In 1996, Eastman Kodak had a market value of over $30 billion, and was considered the fifth most valuable brand in the world. In September 2013, the final bankruptcy of the company made its shares worth nothing. Zero.
How did this happen? In the beginning, George Eastman started with a brilliant idea: make photography easier and more portable. It worked. Over the years, the business evolved, and Kodak believed that its business was about making better and better film, and it did that. And it dominated the film photography industry, and almost completely ignored the onset of digital photography.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t what people cared about. We all have boxes of photos that we never look at. What people really want to do is share photos, as easily and quickly as possible. We take pictures to show other people. George Eastman wanted to make photography easy. Digital photography does that, much more easily than film can. The company wandered away from Eastman’s guiding principle, believing it was in the film business, when it was in the sharing business.
Here’s another clue. Instagram, a simple program to enhance digital photos on cell phones, sold to Facebook for one billion dollars after two years of operation and not a single dollar of revenue! Why? Because Facebook knows people want to share photos easily.
So how does this relate to dentistry? Quite closely, in fact. I meet many dentists who believe that if they just become better dentists then this will automatically get them more patients. Some were even told this by their ivory-tower professors in dental school. The truth is, if you build it, they still won’t come. Most people do not know how to evaluate a dentist’s clinical skills. But they can evaluate the experience of being in the practice. In about ten seconds.
That experience starts with the website, social media and the phone skills of your front desk people. And is carried through by everything else that patients see, hear, taste touch and smell in your practice. From the design of your reception to your scrubs to the words you use.
Kodak believed it was about better film. Some dentists believe it’s all about more skills, more courses, more training. Those are still valuable, but building a practice is as much or more about the convenience of receiving that dentistry, either with more convenient hours, IV sedation, Invisalign, CEREC or other same day dentistry technology, or better phone skills, a nicer looking reception area and an effective online presence.
I know many dentists with B-level clinical skills who have thriving practices because they understand what patients want. And I know several A+ level dentists who are hanging by their fingernails, hoping that they’ll stop losing more patients.
The world is changing. Loyalty is harder to gain with patients. They expect convenience, a nice atmosphere, and ease of payment. Because of this, a number of dental practices are about to have their own “Kodak moment”, when their value gradually diminishes to essentially nothing. Their patients will have left, and will have not told them why.
So I’m telling you why. If you think you don’t need a nice reception area, and a clean, technologically advanced practice, and a friendly staff, and an active Facebook presence and a dynamic website, you’re fooling yourself. The decline of your practice will be gradual, until it’s rapid. Think I’m way off base? Ask the guy who had a little coffee shop and thought Starbucks wasn’t going to affect him. Ask the computer store owner who didn’t think Dell computers would change the industry. Ask the film editor who didn’t think digital editing would catch on.
Keep taking your clinical courses, and getting better at providing high-quality, comfort-conscious dentistry. You’re a medical professional. But don’t think for a minute that, in the next decade, that’s going to be enough.
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