The Importance of Emotional Intelligence Amidst Dentistry’s AI Boom
The secret to improving your patient retention rate is to focus on building patient relationships. You can do this by following my “Smile-osophy.”
Artificial intelligence (AI) is here to stay in dentistry, and its functionalities are already mind boggling. Its utilization touches both the clinical as well as administrative departments, and the future is pretty exciting.
Although AI is advancing in its ability to learn how to respond the way a human would, there is still a gap. That gap is the human relations component. Without it, the dentistry you provide in your practice becomes a commodity. This makes it harder to distinguish between your practice and one that is right down the road. Why? Because AI is available to everyone. Every privately owned single practice or DSO group has the freedom to buy the same type of technology that you do. Let’s think of this technology as a fancy toolbox. The defining factor on the perceived effectiveness of the tools are the individuals utilizing the tools.
The Patient Relationship Focus
A dental team with great communication and emotional intelligence skills understands that the secret to the delivery of their service is the patient relationship focus. It’s part of their DNA. Emotional intelligence drives your ability both as individuals and the team as a whole, to focus on the overall vision of the practice as well as the wants of the patient. The mission is a win/win/win – a win for the business, a win for the team, and a win for the patient.
One of the most impactful skills that every member of your team must have is the ability to make the patients feel important, in a sincere way. In my book, Growing Your Dental Business, I refer to this as the “Smile-osophy.”
What is “Smile-osophy”?
Say the Patient’s Name
Make the Patient Feel Important
I am in Charge of My Attitude
Listen to Your Patients
Exceed Your Patient’s Expectations Through Involvement
Say the Patients Name
Say the patient’s name as soon as you see them and as soon as you can when you pick up the phone. Be sure to use it several times while the patient is in the office. Why? A person’s name is the sweetest sound they will ever hear. Wonder how you can significantly impact your long-term or new patients? Make the extra effort to call them by name. Take their photo and have it visible in their record so you can look before they come in and make it easier to use their name. Also, tell your patients you appreciate them and thank them for choosing your office. It isn’t difficult, but few offices do it consistently. Be intentional and make it happen.
Make the patient Feel Important
Make the patient feel important by focusing on them. One of the best companies to illustrate how to set the tone for patient focus is Disney (and for those of you who know me, you know I am a Disney nut). I had the opportunity a few years ago to do one of their behind-the-scenes tours at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, and for a few hours, I was an honorary cast member. We were instructed that while we were on stage, in sight or earshot of a guest, we were to create an environment that made them feel comfortable and experience the magic. This meant our appearance, our conversations, and our behavior was to support the guest’s experience in the park. In the dental office, this means that while the patient is in the practice, we focus on them as much as possible. It also means we do things like put our cell phones out of sight and sound, speak positively of team members and patients, and involve the patient in communication whenever possible.
There are many ways to make the patient feel important outside of the practice as well. If they haven’t been in for some time, don’t just call them to sell them another appointment. Call them to reconnect and let them know you miss them. Yes, call them. Patient reminder systems are awesome, but sending a text, email or voice mail reminder is not the same as a connection. Don’t overlook the human component. Also, look for opportunities to acknowledge patients. For example, send a card to congratulate them on an engagement, graduation or other special event.
Take Responsibility for Your Attitude
Take responsibility for your attitude. This is probably the component with the most power as it drives the decisions and behaviors of the dentists and everyone on the team. Every day we choose whether we will be happy and grateful or bitter and resentful about our profession, reimbursement, cranky co-worker, or patient. Of course, we will all have challenges in life, and there may be days or weeks in our season of life that it’s difficult to focus on the positive. Yet, what is the ongoing theme of our life? If you want a better response from your patients or team, start with your attitude. Choose to be at work and be present with your team and your patients – and choose to be happy to be there. It isn’t easy, but it is totally worth it. It costs you no more to be happy than it does to be cranky and resentful. Have team members with bad attitudes? Ask yourself why. If their bad attitude is an ongoing occurrence, talk with your team member about it. If it doesn’t improve, you cannot afford to keep them.
“Make the other person feel important and do it sincerely,” Dale Carnegie
Listen to Your Patients
Listen to your patients. Most people aren’t great listeners. Ask your patients what is most important to them and what their goals are – and then listen. Ask them how they have been and what is going on in their life that they are excited about – and then listen. One of the best things you can do when a patient is talking is to make eye contact with them. Sure, we want to work to be efficient, but it only takes a few moments of making eye contact and engaging in conversation to go a long way. This is not only true for the dentist, but also for every team member. Make an effort to listen and be interested in your patients. This will go a long way for retaining them.
Exceed Your Patient’s Expectations through Involvement
Exceed your patient’s expectations through involvement. The best way to involve patients in their treatment choices and the value they receive is to show them what you see. Don’t simply just show them x-rays. As a former dental office manager, I can promise you most patients don’t understand a lot of what an x-ray shows. Show them photos. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that these photos need to be of such quality they impress your peers. Whether you use a digital camera or intraoral camera, show the patients their current condition. In today’s marketplace, there is no reason not to show the patients their condition at each visit, and also show them their finished product with intraoral photos. Offer to print out copies for them. Patients don’t really have the ability to judge quality dentistry; they can judge only customer service. Show them the great work you have done and give them more perceived value for their time and money spent in your practice.
As a team, you must decide to place a high value on quality patient communication if you want to improve your patient retention rate. Make the time to ask your patients what’s most important to them in their dental health, and what their goals are. Then listen intently. When it comes to conversations and engaging with patients face-to-face, effectiveness must be valued more than efficiency. While efficiency is very important in a productive practice, it shouldn’t be applied to relationships. Every practice should look at their bandwidth and capacity. Then identify areas where they can outsource functions like dental billing and insurance verification. Doing so will free their in-house team to focus on the patients in the office and engage them in dental health.
Conclusion: Improving Patient Relationships, Improves Retention
In conclusion, the secret to improving your patient retention rate is to improve your patient relationships. This means that meaningful human connection must be at the forefront of every patient interaction. If it’s not, your patients will have little to no brand loyalty towards your office. You can get started on building human connections by cultivating the right attitudes within your dental office team. Click here to request a complimentary handout that outlines these attitudes.