When you are thinking about achieving customer satisfaction in your practice, is that really all you want? Satisfied customers, as Ken Blanchard proposes in his book ‘Raving Fans’, just aren’t enough. 25 years after that book was published I believe he is still right.

If you take a look at your patient base, which would you describe as the ‘raving fans’? I would suspect not the ones who have ‘no complaints’.  A ‘no complaints’ patient isn’t enough to get excited about.   The ones who are your greatest champions are the ones who think you are ‘great’.  But who decides what is great?

Let’s look at things a different way: which of your staff around you would you rely on 100% of the time to be great ambassadors for the practice  – or practice champions?  If the answer isn’t ‘all of them’ there could be some work to be done.

Without those people who think our practice is great – practice champions  – we risk being left behind in today’s increasingly competitive marketplace. We need those champions, both patients and staff  – to tell our practice story for us, to motivate and encourage people to visit us and to provide proof stories of our excellent care.   The people who think we are great and can provide evidence from their own  experience,  can help us to recruit  new patients and  retain old ones  –  and can save us thousands of dollars in marketing costs into the bargain.

Their story is the practice’s story. And if we want them to be champions for us, we have to deliver what they think is great  – which may be different from what we think is great.

This of course is the reality check. The totality of our service needs to be focused on the needs and desires and preferences of our preferred patient base.  Not all patients want the same thing.  Some might not value our level of care or personal attention, preferring a more impersonal approach.  Others may want a level of service that even though they are prepared to pay for it, we are not prepared to offer as it would be too stressful and demanding!   Before we can develop those practice champions we have to find a happy marriage between our level of service that we are comfortable with providing, and the types of patients who  value what we have to offer  and how we offer it.

So moving on from  there, how can we create these practice champions? Blanchard’s concept of a raving fan is a customer (either internal or external) who is so impressed by the level of service they receive when dealing with you that they tell the story of their experience to many others, over and over again.  To make this happen for us we need to build a very clear picture of the ideal customer experience and take the right steps to make that happen.   Many  businesses including dental practices can testify to the effectiveness of creating such   champions,  not just amongst patients but also amongst their own staff.  After all if your own staff aren’t prepared to spread the word about how great your practice is, either face to face or on social media,  then what does this add  to your story?

Take a moment to think about your patients’ current customer service experience.  What is it like, really?  Not what you would like it to be like, or what it can be like on the days when all runs smoothly? What is it like when things are NOT running smoothly? Now think what you would like their ideal customer experience be, however impractical or unrealistic that may for the moment seem to be.  How far does this match up to what you KNOW that they would like?  If you know that your vision is what would make your patients say you were great, the power is in your hands to do something about it.   And of course, if you don’t, chances are someone else will.

Building that patient experience requires some key foundations: here are some rules for creating champions amongst  staff and  patients.

Keep your promises.

If you say you are going to do something, do it. If something happens that is out of your control making it impossible to honour a  commitment you have made,  keep your people informed and do everything you can to make it right. Such occasions should be very rare exceptions to the rule.

Don’t set people’s expectations unrealistically high

Use Tom Peters’ mantra of ‘underpromise, and overdeliver’.  That way you make it easy to exceed people’s expectations and don’t set yourself up to disappoint them.

Keep people in touch with their practice

Be proactive in keeping your patients in touch with what is going on.  Make them feel that it is their practice (and not that they are your patient.  There’s a difference.) Let them know when new services are available, or if you are changing opening hours, or of parking arrangements are changing.  Think in advance what would be useful information for them and tell them. When you discuss changes or improvements in the practice think about how you can involve the patients in the communication  loop early on. Avoid for example announcing the opening of a new surgery in the practice when  they have been walking through a building  site for a year. Conversely don’t wait for them to find out a chapter of your story next time they come in or through someone else.

Be consistent

Consistency breeds trust. We all like to do business with (or work for) organisations that are consistent. It gives us a sense of security and peace of mind. Foster that same sense of consistency in your practice – and avoid surprises.  Patients usually dislike them…

Deal with  problems fast.

If there is a problem sort it out quickly.  It might not be a formal complaint  – it might be a minor issue or a just a rumble of discontent  amongst some patients.  Whatever it is, no matter how small, deal with it and let patients know that you have.

Stay ahead of the ‘great’ game.

Find out constantly and consistently what your patients are thinking and what they think is great and what they no longer think is great. Why not think about creating some customer champions, people who represent your patients who are respected, influential and honest enough to tell you what the customer experience is really like and how it can be improved?  After all it is your patients who determine what is great and we need to listen to them.