Featured Image - Dentist talking to patient

When you interact with businesses nowadays, have you noticed a nearly global drop in how you are treated and even in the quality of products delivered? Does it seem like it's becoming worse and more entrenched as the pandemic wears on?

I have noticed this, as have most — if not all of my close friends. If you have not noticed this decline in the quality of service and/or the products you receive, I am going to be bold and say you are either not paying attention or have simply become numb to the general decline of service and the quality of the products delivered. I will even admit that I sometimes find myself and my friends getting that numbness to this decline and, frankly, I think that is troubling.

Sure, this decline and disruption made sense at the start of the pandemic and even for a while thereafter. However, while we can all agree that there are still obstacles we have to overcome to reach a 100 percent return to normality, at this point I do think many businesses have gotten — and I am going to be bold again — lazy and complacent. Too often they use the pandemic as an excuse to deliver what in the past would have been sub-par and unacceptable service or products when they do not have to be so sub-par anymore.

Customer service problems in today's dental practices

Do not read this as me saying, “Everything should be normal at this point.” That is NOT what I am saying. What I am saying is that too often, many dental practices are failing to deliver what they could at this point and they are still using the pandemic as an excuse. They have fallen into a rut and failed to see how to or work to get out of it.

A great example of this is when I walked into one of my doctors' offices the other day for an appointment. As I walked in for my appointment, which was the first appointment of the day for them, I was greeted by one of the few staff members behind the counter (note I am specifically using the word staff versus team, more on that in a bit). This person briefly looked up from their computer, said “hello” and then — this part that really hit me — that person immediately went back to work on the computer. It was like I no longer existed. Seriously, it was like I had become invisible or uninteresting despite the fact that I was proceeding in this person's direction, not wandering around the lobby or meeting someone else.

Next, another staff member several seats down from the first person who was now ignoring me asked, “Can I help you?”. I then said I was there for my appointment, to which the reply was, “And you are?”. Seriously, my inner voice was saying,

“I know I am the first patient of the day, and I am the only one here, so who do you think I am? Are you trying to protect my privacy or are you just that impersonal? I know there has to be better way around the privacy issue if that is what you are worried about.”

After I got all checked in, I was thinking to myself, “Wow, if my team greeted people this way I would be appalled” (notice I said team versus staff). Think about how different the response “and you are?” is versus “John?” or even “are you John?” or anything else that made it clear you knew who you were expecting and — dare I even say — were happy to see.

The difference between dental staff and dental team

So, before I go on, I mentioned above that there is a difference between team and staff. If you do not know it already, there is a big difference between team and staff. Think of staff as people there to punch the clock, doing what they must in order to keep punching the clock. Beyond that, well, there is not much of anything. Going deeper, you can think of staff as individuals working primarily as just that: individuals. If absolutely necessary, they might work with others at the office, but really the less the better.

A team, on the other hand, embraces the ability to work independently and get things done on their own but also has each other's backs. A team understands that if they can also work together, they can get more done with less stress because, when it comes to team, 1+1 equals a lot more than 2. Teams also get that if each member is there for the other, they can — and typically all — will succeed and reap the rewards.

It is worth noting that in the example above, the doctor, who I know personally, does not refer to their group as a team, but rather what it is: a staff.

So, guess which one of the key steps is missing in our current environment? You guessed it — developing a dental practice team.

Dentist virtual appointment

Virtual dental appointments and customer service

Another great thing to remember, realize, and embrace is the fact that we as dentists for the most part cannot operate virtually. Sure, you might be saying being able to work more virtually might be an advantage or desirable. Keep in mind there is something lost in the virtual world that only in-person, face-to-face experiences can deliver. Realize that many of our patients are stuck in a virtual work environment and while some like it — some do not — and nearly all of them miss the personal interactions they used to get more often.

Heck, I was even at dinner the other night with group of dentists, and it struck me just what a big deal it was and how we're lacking the interactions so many of us used to take for granted. As we were sitting at dinner enjoying the company, one of the dentists expressed several times — quite heartfeltly — how wonderful it was to be out with friends and colleagues and how much he had missed these sorts of interactions. Keep in mind that this guy is in a busy group practice, so it is not like he is at home working virtually. He is having in-person interactions on a regular basis, yet he is/was still missing the interactions he used to have. What does that tell you about how many people who are working virtually must be feeling?

So that is the other tip — be there for those patients with whom you have the chance to interact. They are likely hungry for real in-person interactions. Oh, and keep in mind this same lack of personal interaction even extends to those who are retired. Again, you and your team are poised in a perfect place to have great interactions when you see your patients; do not miss this opportunity! Many of your patients are hungry for it, and they will appreciate it.

Bring customer service back to your practice … responsibly

There is one more tip I have to mention — Do not forget what used to work well for you in the pre-COVID world. What I mean by this is, yes, a lot has changed, but assuming that everything has to change forever is — in my opinion — a dangerous mistake. I believe the best thing to do is to think back and try to identify if there are things you have not been able to do (or still cannot do) that you miss or are negatively impacting you. Get back to them when you can do so safely and responsibly.

In closing, yes — we are all tired, and, yes, we are still having to do extra things, take extra precautions, and deal with supply issues. However, in many cases, dental practices can do a lot better than what they're currently doing, so now is your chance to shine! Do those things!

Be as close to your pre-pandemic reality as you responsibly can, and, yes, I get this is different depending on where you are and it's different for dental compared to other industries. But again, when possible and responsible, do it!

John R. Carson, D.D.S., is a member of Spear Visiting Faculty and a contributor to Spear Digest.


Commenter's Profile Image Ricardo M.
December 10th, 2021
Awesome article John! I agree with you 100%. We all need to re-group and ponder about those "x" factors that made our pre-pandemic practices special and make sure that we not only revive them but mae them even more special !
Commenter's Profile Image Mary Lynn W.
December 22nd, 2021
Couldn't agree more Dr. Carson!!!! ML Wheaton, PGP