Check Your Emotional Posture

There was a terrific TED* talk this year about how much time most of us spend sitting. The speaker pointed out that the average person sits 9.3 hours a day–more than we sleep, even. And people with desk jobs may sit as much as 15 hours day! The speaker was Nilofer Merchant,  and she proclaimed “sitting is the new smoking,” and explained about the health ramifications of that (which should be fairly obvious, yet here we sit).hunchback statue

At a dental convention recently, one of the speakers, Juli Kagan, demonstrated her solution to the sitting problem in the dental practice.  She has a terrific book on the subject where she incorporates Pilates into our daily sitting routine. The book is called Mind Your Body: Pilates for the Seated Professional.  You can find Julie’s book here.  What Juli told me that I thought was most profound was that “posture is not so much a physical thing as a mental thing.”  Her point was posture is something that we have to continually monitor, essentially catching ourselves slouching in our chair, or hunching over a laptop, or all the other awkward positions we subject our bodies to.  And gradually we’ll train ourselves to stop.

When she said this, it immediately made me think about how important it is to do the same kind of monitoring with our attitude. It’s so easy to slide into negativity in the course of our day. We are bombarded with bad news, problems, challenges, and people with bad attitudes themselves.  (Often these are patients, but sometimes they are the team members.)  I have found that a good attitude is a choice, and from that choice positivity spreads, and positive results appear.  And a bad attitude has the exact opposite effect.

The problem is that we are talking to ourselves all the time, and way too often that voice has something negative to say, like: “This person is wasting my time,” or “That driver is an idiot,” or “Nobody cares about me.”  The list of little negative messages is endless, and if you stop and really listen you’ll be shocked to hear what you tell yourself. And most of the time it’s not a fact, but a negative opinion.  It turns us into emotional hunchbacks.

Believe me, I do it too. And everyone around us perceives it and is affected by it, from friends and family to patients and co-workers. The way to change it is to monitor your emotional posture.  Do it with your team in the morning huddle, and then do it throughout the day.  If you find yourself about to contribute something negative, like “people don’t respect our time,”  switch it to “people are busier than ever–we need to adjust our behavior.”  The more you do that emotional reset with your negative thoughts, the lighter you will feel.

And if someone on your team insists on staying negative, I talk in a previous blog about what to do.

This is the simple truth: in almost every situation, your attitude affects the outcome. So make it a habit to check your emotional posture. You’ll notice almost immediately that people will respond differently, and best of all, you’ll enjoy your day a whole lot more.

 

*If you’ve never heard of TED, it’s an annual conference where thought leaders from all walks of life come and share their ideas.  Their motto is “Ideas Worth Spreading”.  There are hundreds of videos on virtually every topic.  They are inspiring, enlightening and often moving, and they will make you believe that a better world is coming and that people are working hard to achieve that.  I highly recommend visiting their site and watching at least one video a week as a cure for negativity. You can watch Ms. Merchant’s three-minute video here.

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What Dental Patients Want

Irrelevant photo

Irrelevant photo

We recently commissioned a survey at 1-800-DENTIST to probe into how dental consumers think.  This wasn’t done on 1-800-DENTIST callers, but rather surveyed a broad selection of consumers nationwide, and we think it reflects fairly accurately the current thinking on dentistry.  I am doing a webinar on this next Wednesday, May 22nd, open to anyone, and there will also be a white paper available going into detail on the survey results and recommendations, but I wanted to give you some highlights here.

Here’s a big one: 93% said a clear explanation of what is required versus what is optional was a major factor in whether they would return to a dentist or not.  This comes down to effective communication with a new patient.  Remember that they are anxious about the cost and the discomfort of dentistry, which means their cognitive skills are somewhat impaired, so be clear, listen closely to their responses, and be very specific about what needs to be done in that visit and what is involved in more comprehensive care.  If they are not ready to hear about long-term issues, hold off until their next visit.

Tied directly to this is that 33% of consumers think dentists are trying to sell them unnecessary services.  Again, poor communication, and perhaps poor timing, are the issues here.  Be mindful of that when talking to new patients, and really all your patients.  There is critical and non-critical care, and you should explicitly explain the difference.  And if you are truly offering optional treatments like Invisalign, whitening or veneers, probe to see if they have a real interest in those treatments before trying to persuade them to do them.

70% say their choice is influenced by online reviews. This is a radical change in consumer behavior, and reinforces my previous blog on the subject.

One more key bit of data: 73% of new patients want immediate availability of an appointment.  I say this all the time–get new patients in within 24-48 and you vastly reduce the risk of no-shows.  This response from consumers tells you that they are moving on to the next dentist if you can’t get them in right away, even if it’s not an emergency.

In the webinar I’ll discuss the number one and two reasons why people are looking for a new dentist, and several other tasty morsels.  It’s Wednesday, May 22nd, 11am PST, and you can sign up here.  It’s free, and I promise to be brilliant!

 

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Why Firing Someone Is an Act of Kindness

Letting an employee go is one of the most difficult aspects of running a business.  It’s even more challenging for small businesses, as the team is generally close-knit, and often a friendship develops between the boss and the employee.  But the fact remains that to grow any business you need to be constantly examining and improving your team components.Firing note small

This is even more true for dental practices because, if you subscribe to my way of thinking–that you are in retail health care, then you know that your team is your most essential marketing element.  Without an amazing team, you cannot create a large base of loyal patients.  No matter how great the dentist’s clinical skills, what the patient is going to remember is how friendly, courteous, thoughtful and compassionate the office team was.

Let’s add one more element.  The dentist only has 30-35 hours a week to deliver dentistry.  Beyond that it’s a physically overwhelming profession, and he or she will pay the price by shortening their career through exhaustion or disability.  So how efficiently you operate during those hours is critical. I can pretty much guarantee you that someone on your team is slowing the whole process down, and everyone knows who that is.

Lastly, a dental practice is a sales organization.  If you don’t believe or understand that, you haven’t read my book, and you also want to ignore reality.  Dentistry is a great service, perhaps more valuable dollar-for-dollar than anything else people spend money on, but people have to be talked into taking advantage of it. And that requires everyone on the team be willing to effectively communicate the value of comprehensive care.

I mention in my book this universal truth that every business owner I’ve met has confirmed with me: we have never regretted firing anyone, only how long we waited to do so.  We all do it. We all wait too long.  We wait until the disease has infected the entire body.  And that’s a good metaphor.  Very likely one employee is the deep-pocket perio infection in your practice, and you’re leaving it untreated.  Would you do that with a patient?

My advice is, pull the trigger.  There is someone better out there, and the team will take up the slack and respect you for having done it. (Side note: every day that person stays in your office the team loses a little more respect for the dentist.)

Why do I say it’s an act of kindness?  Because that person needs to know that they are not performing at the highest level, and therefore will continue to be less and less employable as they grow older.  It’s actually cruel to wait on your part.  Let’s say they’re 35 now.  Are you going to wait until they’re 40 to release them into the job market, with their bad work habits more deeply ingrained?  It’s a wake-up call to get fired.  It forces someone to do some self-examination.

Granted, they may not get the message right away. Denial is an easy trap (especially if you suck at what you do!)  But letting them continue working for you is reinforcing that they don’t have to do a great job to keep their job. When I put it that way, it sounds like a pretty ridiculous thing to be doing, doesn’t it?  Again, it’s cruel, or cowardly at least, for the business owner not to step up and let that person know that their performance is insufficient.

And they don’t have to be a bad employee for you to terminate them.  If they don’t fit as a team player, if they aren’t looking to improve their skills, if they don’t choose a great attitude every day, that’s enough.  Because you need that from everyone.  A dental practice is too small an eco-system to have anyone not performing and participating at the same high level.

The steps are simple: when you have an employee not performing, spell out in detail exactly what your expectations are from them for improvement, with a timeline, and do it in writing.  And let them know that if they do not meet or exceed those expectations, after that time period they will no longer be employed. (I recommend 30 days max.) I also believe in giving severance, along with a detailed termination agreement.  I recommend using a company like HR for Health to button up all these sorts of things in your practice.  There is a proper and legal way to do this to protect yourself.

I know you hate doing it. I do too.  But I’ve had a number of employees over the years come back and thank me for giving them that message, and getting them on track, by either finding a job that suits them, or fixing their attitude, or learning to be a better employee.  So find that infection and treat it now.  You’ll feel better tomorrow!

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It’s Easy to Put Your Patients at Ease

A few years ago I was visiting a seriously ill friend in the hospital, and during my visit someone came into the room with a service dog, a greyhound, and my friend’s face lit up, and the dog climbed onto the bed and lay against her.  I could see the stress drain from my friend’s face.  It was a beautiful thing.

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Just this last weekend I met a pediatric dentist who employs the same comforting approach with her patients.  She has a service dog, approved for medical use just as the greyhound was that I met years earlier.  The dog climbs onto children’s laps, and the effect is profound, as you can imagine.  I was in awe.

So my question to you is, what are you doing to make your patients more comfortable?  Because if they are less apprehensive, they are more receptive to treatment, and they also comprehend it better.  But also, it makes the experience of your practice memorable, and personal.

There are so many simple ways to put your patients at ease, such as:

  • pashminas, or some similar, washable blanket (you can even have them in plastic bags like the airlines)
  • hot towels
  • have a panic button (the one that stops the drill–don’t know what it’s called–patients almost never use it, but it relaxes them)
  • use lighted loupes instead of the overhead light shining in their eyes
  • have reception beverages available
  • comfortable furniture, maybe even a massage chair

I’m sure you have your own ideas, and I’d love to hear them and share them with other readers here. But be conscious that a little comfort goes a long way.  And it gives you something to put on Facebook!

 

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What is Technological Cachet, and How Do You Get It?

We live in a technological world, one that swirls and advances constantly at an ever-accelerating pace.  And you may say that it is mostly people under 35 who are in love with new technology, and indeed they are.  They will wait in line to get a new cell phone not because theirs is broken, but because the iPhone 5 is out and they can’t stand to use that iPhone 4S for one more day.

But all of us engage new technology all the time, and we’ve come to expect it. 4G in our phones that is faster than our broadband internet at home.  GPS in a car that costs $15,000. Video on Tech cachet girl w laptopDemand. Arthroscopic surgery. Open Table. Google Maps. Mobile banking. Smart thermostats. And we love it.

And with this expectation comes a subconscious assessment of those things that haven’t advanced, or those businesses that haven’t incorporated new technology:

  • “How can this restaurant not have their menu on a website?”
  • “This hotel doesn’t have any reviews on Yelp–can you believe it?”
  •  “Why can’t you just text me the appointment time?”
  • “What do you mean you can’t email me the receipt?”

People are choosing businesses, including dental practices, because of the level of technology that they see, and also because of the technological cachet that comes with digital services.  For example, we know for a fact that people are making judgments about the quality of dentistry that you provide based on the appearance of your website.  Is it modern-looking? Does is it have videos and patient reviews?  Can I request an appointment?  If they don’t see these things, they often decide that the quality of your dentistry is not up to par.  It’s an erroneous assumption, I grant you, but they make it anyway, because they see hundreds of well-designed websites every month.

If they can’t fill out patient intake forms ahead of time through email, they are making a judgment about you.

If they see that lightbox on the wall with the tiny film x-rays glowing on it, they are wondering why you don’t have digital radiography.

If they have heard of CEREC, they want to know why you’re placing a temporary so that they’ll have to come back in two weeks for you to cut it off and put the crown on.

If the office has free WiFi, they see you as a modern, convenient practice.

If you have iPads with movies and games, you are high-tech.

If you have an active Facebook page, you are a cutting-edge practice.

Notice how little of this, short of the CAD/CAM, is about the quality of your dentistry.

Why? Because they could look at every patient record in the office and still not know if you’re a great clinician or not.  So they make assumptions based on other criteria, relevant or not.

We recently did a survey of consumer attitudes toward dentistry, and one of the questions was about why they have difficulty choosing a dentist. Almost 60% stated one of the reasons was they had no way of gauging the quality of the dentistry in the practice.  It’s a daunting mystery to most people.  And it makes them procrastinators and avoiders.

I will add one more observation to this: when that patient who sees you as technologically backward leaves your practice, they will not tell you why.  They will just go somewhere else. And your practice will very gradually shrink. Need I point out that the segment of the population that is growing is the one with this expectation of new technology?  The late adapters and Luddites will be fewer and fewer, because technology is finally making our lives easier, faster and more convenient.  And more fun.

So be a great clinician, of course. That is baseline.  But bring new technology and this high-tech, modern-world cachet to your office, and it will expand your patient base and create patients more open to comprehensive care and more likely to recommend your practice.  And who knows, you might really start to enjoy dentistry all over again.

 

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