Now that we are starting to hit some sweet spots on the numbers of vaccines being given there is certainly a sense of freedom and a relaxation of some of the protocols that have been put in place in our society. Does this mean that some of the protocols will be relaxed in dental offices surrounding interaction with patients? Best guess is that it is unlikely, but if our industry keeps up all of the barriers then we need to ensure that customer service, trust building and patient loyalty doesn’t suffer.
We need to look at patient contact from outside the office, are calls coming in or have we become too reliant on patient interaction being digital. For customer convenience all perfunctory office tasks (confirming, some recall requests, office notifications and new patient initial inquiries) can come through digitally. Patient contact needs to have a balance between digital and personal touch depending on the patient and the situation to build connection with your administrative team. The patients need to know the people behind the digital connection.
The acrylic barriers at our front desks have cut down on some of the socializing at the front desk with patients. With some patients this isn’t a bad thing, but it doesn’t help with patient connection either. Many administrators are using their masks and the acrylic barriers as almost blinds and not acknowledging patients in the way that they would have in the past. Now, instead of acknowledging a patient even while you are on the phone with a smile your administrators need to make eye contact with the patient to acknowledge and convey that they will be just a moment.
In the clinical rooms there are no longer handshakes and patients are being left alone during freezing. We have removed pictures from the walls and in many other aspects that have made our rooms feel sterile and unwelcoming, as well as closing off the rooms from the general flow of the office. Patients are aware that some staff are still uncomfortable with PPE and this comes across in our demeanor. We are following provincial guidelines, but the patients are no longer feeling the same warmth in what can be an anxious situation. The clinical team needs to push themselves to have the same social and clinical conversations instead of moving the patients through the clinical area as quickly as possible.
When discussing treatment with patients we need to make as much contact as possible, which would include not discussing treatment when a patient is lying down, sit them upright. Slide your chair back so that your knees are parallel to their knees and you can look at them directly in the eyes when you are discussing treatment. Treatment will be accepted more readily if you build trust and loyalty with patients through connection. Talking with your patients, getting to know them and remembering the conversations (even if you put hints in your notes) will go far in building the relationship.
Many offices who use a Treatment Coordinator have found that this a difficult role during the pandemic. Many offices have dropped this role in the more traditional sense as you would need more than a desk width between patients and the Treatment Coordinator. Some offices have made this a role that is completed by telephone only after the patient has left the office. As much as we are all tired of Zoom the best consultations are now a combination of chairside treatment presentation and Zoom consultation with the Treatment Coordinator. A double screen set up works well for this so that there is access to your software on one screen and the Treatment Coordinator can use screen sharing for education on the Zoom call.
Last but not least, ensure that your patients are being exited to the front desk by a team member with verbal communication to the administrators of treatment that was completed today and the plans for the next visit. Lack of communication is poor customer service.
Look carefully at the way your office is currently providing customer service and decide if your team is just getting through the day with the patients or are they providing a new level of outstanding customer service in our almost post pandemic world.