My Dentist Just Took Me to Customer Experience School
July marked two years since moving to Oregon from Southern California, where I lived for 30+ years. I decided it was finally time to shed the “new to the area excuse” and find a new dentist. I have a long history of not liking dentists, which I’m pretty sure makes me normal. After years of avoiding dentists because of the long waits, unfriendly receptionists, hidden fees, and endless upsells, it took a good friend becoming a dentist and a lot of guilt to get me to go back. All of that was lost when I left California.
So I ventured out yesterday to try a new dentist: Oakmont Family Dental. Allow me to chronicle my visit, because these people have obviously put some real thought into the type of experience they want to deliver to customers.
Set clear expectations up front.
When I called for an appointment, I was expecting to wait at least a month before they’d be able to see me. Not the case. They actually had availability the next day. The receptionist got me scheduled, helped me understand exactly what I could expect on my first visit, and how long it would take. In hindsight, they absolutely met those expectations.
Lesson: Set accurate expectations with your customers up front so they can plan for, and actually enjoy their experience.
Eliminate barriers. Partner with the customer.
When I arrived at the office, the lady at the front desk welcomed me and looked up my name in the computer. Upon realizing I was a new patient, she commented that I had a few forms to fill out and proceeded to grab a clipboard. Next, she walked from behind the counter, came out to where I was standing, and went over what I needed to fill out. She could have easily handed this to me over the counter but instead came alongside me.
Lesson: The simple gesture of coming out from behind the counter eliminates both physical and mental barriers between you and the customer — demonstrating to them that you’re right there with them, partnering to find a solution.
Welcome customers as you would a guest in your home.
What do you typically do when you welcome an honored guest into your home? In our house, we give them a tour, show them where the bathrooms are, and offer them a drink and something to eat. Of course, my kids take extra care to show them whatever they’re passionate about at the time. The dental assistant who summoned me for my appointment did just that. She gave me a tour of the place, showing me where the refreshments were, pointed out the bathrooms, talked about the dentists and the practice, and then pointed out key features of the office on our way back to where she’d take my x-rays.
Lesson: Make the customer feel completely at home and show them areas that might be of interest on this visit and/or future visits.
Check in often and empathize.
Between x-rays and teeth cleaning, there are multiple opportunities for pain. Our mouths are sensitive so it goes with the territory. I’ll venture a guess that even the folks who work at a dentist office don’t particularly enjoy going to the dentist. This means they have a real opportunity to empathize with their patients. Whether it was the dental assistant fitting that awkward x-ray thing into my mouth or the hygienist rooting around in my gums with sharp objects, both people took the time to say things like, “I know this is really uncomfortable. We’ll be done really soon.” I actually got to watch my x-rays on the monitor in front of me so I knew exactly how much longer we had to go.
Lesson: It’s a little easier to endure pain when the person helping empathizes and keeps the customer informed of the status along the way.
Shower the customer with gifts.
It’s really easy to overemphasize gifts or even use them to try to make up for a bad experience. During my visit I got the normal array of dental samples. They also gave me a high-quality, double-walled water bottle and four tickets to see our local minor league baseball team play. Now the water bottle had the dentist’s name and logo on it so obviously they receive some benefit by me carrying that around town. But after having a great experience, I’m proud show off my SWAG.
Lesson: Gifts aren’t enough to make up for a bad experience but certainly make a good one better. Also, happy customers are your best advertisers so giving them SWAG empowers them to do that better.
Schedule their next appointment before they leave.
A great way to mitigate wait times for appointments and eliminate customer effort is to schedule the next appointment before the customer leaves your office. This was the first time a hygienist has scheduled my appointment before I got out of the dental chair. This is also a great way to make sure you get repeat business — and again, the dentist earned my repeat business with a great experience leading up to that.
Lesson: Make it easy for your customers to schedule appointments.
Ask how it went.
The dentist sent me an email a day later asking how the experience went. Instead of sending me a survey, they sent a link to post a good review about their practice online. They also noted that if I didn’t have a great experience they wanted to hear my feedback. For a small business, this is the pinnacle. This experience has been designed to get my repeat business and get me to tell others about my experience. Guess what? After a great experience, I’m happy to.
Lesson: Ask your customers for feedback. If reviews are the lifeblood of your business, it’s ok to ask them for a review after a great experience.
Note that none of these observations happened by mistake. No amount of simply being nice to customers is going to cultivate this sort of amazing customer experience. In fact, I spent very little time remarking on how friendly the staff was — and the front desk receptionist, dental assistant, hygienist, and dentist were all fantastic.
What I’m highlighting here is the way my dentist has looked at all of the touchpoints in my journey, and worked to create an experience that results in reviews, referrals, and repeat business. Results like this require solid strategy and a company of people and systems working together in harmony — and that says a lot when you remember that I’m talking about the dentist.
Head of Quality
Jeremy Watkin is the Head of Quality at FCR. He has more than 15 years of experience as a customer service professional. He is also the co-founder and regular contributor on Communicate Better Blog. Jeremy has been recognized many times for his thought leadership. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn for more awesome customer service and experience insights.