Thursday, April 28, 2016

Mastering the Business of Dentistry with a Hospitality Flare

Years ago, before I became a dentist, I had the privilege of working for William Barron Hilton and the executives at Hilton Hotels Corp, now Hilton Worldwide. I am fortunate to have enjoyed a previous career committed to numerous large-scale hotels, mentored by great leaders in the hospitality industry.

During that time, my exposure to various departments in that industry taught me a lot about what many authors refer to as “five-star customer service.” I observed firsthand what it takes to teach and deliver this level of service while working with general managers, senior and executive vice presidents, and Hilton himself. The ultimate goal was to provide customer satisfaction at an incomparable level so your guests remain loyal to your brand for life.

The superb teachings, education, and experience earned during my hotel career were ingrained in my dental DNA. As a result, the process of onboarding new employees in my practice incorporated adequate and thorough training so each and every employee understood the culture of providing service excellence without delay. Today, the emphasis on exceptional customer service with a hospitality flare cannot be overemphasized.

You see, the legacy and livelihood of excellent hoteliers such as Conrad Hilton, William Barron Hilton, JW Marriott, Ritz Carlton, and others depend upon offering fantastic customer service and unparalleled hospitality. As dentists, can we learn from this fascinating industry that is open 365 days a year and whose sole mission is to provide exceptional guest services with integrity while doing the right thing 24 hours a day? I think so. For those dentists who are committed, the dental world can be yours. For those who fail to hear the call to action, you are in trouble. It is your business and your reputation that are on the line. With Yelp and the various social media platforms that are available, your patients will not hesitate to tell the world about their poor experiences. How many stars does your practice have?

As we know, and since the Great Recession of 2008, dentistry has become more competitive than ever. Prior to this time, the majority of dentists realized substantial profits while operating with minute business accolades. In the “Golden Years of Dentistry,” cash flow was not a concern. In simple terms, when “cash in” was greater than “cash out,” life was grand. Unfortunately, for most dentists, those days are gone forever and for many reasons: fewer dentists retiring, corporate dentistry, more graduating dentists, in-network insurance providers, price shoppers, fierce competition, etc. However, to the dentists who are willing to change and adjust to the new dental world: Your “golden years” are right in front of you.

While difficult for most of us to acknowledge, the fact is that 99 percent of a doctor’s academic credentials are science-based and not substantive in the business acumen required to provide five-star customer service.

Five-star customer service definitely has a place in dentistry. For those clinicians and business owners who embrace change while recognizing the value of developing, nurturing, and creating great teams, your future is limitless. Combined with wonderful clinical skills and team members who are dedicated to providing each and every one of your guests with five-star service, your practice can define excellence and set the standards for your entire community. Learn to hire employees who possess tremendous enthusiasm, a positive attitude, and a passion to serve others. As we like to say in our practice-management firm, “Hire up!”

Our future success and autonomy now depend upon delivering exceptional customer service with integrity, leadership, teamwork, and ownership. While our clinical skillsets are important, they are no longer the differentiator between where patients seek care and decide to spend their hard-earned monies. As dental business owners, we must learn to be passionate about delivering exceptional experiences so our “guests” (patients) do not go elsewhere. Today, it should start with every one of your existing patients. Learn to protect, nurture, and show your appreciation so that your “guests” tell the world about how great your office and team are. This form of internal marketing is one of the greatest assets you possess — and the wonderful news is that it is free!

As a dentist and practice-management consultant, I have had the pleasure of evaluating and working with many solo, group, and large-scale dental practices, one of which had more than 600 clinicians. I have witnessed the most common pitfalls of dentists and corporate dental executives at all levels. It all starts with leadership and the ability to create a vision that is passionate about delivering exceptional patient experiences. In other words, building teams that enliven the senses while implementing processes and systems, role-playing, and showing a commitment to five-star customer service that will keep your “guests” coming back.

While important, there is no external marketing or magic bullet that will ever replace “service with a smile,” a “be-my-guest” philosophy, and a sincere commitment to a culture of caring for others. If you find your office in decline or idling in today’s new dental economy, it might be a good idea to reach out for professional guidance and have a best practices analysis performed. A proper diagnosis is critical to mastering the business of dentistry with a hospitality flare.

Duke Aldridge, DDS, MBA, MAGD

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