The Donut Shop Offers Wifi, but I Don’t

When I was 16, I had my first car, and thus needed my first oil change.  I found a mechanic, made an appointment, and had the pleasure to sit in a dirty, oil smelling waiting room with no amenities for 45 minutes, culminating with an equally oily individual approach me to condescend about how my air filter needs replacement.  This was fine.  It was normal.  The experience did not cause frustration or resentment.  I gladly paid for the service, jumped into my broken down Daihatsu, and went on my way.

That was then.  Now, getting an oil change is a delight.  I make sure not to brew coffee at my home those mornings, because I am so excited about the various flavored K-cups awaiting me, along with the comfortable couches, up-to-date magazines, strong Wi-Fi, pleasant smelling reception room, only to be served by a well-dressed courteous individual (who still encourages me to change my air filter).

What surprises me is that some service industries have embraced this phenomenon, while others have not.  Barbershops, beauticians, and coffeeshops are increasingly welcoming and luxurious, while laundromats and healthcare clinics lag behind.  I have difficulty making sense of this parity.  Service industries that boast strong profit margins, like dental offices and veterinary clinics are often cluttered, smelly, and unwelcoming, It seems only logical that the strong stream of revenue cold be used to put up some nice wall hangings, a keurig, WiFi, some fresh flowers, and regular custodial services.  Highly competitive industries with less margins, like the dime-a-dozen massage places in every neighborhood, consider a luxurious welcome a standard.

I am convinced that, when a consumer is exposed to a welcoming, luxurious environment from the moment they walk into a store of any kind, they will (unfairly) judge the service that they receive as superior.  I know I do.  After I enjoy my coffee and WiFi, a subjective part of my brain simply assumes that the mechanics did a nice job with my car.  The opposite is also true.  When I take my dog to a highly skilled and experienced veterinarian whose office just happens to smell like poo, I unfairly assume that the quality of care she (the dog) received was just satisfactory.  If this is the case, why should I expect my patients to care about beautiful margins or occlusal anatomy, especially if they didn’t receive the most luxurious and welcoming treatment long before they saw me and my handpiece.

In Geoffrey Gitomer’s book, “Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless,” he declares that a company that doesn’t devote significant time to developing this atmosphere is doomed to mediocrity.  Over the past decade, I have enjoyed the opportunity to visit a lot of highly impressive dental offices  and learn some of their techniques in creating an extraordinary experience for the patient.  My favorite ideas are listed below.

  • Purchase form-fitting neck wraps, preferably those that can be heated. Ideally, you would have enough so that you can offer them to all of your patients, but if you don’t feel like making a large investment at first, offer this wonderfully soothing item to patients about to undergo a longer, more stressful procedure.

  • When the DDS/DMD has a moment to spare, and the reception area has several waiting patients, the Dr. should take a few moments to sit in the reception area and chat for a few moments. This seems simple, but it is tremendously rare, and well appreciated. It goes an especially long way in the instances where patients are waiting beyond their scheduled appointment time. “Hey Mrs. Jones. I’m so sorry to have made you wait. I have been running a little behind today. So, how are the kids?”

  • For family dental practices in which a patient has no choice but to bring their child(ren), have a small enclosed area with coloring books, large legos, toys, puzzles, etc. that will keep the kids busy and entertained, but not in the main reception room. Its ok if this room gets cluttered and trashed, as parents are just appreciative to have a place for their kids.

  • Get a couple high quality large umbrellas. Now, when it is raining heavily outside, the front desk employee who “checks out” the patient, without saying anything, simply gets up, grabs the umbrella, accompanies the patient out the door, and makes sure they get to their car dry. In one case, during a particularly snowy day, as I was adjusting occlusion on a temporary crown, I casually asked the patient what kind of car they drove. My assistant, understanding my cue, left us and wiped off all the snow, and scraped off the ice from their car.

  • Get a keurig, a nice variety pack of k-cups, and preferably, branded mugs and to-go cups. Coffee is magic for a lot of people. They might walk in with a bad mood, but when they are offered coffee, the edge becomes softened.

  • On special occasions (holidays, big sports games, etc.), buy small token giveaways for every patient as they finish their appointment. Tree ornaments for Christmas, mint chocolate 4-leaf clovers for St. Patricks day, single packs of ice cream before July 4th, etc., all will have patients thinking highly of your office before the holiday. This requires some planning, so instead of thinking about it on the fly a few days before, plan it all out a year in advance, and purchase the non-perishable items well before the holiday.

  • Have a nice, high quality set of fresh flowers delivered to your office on a weekly basis, beautifying your reception area all week. Then, on the last day of the week, give those flowers away to a deserving patient.

  • When a patient agrees to large, time consuming, expensive treatment (in our case, it is any treatment case of 10K or more), assign your dental assistant to slyly learn that patient’s favorite restaurant. Then, as treatment comes to a close, write a personal note, indicating how much of a pleasure it was to spend time with him/her, and include a $50/$100 gift card to their favorite restaurant.

  • If a new patient calls to make an appointment, get their address. Then, print google map directions from their home to the office, write a standard welcome letter, and then have the person who answered the phone write 1-2 lines in pen about how much they are looking forward to meet this wonderful new patient. Lastly, throw in a five dollar Starbucks gift cards as a “thank you” for choosing your office.

None of the above are free, and none are very easy to implement long-term.  They are simply ideas on paper that happen to have worked well in a variety of extraordinary offices.  I wish I could say that my office implements all of these all the time, but we are way too far from perfect for this.  Instead, over the years, we have chosen one or two to really commit to, made the investment, and dug in.  Over time, one individual or another in your office will simply take on the role of “gift card person” or “umbrella/snow person,” and the idea will stick.  When that happens, your office will be doing something that 95% of other offices don’t, and patients will notice.  You probably should still continue maintaining wonderful crown margins and occlusal margins.  Only now, your patients might appreciate them more.

Ankur A Gupta, DDS opened his from-scratch practice in 2005 outside Cleveland, OH.  He realized after a few years that skills as an entrepreneur did not come naturally.  Beginning in 2009,  he made a guinea pig out of his office, family, and self; attempting any and all personal and professional “experiments” in self-improvement.  More than a decade later, he enjoys excellent new patient numbers and case acceptance, a solution oriented dental team; and most importantly, a meaningful and positive identity. He happily shares the failures and successes with dental and community groups throughout the country, always ending his presentations with practical, implementable, step-by-step ways to be better.  He happily invites readers to contact him with questions and comments at drgupta@northridgevillefamilydentistry.  His practice website is