If you are taking the time to read this article you are probably one of those people who think that they provide good customer service.  You may also, by reading this article, want to make sure that you are doing everything that you can to stay up to date. But I would like to ask you if you are viewing your 21st century customer care through  an out of date a 20th century lens?

The expectations of a dental audience in 2018 are different from those of . twenty, ten  or even five years ago. Technology in particular is changing consumer and patient expectations about customer service.  Add to this mix the fact that when planning our practice’s services, we usually take as a starting point what we would like to offer our patients and even the level of service that we would like to receive ourselves if we were patients. Well, it is true that all patients have certain expectations and requirements which must be met if they are going to be satisfied with their experience. So perhaps reflecting on what would give us satisfaction is no bad place to start. But should it stop there? If we only think about what we would like we are in danger of ignoring the fact that our patients are not us and may be looking at things from a different angle and may indeed want something different.

We invest, or should be investing, in customer care training to make the patient experience a positive one, but our patients now usually come having pre-qualified our ability to provide the service they are looking for , either through the personal recommendation of other people like them, or increasingly through information they find online. And if they don’t like what they see, or cannot match what is on our online presence with what they are looking for, we don’t get the chance to make them our patients and experience this great customer service that we can offer.  Customer care therefore starts before the first visit to the practice, and this may mean our rethinking how we offer information about our services and indeed the information itself.

We need to reach out beyond the practice walls and consider our patients’ experience online as well as face to face and on the telephone.  Their expectations have already been set by the way we have looked after them by providing (or not) useful and accessible  information that they want about us and about their dental health.

If we are seriously interested in customer care we have to think about how people want to interact with us and not how we want to interact with them. We need to consider how we can get across the key concepts of how we will care for them using new domains.  What are your potential patients’ first impressions of your practice from your website?  The majority of internet access is now from a handheld device. You may have optimised your site for mobile use, but evidence now suggests that there is a clear preference for apps, with more than 80% of mobile minutes spent on apps rather than anything else, and usage growing by 6% year on year. Is it time to question how you are reaching out to your potential  patients to meet their needs and preferences?  .

Website or app,  it is vital that we know the type of information that is important to our potential customers which may be different from the type of information we think is important to them. An analysis of web landing and exit pages can be useful, but this is precisely the type of information and feedback that can be elicited in surveys, either online during website or app use or of patients after have joined our practice.

So what does all of this mean for us in dental practice?  After all, dentists are the ultimate face to face service deliverer.  At the very least we should stop and consider what our patients want, and how to develop systems that enhance their satisfaction and create a service-friendly environment inside the practice and online. The care,  concern and old-fashioned kindness which we might believe to be our practice offering needs to be extended beyond the face-to-face to all of our systems, old and new.  We need too,  to shift from being reactive to being proactive. Whilst many front desk teams  work really hard to respond to call and enquiries, and answer questions that patient and prospective  patients put to them, fewer practices have really thought through and are proactive in providing the sort of information that patients might want and tailoring it to them as individuals or groups.  Look at how similar the underlying  structure and design of many  dental practice websites actually is.

But we have moved from an era of mass production  to mass customisation.  In the 21st century, great customer care involves addressing patient concerns and queries before the patient even contacts us, and customising how they receive  it.  Customer care starts before a potential patient becomes an actual patient.   Looking through the 21st century lens means reviewing practice systems, but also at staff training to make sure that your team embraces the idea of what real engagement with a patient means – asking questions rather than just answering questions in order to tailor what your practice has to offer that particular individual.  Now,  consumers expect services to be customised to them and are less willing to fit into your systems.

Dentistry remains a people business but what people want is changing.  Are you ready to meet that challenge?

Fiona Stuart-Wilson