many times you go, "Oh yeah, I ask open-ended questions, and I do this and this," and then you hear yourself and you're like, "Oh crap." [laughs] There's a huge difference between intention, perception and reality.”
Amid the ongoing pandemic and the uncertainty it brings, trust is especially important right now. How does communication help foster trust or even rebuild it after it's eroded?
Amy Morgan: “One of my favorite early books is a book called The Leader's Voice, and the author talks about the fact that if anyone even sniffs a hidden agenda, from that point forward they're going to filter everything you say to stay safe. To me has always been a profound statement because there are a lot of hidden agendas out there. Not only are [patients] going to filter everything you say to stay safe, if it's systemic, they're going to start filtering everything everybody says to stay safe.”
“These hidden agendas from all sides leads the average human to begin operating from the position, ‘Can I believe anything anybody says?' The constant voice that rises above that is the voice that will create the least amount of that kind of mistrust. Let's say that the doctor says, ‘We need the full hour to be able to fully give you the attention you deserve to handle your health,' but then the next time they only take 20 minutes. It is the walking the talk, it is to follow through, it is, ‘You say it, but will you do it?' Those are the two things we're combating more so than ever before. It's really nice when our teams can be that one safe harbor that [patients] can trust.”
Karen Hewell is the Managing Editor for Spear Digest.