Saturday, December 18, 2010

Natural Law of Cooperation

Life is full of what I call natural laws. The natural laws of human behavior are similar to natural laws in physics and nature. Gravity for example, is a natural law. What goes up must come down. In life, if you attempt to violate a natural law, there are consequences. You don’t break the natural law. It breaks you. The same applies with natural laws of human behavior.

So here is a critically important natural law of human behavior. It is what I call the Law of Cooperation. It says that someone needs to be the partner with whom that patient can work to get what he or she wants. In other words, someone needs to cooperate with the patient to be on his or her side to help facilitate a solution to whatever the problem or desire might be.

Sounds simple, right? WRONG!

Too often, there are huge barriers that stand in the way of abiding by the Law of Cooperation. Here are just a few:

  • Thinking that it is all about the teeth. It is easy to get trapped into thinking that dentistry is about teeth! No so. What patients want is a solution to their total problems, not just their dental problems.
  • Lack of listening: Do you really hear what your patients are saying? Or do you just cut to the chase to go after whatever the diagnosis indicates that the patient “needs?” Remember, we all do what we want to do, but not necessarily what we need to do.
  • TELLING instead of ASKING. Telling the patients what we have to offer instead of first asking them what they are looking for only leads to frustration and low acceptance.

The True Test:
If you want to know if you are abiding by the Law of Compensation, just ask yourself, “Am I helping the patient get what he wants, or am I just trying to get him to do what I want him to do.”

Cooperation starts with mutual understanding. If you literally feel like you are sitting on the same side of the table with your patient helping her get what she wants, they you are abiding by the Law of Cooperation.

For the most up-to-date skills to help every team member achieve the highest level of case acceptance, make the “Total Immersion” course by the Total Patient Service Institute part of your 2011 continuing education plan. For dates and locations, go to

Friday, November 19, 2010

VIP Service?

Question: How do you know if you are really providing “V.I.P. Service” to your patients?

Having concluded our ToPS Total Immersion course in Las Vegas last week, we were checking out of one of the big name hotels on the Las Vegas Strip. This place is so big that it has three registration and checkout areas in three different parts of the hotel for guest convenience.

Over the several days that we were there, I noticed that the “front desk” and taxi stand on one side of the building was less busy than at the front of the hotel. So I strategically planned our escape when were ready to checkout and get to the airport. We naturally went where we would not have to stand in line and wait. And we were right! There was no line at the taxi stand. The only problem was, there were no taxis either! (And no hotel employee to seen anywhere.) We waited for a few minutes. No taxi and no bellman.

I ran inside the hotel and into the place I was sure could solve my taxi problem. “V.I.P. Services.” After all, these are the guys and gals who know how to jump to attention and make it happen for the hotel’s high rollers, right? I told them the situation and asked if they could call a cab. “There are cabs out there,” they said. I pointed outside through the window so they could see for themselves. “Just ask the bellman,” they said. “There is no bellman,” I explained for the second time. “Then you’ll just have to walk to the front of the hotel to get a cab,” was their solution. (That’s quite the hike mind you.) Keeping my cool, I asked if there were any way they could pick up the phone, call the bell desk at the front of the hotel and tell them that a cab was needed at the taxi stand on the other side of the hotel. “Oh, yes! I guess we could do that,” they responded.

Answer: If your customer is the one making suggestions as to how you can provide V.I.P. Service, you’re not providing it!

Providing “V.I.P. Service” is about thinking on your feet. It’s about coming up with a way to solve the other person’s problem without being told. It’s about being a little creative. It’s about taking initiative.

Over one hundred years ago, author Elbert Hubbard defined “initiative” as “doing the right thing without being told.” Providing the right kind of V.I.P. Service requires initiative.

So what initiative would you take in these every day situations that are opportunities to provide V.I.P. Service?

· An “emergency” patient calls and there are no openings in the schedule today.

· A patient really wants to start treatment, but doesn’t have all the money and doesn’t qualify for third party financing.

· A busy mom just can’t seem to remember the appointments she sets in your office.

· You have a patient scheduled in one hour for whitening and you just discovered you have no whitening kits left in the office.

Every day presents opportunities to use your initiative to provide “V.I.P. Service.” It all starts with simply asking yourself, “how can I make this work right now.” That’s the kind of thinking that every office could use more of every day. It’s the kind of thinking that makes “ordinary” patients feel like V.I.P. patients who will tell everyone they know about you as a result.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Too many options?

A quick visit to the pharmacy this week turned into a major problem. Cheryl, my wife, needed some cough drops. Her brand of choice? Ricola. Easy enough, right? Wrong. When I found the display, I was immediately distraught. There were multiple options to choose from: Original, Cherry, Lemon, Honey, Green Tea, Mixed Berry, and then many of the same flavors in sugar free, menthol, and Echinacea. Good grief! I thought this was going to be easy. Not wanting to disappoint Cheryl, I immediately called her to go through all the options: flavor, sugar or sugar free, menthol or not, Echinacea or not. “Forget it,” she said. “Just get me some Dayquil!”

And such is life. Sorting through too many options creates too much stress so we opt for the less stressful route – no decision at all!

Now let’s step back into the dental office. How many treatment options are you giving your patients? One, two, three…five?

In an effort to try and find something that will work for the patient, many make the mistake of presenting too many options. Science has proven that the greater number of options we have to choose from, the less of a chance we have of making any type of decision. It is too confusing. It takes too much effort. It is too stressful. Since we are all susceptible to natural laws, we revert to the natural law that is stronger than choice: The Law of Least Resistance. “Matter tends to take the course of least resistance.” In other words, water flows down hill. We all tend to take the course of least resistance. Rather than sort through the mental process of options and alternatives, we look for the easiest way out…no decision at all.

Take the better path of a clear, recommended direction. Based on what you know about the patient, make a clear recommendation that makes sense to your patient tied to the benefits they are looking for.

The efficient way out for you is to just give the patient a lot of options because you have not done your research. The more effective way is to do your research, find out what matters most to the patient, and then make a solid recommendation that makes the most sense for the patient, their situation, and what they want.

Isn’t that the better option? It’s the only option that makes sense.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Financial Arrangements Secret

For years, we have talked about the “15 System” which says, after the 15th impression or request, 90% of patients or prospects will say “yes.”

Here’s the statistics:

After you have ASKed...

4 times – 20% will say “yes”

8 times – 50% will say “yes”

12 times – 70% will say “yes”

15 times – 90% will say “yes”

That is a lot of ASKing. The tragedy is that 80% of the people QUIT asking after the first request. In other words, we ASK far too little and not often enough.

Here is a direct example and application in the dental office.

One of the most challenging tasks in the office is doing financial arrangements. In fact, more treatment is lost during financial arrangements than any other place in the office because there are not enough opportunities in the financial arrangements system in most offices to keep ASKing the patient to say “yes.” The more options you have in your financial arrangements “tool box” the more opportunities you will have to ASK.

How many financial options to do you have to offer your patients? The most effective financial coordinators we work with are masters at continually finding creative ways to help people pay for treatment without compromising the financial stability of the practice. Here are some examples of the kinds of financial options we are talking about:

  • A courtesy for paying in advance of the start of treatment.
  • Accepting all major credit cards.
  • 3 or more forms of third party financing available in the practice.
  • Monthly payment plans for whitening or Invisalign.
  • 90 days same as cash with post-dated checks processed by a third party.*
  • Co-signers for 3rd party financing.
  • Relatives that might help.
  • Other assets or investments they might cash in.
  • “Lay-away” plans where they can “save up” to have the treatment done.

The more options you have to offer, the more successful you will be at helping your patients accept treatment. Today, it is more than just cash, credit or third party financing. If all you have to offer are 3 or 4 financial options, you maybe losing 80% of the opportunities to help your patients say “yes.”

The challenge is to fill your financial arrangements “tool box” with at least 15 financial options. That’s right…15!

To help you achieve that goal, make sure to participate in our Crown Council webinar entitled, “I Can’t Afford It – Secrets to helping your patients accept and pay for treatment TODAY!” on Tuesday, November 9 at noon Central time.

During this webinar, we will present the most up-to-date information including research on every third party patient financing option available today along with the best verbal skills and financial arrangement systems to help you increase your case acceptance TODAY.

For enrollment information, just e-mail: and request information on the “I Can’t Afford It” webinar.

In today’s environment, you have to be better - a lot better at helping your patients say “yes.” In fact, it may take 15 request or options. Just remember, the more you ASK and the more options you present, the more patients will accept.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

How referrable are you?

In the never-ending quest for continual improvement and search for great ideas, I am constantly reaching out into every possible corner of the world. That journey led me this week to speak to 300 of the leading home remodelers in the country that were holed up in a 4 day retreat in a remote part of Wisconsin to reinvent their businesses.

As an industry, this group has had it rough for the last two years. They got hit HARD by all the financial turmoil in the country so it was interesting to hear them talk about what they had done to adapt, stay nimble, survive, and in many cases THRIVE while the competition has been going under.

I worked the room thoroughly before and after my presentation to ASK and find out what they had done that was working. I got quite a list so I thought I would share one that was common sense and very revealing.

One home remodeler said to me, "Steve, the change in the economy has been the best thing that has ever happened to our business. The first change that we made was to get jobs done NOW! We used to string our jobs out as we juggled multiple deadlines. Now, we get in, get the job done quickly in a quality way, and get out. As a result of our improved timing and service:
  • Our customer satisfaction has sky rocketed,
  • We now have raving fans,
  • And we are getting more referrals today than we have ever received from our customers in the history of our business."

He then confessed, "It was never a problem with our quality. We always did great work. It was our personal service that needed a serious upgrade. The change in the economy forced us to do that and it has been a HUGE benefit to our business."

Nothing new I suppose, but the reinforcement of the lesson is invaluable. Rarely is it the quality of the work that is the problem. It is the way we go about the work and the personal service that is attached to it that makes or breaks the deal.

His comment reminded me of a statement by Crown Council ( member Dr. Trevor Murray ( at our recent ToPS Total Immersion course ( in Chicago when he said that if your practice is not getting a healthy flow of referrals from your patients, there is something wrong with what you are doing. Patients naturally want to refer when the product is sound and the service is spectacular. If they don't refer it is probably because you are terrible instead of referrable!

So, if you want more referrals, be more referrable! A powerful reminder of a lesson for any business.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Tale of Two Teams

I was in St. Louis, MO this week as well as Springfield, MA speaking at different dental meetings. I was struck by the contrast of two teams that I encountered:

Team #1: The doctor asked me how much the tuition was to attend our two-day Total Immersion course. When I gave him the fee of just a few hundred dollars per person, he was shocked. “That is a lot of money.” (He sounded just like the patients that so many dentists complain about!) I simply responded that it was only a lot of money if there was no implementation. $1 is expensive if you don’t implement.

Team #2: Contrast that with another team that was in the same room; the team of Dr. Michael Hoffman. I have known Michael for over 10 years. He has built one of the top sedation practices in the country. He is known all over the region for his expertise. Patients seek out his practice because he is one of the pre-eminent in his field. What sets Michael apart is his dedication to education, development of his team, investing in his practice, and IMPLEMENTATION. We see every new team member on Michael’s team through our ToPS Total Immersion course as soon as they are hired. He believes in his people and he invests in them. As a result, his practice continues to grow.

So what is the tale of your team? Are you stagnant and in retreat or progressing and developing? Any money you spend on your practice is “expensive” if you have no plan for implementation to get a return. Any investment is well worth it if you plan, implement and take action.

The course you take will determine the tale of your team now and in the future.
You decide.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Have You Become A Commodity?

It has become a classic scenario: You pull into Costco or Sam’s. You walk in flashing your membership card and grab the over-sized shopping cart or flat bed cart. You grab mass quantities of toilet paper, paper towels, canned goods and other commodities. You even remembered to bring your discount coupon book that gives you even deeper discounts than normal. You wait to check out and then commandeer your over-packed cart through the parking lot and stuff your car full of boxes and containers that were never meant to fit into a car in the first place. As you settle into the driver’s seat, a rush of satisfaction comes over you as you think, “I saved so much money!” As you bask in your victory on the drive out of the parking lot, the thought suddenly flashes through your mind, “I deserve a reward!” You drive a few short blocks, pull into Starbucks, and pay $5 for a cup of coffee!

What is a commodity? It is the kind of stuff you buy at Costco and Sam’s. By definition it is a raw material or product that is widely available, and the quality is perceived as being basically the same from brand to brand. Since there is no differentiating factor that sets one brand apart from another, you are left to shop based on one thing and one thing alone: PRICE!

Think of the commodities exchange in Chicago. Every day, millions of tons of “commodities” are traded based on PRICE. Go to Costco. They stack it deep and sell it cheep because most of what they sell are commodities. It is a price driven game.

Unfortunately, some products, services, and people for that matter have unknowingly become commodities. They become so widely available and indistinguishable one from another that there is nothing left by which to distinguish them but PRICE. Toilet paper, paper towels, computer chips, dentists and some PEOPLE.

Dentists. Our work at the Total Patient Service Institute ( has shown us that most consumers think a dentist is just a dentist and there is really not much difference. And they are right if that has been their experience. If all they have known is the run of the mill dentist who does nothing more than walk in, diagnose, treatment plan and treat, then the patient thinks all dentists are about the same so it only makes sense to price shop them to find the cheapest one.

Our society has a way of trying to make people into commodities. That’s what a job application and a resume do. They standardize all applicants so that they all present the same. It is easier for the employer to make a decision that way. And job applicants fall for it. That’s why we work hard each year at our LEAP seminars for high school and college students ( to show them proven ways to separate themselves from the commoditized masses so they rise to the top and get positions, scholarships, and opportunities that they may have thought were only available to people older and more experienced. As we repeatedly say, “If you do what everyone else does, you’ll get what everyone else gets.” Most people become a commodity. But remember, being a commodity is a choice, not a circumstance.

Take coffee for example. Coffee is a commodity. It is traded on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and other commodity exchanges around the world. You can get a cheep cup of coffee at the local donut shop for fifty cents. But when you go to Starbucks, you pay 10X that amount. Why are you willing to do that? Because Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, simply turned a commodity, coffee, into something a whole lot more. There is a great lesson here for anyone who wants to keep their product, service or themselves from becoming a "commodity casualty."

Here are 4 proven ways to keep your product, service or person from becoming a commodity:

Create different kind of EXPERIENCE. Most of us have become lulled into a world of the mediocre. It all just becomes a blur of average, every day, transactions that never make a mark in our memory. But every once-in-a-while something comes along that wakes us up. It WOWs us with a memorable experience that draws us back over and over again. Take Disney, Starbucks, and Southwest Airlines as well-known examples to name a few. They create an experience that moves people emotionally and makes them want to come back.

Personal Service. Most commodities are so cheep that the provider cannot afford to give any type of service. Just try to find someone at Costco who can help you beyond the people at check out. Contrast that to the team at Enterprise Rent-a-Car, in an otherwise commoditized industry, Enterprise goes out of its way with professional dress, frequent use of your name, escort to your car, and plenty of choices. It is a different kind of car rental experience because of the personal service.

Customization. Many products and services have left the commodity ranks by becoming customized products to fit specific consumers. Take Levi’s for example when it started making custom fit jeans, or my local men’s clothing store. Everyone there knows my name, my style, the brands I like the most, and everything that I have bought in the past. The store fits me instead of expecting me to fit whatever they decide that I should buy!

Specialization. There are so many niches today around the world that it is relatively easy to provide products and services to specialized niches that need what they need in a different way than the masses. Take my friend Troy VanBiezen, a chiropractor, who has specialized in helping professional athletes cut their injury recovery time in half. ( He’s not a chiropractor in people’s minds. He is a celebrity sports performance specialist. As a result, he has an amazing following among professional athletes and executives that wish they were athletes! Or Crown Council ( dentist, Dr. Brian McKay who has made a specialty of being the dentist for people with eating disorders. ( As a result, people come to him from all over the world and around the country. (For a special Crown Council recorded interview with Dr. McKay entitled “Bulemia is a Dental Disorder” call us at 1-877-399-8677.)

There are as many ways to keep your product, service, or yourself from becoming a commodity as there are people. It all comes down to differentiation. What can you do to make yourself unique and different from the masses so you don’t end up being exchanged strictly on price because no one has any other way to tell you apart from the competition.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Continual Improvement - Kaizen

At a recent Crown Council Mastermind retreat, I accompanied a group of Crown Council ( dentists as we toured the Phillips Lighting Plant in Salina, Kansas. Salina is the home of Crown Council Lifetime Qualified Members, doctors Guy and Kate Gross and Dr. Ken Guest (

The remarkable fact about the Phillips Lighting Plant in Salina is that it produces 80% of the fluorescent light bulbs for North and South America. Despite the lower labor costs, plants in China have been unable to compete against this powerhouse in Salina. One of the secrets to the plant’s success is their dedication to Deming Management principles, (the current popular term for which is now LEAN Management), especially that of continual improvement.

When Deming taught the Japanese the principles of quality improvement, they were quick to translate the principles into their own language. One word that became part of the quality equation was “Kaizen.” Kaizen means constant and never-ending improvement. It is not just a philosophy. It is a process – a daily process.

As we walked about the Phillips plant, it was impressive to see the Kaizen initiatives that were in progress. Each department had a “Kaizen 30 Day Action Plan” listing the initiatives that had been approved, who was accountable, and what the target date was for completion. Future review dates were also listed as well has how much progress had been made to date on each initiative.

One of the impressive charts present in each department was one that measured how many Kaizen initiatives had been undertaken by that department in the last year and how many had been completed. That visual reminder had to be a great motivator to the team as they saw on a daily basis how much progress they had made.

I am reminded of the team member refrain heard often as everyone files into a regular team meeting: Here we go again – another team meeting where we talk about the same things all over again and nothing ever changes. In some cases that may be true. In others it may be that progress is not as apparent as it would be if progress were tracked and recorded like they do at Phillips.

What is your system for tracking and reviewing continual improvement projects in your practice? How often do you review that list of projects with your team? Do you track what projects have been completed so that everyone can see the progress that is being made?

If you would like a copy of a “Kaizen 30 Day Action Plan” and the associated completion list, just call the Total Patient Service Institute at 1-877-399-8677 or e-mail:

Continual improvement – it is just one more characteristic of a team that is striving to be ToPS.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Good-bye Morning Huddle

For over 20 years we have taught the value of having a morning huddle. We’ve produced agendas. We’ve trained and retrained. We’ve spoken about it at seminars, workshops and on-site visits. Now, in what may sound like a contradictory move, we are officially banning the morning huddle. No more. Don’t do it. Save the time and save the hassle.

Here’s why…

What’s in a name? Sometimes the title or name that we give things implies so much it is hard to get through the real meaning. Yes, teams huddle on the field, but it is a brief meeting where one person calls the play and every yells “break.” Well, dentistry isn’t football folks. In fact, the most effective teams we have worked with don’t have a morning huddle at all. They have transformed the “get together and call the play of the day” morning huddle into something we have coined the “Morning Opportunity Meeting” or M.O.M. for short.

The primary thing that characterizes the M.O.M. is its middle name: Opportunity. The primary focus is uncovering, strategizing, and planning around the day’s opportunities. Done correctly, everyone has a say and everyone has a part to play. Here are some examples of the opportunities we are talking about:

1. What’s the best thing that happened yesterday? If you have attended any of our ToPS seminars or workshops, you’ve heard us talk about this important first topic of any M.O.M. Focus on what worked yesterday that could be an opportunity to duplicate today. Is there something you said that resulted in a “yes” from a patient? Is there something another team member did that was particularly helpful that could be done again today to increase productivity and effectiveness? Looking every day at the opportunities around duplicating what is working is essential. Practices that build upon daily successes stay true to the effort of “constancy of purpose” on which the best offices focus.

2. Unscheduled treatment – doctor’s schedule. Long before the huddle begins, like the afternoon before, someone on the team takes responsibility for looking at the next day’s schedule and reviewing the charts of the patients who are going to see the doctor for restorative treatment. Beyond the treatment that is scheduled, what other potential work do these patients have that is not yet scheduled? Even if it has only been a day or two since they accepted the treatment for which they are returning, things can change. They went home. They thought about things you said. Maybe they have additional questions. Maybe they reconsidered and are teetering on the point of doing more than they originally agreed. You don’t know until you ask:
Mrs. Jones, just checking in with you about those other teeth we discussed that are in the same area where we are going to do the crown today. Like we discussed, while we are there and close, it would save you a lot of time and potential hassle to just take care of them right now as well. Not pushing here, but I just wanted to double check before we get started. Would you like to take care of the other two teeth as well while we are at it?”
The exact words you use are not as important as giving the patient the space to say “yes” to more. It all starts with identifying those opportunities every morning in your M.O.M.

3. Unscheduled treatment – hygiene. Every afternoon before going home, each hygienist reviews his or her schedule and the corresponding charts for the next day. In most cases, those charts are a gold mine of unscheduled treatment. Knowing what is going on with every patient and where the opportunities are to schedule some of that unscheduled treatment is a big part of the M.O.M. Letting everyone on the team know who is a candidate to schedule treatment that has been diagnosed but not performed is a critical ingredient for success. It is a team effort. The presentation around unscheduled treatment in this case can take various forms and directions. The first step, however, is awareness. If you don’t know it is there, you are not likely to act on it. The first step is doing the research so that you and the rest of the team are in the know.

4. Same day treatment. The best type of unscheduled treatment is treatment that you could do today with some minor changes in the schedule. Once you know who has what unscheduled treatment, look at the schedule together as a team to see what could be adjusted in the timing to accommodate existing patients who would like to have it done today. The best opportunities are the ones that can be taken care of right now. Not tomorrow, the next day or next week. NOW! Teams that have refined their M.O.M. strategies are always looking for ways in advance where they can be nimble, adjust in the moment, and open up opportunities that make it easy for patients to say “yes” to something they can do today.

5. Same day treatment - new patients. Another topic of discussion is new patients. A quick review of each new patient’s “New Patient Relationship Form*” will help everyone understand the background and desires of each new patient. Many times the desires that were expressed on the phone when they scheduled will include comments about treatment, problem areas, an interest in whitening, etc. Everyone needs to know where those potential opportunities are in advance. For example, let’s say a patient mentioned on the phone that they are interested in whitening. In case they are a good candidate to have that done today, are there any adjustments you need to make or can make to help them get that done today? What if they mentioned some problem areas? Look at your schedule in your M.O.M. and see what would have to happen in order to accommodate them today if there is something that needs to be done. For most patients, there is no time like the present to get started. Looking for opportunities to help them do that will help everyone get more of what they want.

6. Emergencies. That’s right! Emergencies can be one of the best opportunities of the day. During your M.O.M., the best time for emergencies should always be identified. A day with no time for emergencies is a day that has not been properly planned. Figure out a way during your M.O.M. to take care of emergency patients should they call. An emergency planned for is no emergency for you. It’s an opportunity!

7. Openings in the schedule. Everyone has had the experience of looking at the schedule at the morning huddle and seeing holes. Most get that sinking feeling when they see that. Instead, look at them as opportunities. What can be moved around, adjusted, or moved up in order to free up more opportunities. If there is a hole later in the morning, is there a patient scheduled later in the day who might like to come in earlier? Who are the patients on your “short call” list who might want to come in on short notice? Where are the same day treatment opportunities where you can move a patient into that space that is coming in any way? The best teams always say that some of their best days start out looking like Swiss Cheese, and end up looking like a solid block because they are better able to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves throughout the day.

8. Tomorrow’s opportunities. What is scheduled for tomorrow? Are there any openings in the schedule? If so, today is the time to make sure everyone on the team knows they are there so everyone can be focused on taking advantage of that opportunity of scheduling patients who say “yes” today on tomorrow’s schedule while they are eager.

I could go on because the daily opportunities that present themselves in most offices are numerous. Do you take advantage of those opportunities by accident or by design? A well-planned Morning Opportunity Meeting will uncover the potential daily opportunities on which you can act.

How do you know if your M.O.M. is effective? The true test is if you consistently produce MORE than you had scheduled at the beginning of the day. If so, you know that you identified the opportunities and acted accordingly.

So, say good-bye to the Morning Huddle, and say hello to M.O.M., your new Morning Opportunity Meeting. It will transform your day and your productivity.

* For tips on designing an effective “New Patient Relationship Form” contact the Total Patient Service Institute at 1-877-399-8677 or

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Confirming appointments

Nothing is more irritating and costly to a dental practice than broken or cancelled appointments. We constantly get asked what a practice can do to prevent or avoid cancellations. A recent question on the Crown Council e-mail network ( asked, “What is the proper verbiage for confirming appointments.”

Before we get to the specific answer to that question, let’s take one step back and consider a few important details that influence that verbiage.

With all of the communication options we have today AND the limited amount of time that people seem to have, a higher level of "agreement" and discussion needs to take place with every patient regarding their scheduled appointments. Here are some items for consideration:

1. When scheduling an appointment with a new patient, you might want to say: "Mrs. Jones, I am not sure how you have communicated with your previous dental office, but we have several options for you so that we can stay on the same page together. We will schedule your appointment today and you can go ahead and put that on your calendar or PDA just like we put it on our schedule here in the office. That way we all know that we have made a mutual commitment for that time and date. In addition, as a courtesy to our patients, we can communicate with you a couple of days before your appointment so that you will know that we are counting on you. What is your preferred way for us to communicate with you: Phone, e-mail, text, or a postcard in the mail?" (Let them choose.)

2. “Great. So you can expect to receive a (call, text, e-mail, post card, etc.) several days before your appointment. When you receive that, WILL YOU make sure to respond to us so that we all know we are on the same page? We really respect your time and want to make sure we keep everything on track for you as planned so that will really help both of us.”

Depending the on the selected avenue of communication, here are some pointers:

Avoid using the words “confirm” or “remind” in any of your communication. To “confirm” implies that it was not “firm” in the first place leaving them room to back out. To “remind” implies that you are more responsible than they are so you have to follow up with them like an irresponsible child. Just remember, people generally rise to the level of behavior expected of them. Treat them like they are irresponsible and they will tend to act irresponsibly. Raise the level of expectation and they will usually respond accordingly.

If you are going to send them a reminder post card for a scheduled appointment or a 3 to 6 month hygiene visit, make sure they fill out that card themselves. Don’t fill it out for them! Why? All of the studies in this area prove that people respond and act more responsibly when they see something that has been written in their own handwriting. It seems to set off an alarm in their heads that says “That was me that made that commitment.”

The Natural Law of Integrity says: “People want to act consistently with who they say they are.” If I write a note to myself about an appointment that I committed to a few months ago and see that in my own handwriting, the message is clear. I need to act according to the way I said I would.

If you hand them an appointment card with the date and time of their next appointment, again, let them write it down. It has more power. And look at the language you have on that card. Get rid of anything that implies they can call and cancel the appointment just as long as they do it far enough in advance. Instead, replace it with something like this: “Please mark this important appointment on your calendar today. We look forward to seeing you at this time that has been reserved especially for you.” The implied message here is: We expect you to do what you said you would do! This is not just an appointment; it is time that has been reserved especially for you. Somehow a reservation carries more weight than just an “appointment.”

If sending a text or e-mail before the scheduled appointment, work with your electronic communication provider to rework the language that is used in the message. It could say: “We are looking forward to seeing you for your appointment on June 1 at 9 AM. Please reply to this message today so that we will know that you have this important scheduled noted on your calendar.”

3. If they select the phone call, the appropriate message would be: "Mrs. Jones, this is Brenda calling from Dr. Dentist's office. Dr. Dentist asked me to give you a call about your appointment in our office on Tuesday at 3 PM. Would you please call our office at 777-777-7777 today regarding your appointment? I look forward to hearing back from you."

Remember, you are not calling to “confirm” or “remind.” You are calling “about” the appointment. The other magic is the use of the doctor’s name. That carries a lot of weight and you will receive a higher response.

A couple of other thoughts: with all the options available today, it is essential that we give patients a choice in the method of communication. They need to know how they are going to hear from you and what you expect in return. You have to train them how things work in your office as well as make it convenient for them.

So make sure to do the following:

1. Give people options as to the channel of communication you use to communicate with them.

2. Create the expectation that they will do what they said they would do.

3. Make sure all of the written communication is congruent with #2 above. Make sure you communicate in clear terms that when you make a commitment to your patient for a date and time that the patient can count on you and you expect to count on them.

4. Work on the specific verbiage the team should use when communicating with the patient when scheduling and following up about their scheduled appointments.

Keep in mind that with all of the tips above, there is no 100% solution. As long as there are human beings, there will always be exceptions! The goals are to increase consistency and reduce variation and then keep doing the things that work day in and day out.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Black Bucket Strategy

My friend, Gantt Bumstead, is the President of United Supermarkets, owners of the Market Street ( grocery store brand. Market Street is a different kind of grocery store with a unique blend of natural and modern food and merchandise.

I ran into Market Street this week to grab some flowers in a vase and a card. As the very attentive florist arranged the flowers and filled the vase with water, I could not help but think, how am I going to drive with the full vase of flowers and water without spilling it? I’ve been there before, trying to steady the vase with one hand with the other hand on the steering wheel. It’s not the safest way to drive!

Just as I was about to object to the full vase, the florist surprised me by saying, “I will go ahead and put the vase in this black bucket so it will be stable in the car and won’t tip over.” I was thrilled. Why hadn’t any other florist thought to do that for me before? It was at that moment that I made a decision, the Market Street florist is going to be MY Florist from now on!

The Black Bucket: unexpected and needed to help me with my biggest problem with the use of the product I was buying. The florist did not charge me for the bucket, although, I would have gladly paid for it in order to have the convenience and safety for my drive. What was important was that she thought beyond the flowers and anticipated my biggest challenge with using the product she was selling me. I call that pretty astute. Not just thinking about the product being sold, but how the product would really be used. It is as simple as a black bucket!

So what is your “black bucket?” What is the biggest problem customers have using your service? Anticipate that need and you may become the provider of choice. While others in your market space may choose to ignore these problems and chalk it up to inconveniences that patients just have to put up with in dentistry, a few “black bucket” thinkers will go out of their way to remove the biggest problems patients have.

Here are some simple “black bucket” solutions to problems patients have with traditional dentistry:

The numb look dumb. I don’t know very many patients who like the feeling of being numb for sometime after a procedure. They can’t talk and they don’t want to be around others for hours. The “black bucket” in this case might be OraVerse ( that will more quickly reverse the effects of anesthesia so that patient can go back to normal work and play.

Don’t call me, I’ll call you. We have now hit a state of “over communication” in our culture. The last thing most busy people need is another phone call from the dentist’s office to schedule or confirm an appointment. The “black bucket” here might be an “V.I.P. Appointment” service where you schedule your patient’s appointment with “no hounding.” The patient dictates what type of follow up or reminder they want, phone, e-mail, text, to minimize the quantity of communication in exchange for a commitment to show up!

Express checkout. No one likes to wait, especially at the front desk after a long appointment. Why not do like the hotels do and arrange an express checkout service where you deliver the bill to the patient in the treatment room at the end of the appointment with the balance being charged to their card on file unless they have questions. 80% of patients will be thrilled to avoid the checkout counter and be less likely to over scrutinize their bill.

The black bucket. It is all about thinking beyond the obvious to extend the benefit of what you provide to make it easier, more convenient, and more enjoyable for patients to use your service.

So what is the biggest problem patients have with the use of your service? Why not ask them and then work on a few “black buckets” of your own?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Piece of the Pie or of the Universe?

Do you remember when you were a kid and Mom took a hot pie out of the oven? You couldn’t wait. But if you were like me, the last of 6 children, you might have had some concern if you would get any pie at all. After all, it looked like there was only so much pie to go around.

The “Pie” mentality – that there is only so much to go around so I have to get mine while I can, is one of the most destructive attitudes in dentistry and business. As you look around, it might seem like there are only so many patients to go around, only so many good team members available for hire, only so many good places to advertise or position yourself in the market. Despite those appearances, more often than not, the universe is one of ample supply typically providing more opportunity than meets the eye. The “Universal” mentality is one that believes that there is plenty to go around for everyone if you know where to look and have the right attitude.

Here are some common examples of a “Pie” mentality that are in reality “Universal” in nature. It all may be in the way you look at it:

1. Who is your competition? This is a question I often ask groups of dentists. The easiest, most common response is “The dental office down the street.” But, look further. When you consider that only about 50% of the population goes to the dentist on a regular basis, you’ll realize that ½ of the available market does not have a current supplier! Now there’s opportunity. What can you do to attract those who are not currently going to the dentist? It is a HUGE market. But if you only focus on the piece of “pie” that your neighbor has down the street, you’ll miss the “universe” of available patients that are just waiting for someone to make them an attractive offer to come to a quality dentist and improve their health.

2. Clear Choice. In many major markets around the country, Clear Choice has moved into town offering immediate load implants to the market and spending thousands of dollars in advertising to attract patients. Other dentists in the market who offer implants might be tempted to see this as a competitive threat because Clear Choice is taking a big piece of the “pie.” But think again. Maybe Clear Choice is not taking a bigger piece of the pie, but baking a bigger pie! With all of the marketing dollars they are spending, they are educating thousands of people who otherwise might not have ever considered implants. As a result, those patients start asking questions to their own dentist who then has the opportunity to further educate them and give them what they have just discovered that they want! In other words, a large competitor that is willing to spend the dollars to educate the market can many times benefit the entire market by creating a larger “universe” of prospective patients for the service.

3. Powerful Position. A dental office down the street grabs a powerful position in the market that commands attention and gets the office noticed. Many might see that that as a big piece of the pie that has just been gobbled up. But maybe they just created a whole other pie for you! When one business takes a position in the market, it opens up opportunities for others to grab an opposite or different position. Think about it, you can’t be everything to everyone. For every patient that is attracted to a practice that has grabbed that initial powerful position, there are probably 10 others who have no interest. They are, however, good prospects for someone else that has a different market position with a different set of patient benefits. There are a lot of niche markets in dentistry.

So which do you have, a “Universal” or “Pie” mentality? The good news is that it is a choice. So catch yourself the next time you find yourself grabbing for what you think is the last piece of “pie.” Maybe there is a much larger pie out there. On the other hand, maybe it is not a pie at all. Maybe there is a vast “universe” out there that is so big and so filled with opportunity that you would never run out of market if you just looked at it for what it is: An unending “Universe” with vast supply for the person who thinks creatively and acts accordingly.

Have a great week in this exciting “Universe!”

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hygiene Re-care Activation

In response this week to an inquiry about re-care activation scripts, I offer the following short list of suggestions:

Preface: If the right system is in place, a hygienist will know enough about each patient that will be documented in the chart that she will be able to talk to the patient's heart, not just the head. They really don't want to come in and get their teeth cleaned! They do want something that they perceive the cleaning will give, peace of mind, no pain, etc. All of that should have been discovered when the patient came in the first time. If that is not in place, then there are some prerequisites that need to be added to the practice protocol in order for any re-care program to be successful.


Step 1: If someone from the office calls and has to leave a message, the message simply says: "Mrs. Smith, this is Pam from Dr. Dentist’s office. Dr. Dentist asked me to give you call. Would you please give us a call back at: (Phone #)"

It is important that she says it just that way. The call needs to have its origin with the dentist. Patients will take it more seriously that way.

This accomplishes 2 things:

1. It is HIPAA compliant. You are not disclosing any sensitive information in case anyone else hears the message. (Not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it is a good reason to do it this way.)

2. Most people are going to return a call to the "Doctor" especially if the reason is unknown.

Step 2: Conversation with the patient:

"Mrs. Smith, this is Heather from Dr. Dentist’s office. How are you? Dr. Dentist asked me to give you a call to schedule your necessary dental hygiene appointment and check up. Do you have your calendar handy? Which day of the week, Monday thru Friday (or whatever days your practice is open) are more convenient for you? Are mornings or afternoons better? Great, we have ___ o'clock next ______ available or _____ o'clock on _____ available. Which one of those would work the best?"

A couple of points here on why we do it this way:

1. Again, the call is originating from the highest authority in the office - the doctor. Most people are going to be more respectful of a request that is coming from the highest authority they trust in this area.

2. Assumptive close. Don’t ask them if they want to come in, assume that they will schedule by stating the purpose of your call and then asking if the person has a schedule close by. More people will respond to this than the tentative alternatives to this.

3. If more information is available about the patient, use it during the conversation. For example, if it is a perio maintenance appointment, then a discussion can be had about the importance of staying on track with the regularly scheduled appointments in order to do everything possible to prevent more extensive perio treatment in the future, etc.

4. Always give them a choice, not a chance. At every step in the conversation, choices are going given between alternatives:

“Which day of the week?”

“Would this day or this day work better?”

“Morning or afternoon.”

Those are just some tips that come from a much bigger system. There is as much to learn here as there is about many parts of clinical dentistry. Everyone can benefit from some great training in this and all the other related areas of case acceptance training. It makes a HUGE difference every day when everyone on the team is trained in the best ways to help the patient say “yes!”