Saturday, January 31, 2009

Flat or Double?

I had an inspiring experience this week working with a great team who has built the leading and largest dental practice in their town. During an evening break, I was talking on the phone with my 13 year old daughter Ashlin. After telling her about the practice and how great it was, she asked, “Dad, if they are so good, why are you there?” I laughed and then explained to her that the reason the best are the best is because they continue to learn no matter how good they are. That is what keeps them on ToP.

What surprised me about this team was that a well meaning “consultant” had recently planted in their minds that they would be lucky if they “stayed flat” this year “because of the economy.” I just about came unglued when I heard this! If you have read or reviewed our ToPS Special Report “How to Thrive in a Down Economy” recently you know why. So ToPS Practice Advisor, Chris Toconis and I set out to help them see a different vision.

We had a blast as we worked together on ToPS systems in many areas of the practice. The team was engaged, open, and excited. They were ready to learn and absorb it all thanks to the great leadership in the practice that had paved the way.

Then came the true test. After we had worked on the new systems and skills, we all walked back into the practice for a day of seeing patients to see what was really possible. The energy was palpable. The excitement was electric. Several of the team members huddled outside one of the treatment rooms as Chris visited with the first new patient. What everyone had pre-judged as being a walk-in, walk-out patient, ended up accepting extensive treatment and wanted to get started today! With that as the starting point, the team was ready to kick it into gear in their own treatment rooms. We worked together side-by-side answering the phones, presenting treatment, and making financial arrangements. It was an fast-paced day filled with opportunities.

We called it a day about mid afternoon so we could huddle as a team and debrief before the end of the day. When we tallied up the results for the day compared to what was scheduled at the beginning of the day, this team had doubled their scheduled production. They produced twice as much as they had scheduled on the books that morning! And that was just in 3/4ths of a day!

Today, this team has a whole new vision of what is possible this year. “Flat” is no longer in their vocabulary. A steep rise is!

What this team experienced this week is not unusual. It happens every week in ToPS practices all over the country. While the masses have resigned themselves to mediocre performance this year because of what everyone else is saying, we are seeing spectacular improvements in case acceptance and production all over the country. Why? Because when you have the right systems in place and you have the confidence to implement them, your practice will be ToPS.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

What Financial Arrangements? A Case Study

As you probably know, in addition to our ToPS clients that we work with around the country, we have a group of dental offices that we manage on a daily basis. Among other benefits, it provides us with an active laboratory in which to test and implement everything we teach. Occasionally we come up with a real head scratcher. Here’s one that happened this week. I will share with you what happened before, during and after treatment. Feel free to comment by clicking on the “comment” icon below with your own ideas.

A 61 year old, male patient came in last week for an initial exam for which he paid in full. After the exam, he was presented with a treatment plan for nearly $4,000 which included a root canal, bridge and some other restorative work. He was also presented with several financial arrangement options including third-party financing which he declined and said that he would find the way to pay for it. He signed the financial agreement and scheduled the next appointment.

He came in this week for the treatment which included the majority of the work. At the conclusion of the appointment he said that he had no money and would pay when he could and then left!

When the situation was brought to my attention, I called him for clarification. He carried on for several minutes about how he was an honest man, how connected he was in town, everyone including the mayor would vouch for him, etc. With the best verbal skills I know, I thanked him for the background and then ASKed him what he would do if he were in my shoes. He said he would probably ask the customer what he could do. So I asked him what he could do. He said that he had a hundred dollars in his pocket and that he could pay that. I concluded by telling him that objectively speaking, I had a signed financial agreement, services that had been rendered based on that agreement, and no payment. Technically that was theft of services. If he could find his way back to the office to make some type of good faith payment that day, that would be a good idea to prevent the police from becoming involved. He did come in about a half hour later and paid one hundred dollars and said that he would pay us something each month.

Will he pay more? I doubt it. We made some calls around town including the mayor’s office. The mayor had never heard of him.

I’m sure you have had things like this happen to you before. So here’s the question; if a patient signs a financial agreement, is that sufficient? Or do you choose to always error on the side of caution and ask for payment up front before treatment begins? The bigger question at this point is if when faced with a situation like this, do you choose to treat it as an exception or the rule and change everything you do because someone stiffed you?

The practice of dentistry is filled with interesting choices. What choices would you make in this situation?

I look forward to your comments.

Have a great week.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Power of 3

I don’t know if there is any such thing as a magic number, but if there is, the number 3 would one.

Consider these 3 applications of the magic power of the number 3:

Application #1: The 3rd inquiry. You usually get the true answer from a patient or a person after asking the 3rd time. The first response is the most convenient, superficial response. Ask a follow-up question and you’ll get a little more information. Ask another follow-up question and you’ll most likely get the truth. Most people just run out of creative excuses and come forth with the truth after the third request. For example, as you greet the patient and ask them how they are doing, the patient might say, “I hate the dentist.” Instead of laughing it off and moving on, you might ask, “You’re not alone. What is it about the dentist that you don’t like?” The patient might say, “Well you know it’s just the drill, the smell, all that stuff.” That’s two questions. Let’s try one more just to see what else is going on. You might ask, “It sounds like you have had some bad experiences in the past. Tell me what’s happened.” Then the patient proceeds to tell you the story. You finally have the truth. Only when you have the truth can you serve the patient with satisfaction. So don’t just take the first response at face value, keep asking. By the third inquiry, you’ll probably get to the truth.

Application #2: The 3rd alternative. When seeking a solution for a patient, we usually give them the best course of action first. When that does not work for any reason, it is tempting to stop. Suggest another option. Listen to what they have to say then suggest a 3rd option. By the time you get to the third option, you will have the highest likelihood of acceptance if they are sincerely interested. For example, you present your financial arrangements and the patient says that will not work for whatever reason. Listen to the concerns and then suggest another option like third party financing. If that does not work, suggest a third option like a co-signer or relative that might help out. Many times you’ll find a solution by the third alternative. Just keep looking.

Application #3: The third rejection. Human nature gives up after the first rejection. No one likes rejection because it strikes to our core. Instead of remembering that the other person is just rejecting our proposal, it is too easy to think that he or she is rejecting us. GET OVER IT! Keep asking! Instead of folding, suggest another route. Express your real concern. Let them know how important it is to move forward. If you get doubt or indecision, hang in there. Keep talking. Ask some follow-up questions. If you are really concerned, you’ll work to overcome the obstacles the patient might have. Many of the best “Yeses" come after the third “rejection” if you’ll just hang in there and keep asking.

One word or warning: you can come across as pushy if you don’t have the other person’s best interest at heart. But if you are genuinely interested in others and helping them, you won’t come across as pushing your own agenda.

So give the Power of 3 a test this week. In fact, why don’t you give it more than a test? Give it at lest 3 tests! It may not work every time, but I’ll guarantee that you’ll get at least one positive response if you test it at least 3 times!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

No More NO's!

Maybe it’s just me, but there aren’t very many things that get me stirred up like being told “no!” Maybe it is last child syndrome in me, but I just don’t like to be turned down. I’ll bet that most of your patients don’t like to be told “no” either.

Here in Dallas, we have a well-known, five-star hotel, The Mansion on Turtle Creek. It is known for its exceptional service. Business legend has it that there is only one person at The Mansion that can ever tell a guest “no!” Only one. Everyone else says “yes” or they have to refer the request to their supervisor. Only the manager of The Mansion can say “no.!”

So how do they do it? By always offering the guest a choice of what IS available so they can choose. For example, if a guest asks a service person to take a picture of their group in the dining room, the service person would most likely respond to the guest that he would be happy to take the picture and invite the guest out on the patio where the lighting is better. (It is against the rules at The Mansion to take pictures in the dining room.)

You may remember my favorite story about one of the best presentations I have observed about 6 years ago when Cheryl and I were looking to "upgrade" the "sorority house" for our 5 daughters (now 6!) The best presenter we encountered never told us we could not have what we wanted. He simply continued to offer us choices of what they did have available. When Cheryl asked if there was carpet available in a specific color he did not carry, he simply responded by offering her the colors he did have. He was great! When I asked him where he learned how to do that, he said, "teaching 6th grade!"

Back at the dental office, take a look at all of your presentation systems, especially financial arrangements. All of your financial options, for example, should be in writing so your patients can choose from what you do have available. If a patient ever asks for a financial option you don’t have, the financial coordinator can simply respond, “That is great question. Could I share with you the financial options that we have available?” If the patient persists, the response can take them back to the options you DO have, not what you don’t have.

Take a few minutes this week to discuss with your team what they do if the patient asks for something you don’t have or don’t do. Make sure they understand that you can still say “yes” to the patient by offering them options of what you do have available. Several “yes” alternatives are always better than a “no!”

So just say “yes”. You’ll be amazed at how many yeses you get back in return.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

The Power of Expectation

In one of the dental practices I was in recently, I was observing and overhearing the case presentations. In once instance, the financial coordinator explained, “Mrs. Jones, the fee for all of the treatment we have talked about is going to be $(fee). Would you like to do that or……..(pause).

OR what? It was almost as if the financial coordinator was expecting the patient to say “NO” or to object to the fee. Imagine her surprise when the patient said, “Let’s do it.” The financial coordinator said, “Oh! O.K.”

This was one of those rare occasions when what came back was more than what was expected. Clearly the financial coordinator was expecting rejection or at least an objection.

It is a funny thing about life, you usually get what you expect.

Come with me to another practice. This one is in Florida. A man came in whose wife had set the appointment. He had recently been to the dentist, but his wife wanted him to see her dentist. Early on it was clear that he had big problems. The initial probing readings showed 6 and 7 mm pockets and bleeding. Shortly there after, the hygienist excused herself to get something down the hall. I talked to her on her way. “He won’t accept treatment,” she said. Then followed a long list of reasons why not. “He’s in the military and he can get dental work for free at the base. He’s going to be shipped out soon so he won’t have time for complete perio therapy. He was sent here in the first place. He doesn’t even want to be here.” And the list went on. Upon hearing this long list of “expectations,” I suggested that this hygienist take a break and I invited another hygienist who had higher expectations to complete the appointment. Not surprisingly, the man accepted four quads of perio therapy and paid cash.

Now for every success story like that, I am sure there are many others that did not turn out so great. But, I do know one thing, if you don’t expect a “Yes” you won’t get one very often. But more often than not, you’ll get more of what you expect than what you don’t expect.

So start raising your expectations. You’ll be amazed how patients respond when you expect them to say “Yes.”