If you haven’t yet had an opportunity to complete your clinical externship or land your first job, you may not yet realize the extent to which dental hygienists can make or break the client experience in a dental practice.
Because most of your day will be spent working directly with patients, your interactions with them are crucial and will greatly impact the kind of experience they have…and, in turn, whether or not they come back or look for another in-network dental practice in the neighborhood.
It’s no secret, customers have more options now than ever, making customer retention an important part of the business of dentistry. It’s like any other choice a consumer makes about where they spend their time and money: If they have a positive experience, they’re likely to return. But if they don’t, it’s likely the next time you hear from them will be when they request to have their records sent to another office across town.
There’s not much you can do about the fact that clients walk in the door bracing for what awaits them: a bright light in their eyes, paper bib, and cold metal instruments working away at their teeth. But there’s plenty you can do to help them feel at ease knowing you’re attentive to their needs.
Think of it this way – the only thing that is likely to make a client feel good for the hour or so they’re in the chair is you.
We’ve listed the five tenets of client retention followed by dental hygienists who know that their job is just as much about nurturing client relationships as it is about performing a good exam and cleaning:
Tenet 1 – Actively Listen to Clients
When you’re busy and seeing a dozen people a day, it’s easy to get caught up in a cycle of asking but not really listening. There’s a good chance you already know what the issue is better than the client does, but that’s not the point. This is about the client experience, not about your ability to spot a problem easily because you’ve seen it a thousand times before.
Make eye contact and show genuine interest in what they have to say. If they’re having issues, listen carefully and summarize what they’ve just told you so they know you totally got it.
Keep in mind, it’s not so much about getting it as it is about letting them know you get it. Everybody wants to feel heard and know they are understood.
Tenet 2 – Focus on the Feel-Good Aspect of Undergoing a Necessary and Costly Dental Procedure
Give clients something to feel good about by explaining the benefits of a procedure and not just the necessity. Provide them with all the information they need to feel good about going forward with it as a way to avoid discomfort and extra expense over the long run—but don’t push the issue.
This will give clients a feeling of control and eliminate any feelings that you’re trying to persuade them to undergo a procedure they are hesitant about.
Tenet 3 – Don’t Hesitate to Express Your Expert Opinion
Sugarcoating the discomfort of a procedure, only to have your patient call you a liar afterwards won’t do anything to strengthen their trust in you.
Similarly, if your clients ask for your opinion, don’t hesitate to give it to them. They are looking to you for guidance. You’re the expert after all. Providing your thoughts on potential problems with the latest over-the-counter fad whitening product they’re using may not be what they want to hear, but they’ll appreciate you saving them the grief of dealing with issues that might arise down the road.
Speak plainly, answer their questions with sincerity, and if you don’t know the answer to something, let them know you don’t but that you’ll get them the answer.
Tenet 4 – Pay Attention to the Clock… But Don’t Live By It
The clock can be your worst enemy. Staying on schedule is important for maintaining good customer service, but rushing through an appointment because you’re running behind schedule never goes unnoticed.
Stay focused and make it a priority to manage your time, but never try to get back on schedule by rushing a customer through an appointment. Great customer service depends on your customers feeling like you respect them enough not to think of them as just another body in a chair.
Tenet 5 – Stay Cool… Even When Clients Aren’t
Sometimes the best customer service is about keeping calm, even when you’re dealing with customers who are anything but. Maintain a calm, controlled tone and wait for your customers to air their frustrations or grievances before responding. Dental benefits, dental insurance, and costly procedures are all good reasons to get agitated, so try a little understanding.
A smile will always be your best form of customer service. Stop what you’re doing, make eye contact, and give your customers a genuine smile before introducing yourself and settling them into the dentist’s chair. This will set a positive tone from the start, which will then allow you to develop great rapport every time.