The Difference in Hearing and Listening
Has this ever happened to you? You need to get your oil changed, you go to the mechanic and they tell you that you need new wiper blades, your brakes need to be checked, you’re also due for an inspection in a couple of months so let’s do it now. They’re trying to up-sell you, to get you to buy additional products they have that you could use. Some days they work and some days they can just be annoying, especially when the sales clerk doesn’t get the hint that all you want is to get your oil changed.
There are some areas that you can up-sell in dental (fluoride, sealants, zirconia instead of metal), but for the most part the diagnosis is what it is and our job is to educate the patient on why they need this treatment. When a patient comes to your office, the most important thing to do is listen to them. They are going to tell you what is bothering them; whether it has to do with their smile or if there is physical pain in their mouth. First and foremost, if the patient has complaints about pain that problem needs to be addressed.
Often times, as dental professionals we see patients come in for pain in one area and know they have issues all over their mouth. We may even see a bigger issue than the one they are complaining about. We also have an obligation to tell patients about all the needed treatment in their mouth. However, sometimes this can be overwhelming for the patient. When a patient comes in complaining about pain in the upper right, yet you are quoting them for work on the lower left, it can feel like the mechanic we talked about earlier. It can feel like they’re not being heard. The struggle is finding that line of informing the patient of all the needed treatment without overwhelming them.
First, we need to have thorough communication among the entire team. When the patient schedules, we need to ask if there is anything bothering them and document their chief complaint. These notes need to be relayed during the morning huddle, and the clinical team should ask the patient about their concerns to ensure they match what the admin team has said. Of course, sometimes that changes completely when the doctor walks into the operatory. Expect there to be changes like that, and take note of them. The better we communicate with our team and observe the patient as they communicate with you and your team, the more you’ll be able to understand the true concerns of the patient.
When it’s a problem focus exam, keep the diagnosis to the area of the problem and present that treatment. If you notice that the patient has other areas of significant concern, during the presentation express your concerns about those areas. Then encourage the patient to schedule a comprehensive exam once you complete the treatment needed for their primary problem. Keeping that visit on the issue they came to you for will speak volumes to the patient that you heard them and you want to get them the help they need and want.
With comprehensive exams, we are looking for all the problems. However, talk with your patient, get to know them to see if you can determine if they have areas bothering them, or maybe if they have thought about straightening their teeth. When you understand their wants and concerns then you can create a treatment plan that follows their desires. You may learn that they are fearful of the dentist, money is a big concern or they can get overwhelmed easily. If that is the case, build a treatment plan that has fairly simple and short visits in the beginning and gradually have longer more invasive procedures later in the plan. Give them time to come multiple times to build trust and confidence in your team.
Sometimes seeing ALL the treatment at once and seeing the entire dollar amount can be extremely stressful to patients, causing them to reject all the treatment. Another strategy I’ve seen doctors use is to tell the patient that you’re going to present them a plan with three visits at a time. Once you complete those visits, then you’ll present them with the next three visits, and so on and so forth until all their treatment is complete. Seeing their treatment in those bite sized amounts can feel like completing the treatment is possible, especially if the treatment is going to take months or even years to complete.
It is important to keep your eye on production and collection numbers, but listening to your patients first is going to be the best way to hit those numbers. When people feel heard and respected, their loyalty and trust grow immensely. Once you have that trust and you notice an issue that need to be brought up, they will be quicker to respond and get the work they need. With this trust they will also brag about you to their friends, family and colleagues. Don’t be the mechanic that is trying to up-sell every customer on everything. Be that dental professional that listens to their patients and educates the patient on the services they are requesting.
Chris Ciardello, Consultant
Chris Ciardello joined Global Team Solutions as a consultant in 2013. As a practice management consultant, Chris is passionate about sharing his expertise in the areas of technology and marketing as it pertains to the dental office. Chris has a distinctive knack for understanding the needs of an office and he communicates those needs to the team, which creates a cohesive, productive atmosphere. He is a member of the Academy of Dental Management Consultants and Toastmasters International.
He can be reached at: Chris@GTSgurus.com.