The Lessons of Uber for Dental Practices

One of the most talked about new businesses these days is Uber, the transportation service. It is essentially a phone application which, when you’re in a city in need of a ride, finds you the nearest limousine and you can summon them to pick you up (your phone knows where you are standing, of course.) And here is the best part: when you reach your destination, you just get out of the car.  No fumbling for cash or running a credit card; it charges your credit card automatically, with the tip included.  Uber screen

Limousine drivers love it because it gives them a fare when they’re just sitting around, and they don’t have to work through a dispatcher.  And passengers love it because you get a car quickly, usually at a discount, and don’t have to deal with the money.  Women in particular love this.  And the drivers are rated by the passengers, and if their rating drops below a 3.5 out of 5 stars, then they no longer come up in a search. So they are accountable, and behave accordingly.

Compare this to your typical experience in a taxi.  You climb into the back of the cab, behind the bulletproof glass, in a car that hasn’t had the shock absorbers replaced in a decade, and a driver who spends the entire ride mumbling into his headset, talking on the phone.  And half the time, his shirt is in serious need of laundering.  And then, when you pay, it takes five minutes or longer to use a credit card, and many of them grumble about you even using a card.  Or the machine is “broken.” And in Miami, for example, you can’t even get the driver to take a credit card. Cash only.

So Über has taken it to the next step.  Now they have regular people working as taxi drivers, using their own car.  It’s as cheap as a cab, but the car is clean, the driver friendly (often they invite you to sit in the front if you’re alone), they have water for you and a phone charger.  So you choose: Uber with a nice, clean car, clean driver, same price and ease of payment, or a taxi?

This is what we call disruptive technology.  Another business comes along, sees what’s not working in an industry, and does it better. It’s happening in many industries, and happening faster than ever.  Most of the time, the existing businesses fail to respond, or respond too late.  The examples are all around you: the Yellow Pages, TV guide, network television, to name a few. (I think you can sense that this is a companion piece to my blog on the demise of Kodak.)

So, in the case of Uber, what did the taxi companies do? Get better? Clean up the cars? Get drivers off the phone? No. They sued Uber.  The typical response for an entrenched business model.  And they will fail, because in the end, the customer is always right.

If you haven’t noticed, dentistry is experiencing some disruption, both in the delivery of dentistry and the experience of it.

CEREC and other CAD/CAM systems are a disruption, one that offers more convenience to a consumer.  If you don’t think that getting a crown done in one visit instead of two is not appealing to the dental consumer, then you are really out of touch.  Even your best patients are not interested in two sets of shots and drilling. And when you can now deliver a restoration in half the time, that is the essence of disruptive technology.  It also transforms the environment of the practice to a cutting-edge technology practice, and both the team and the patients respond to that.

Corporate dentistry is a disruption.  As it gets more complicated to run a dental practice and to stay trained on the latest techniques, the need for support and assistance gets greater.  And the rising cost of dental schools makes it much harder for recent graduates to start or buy an existing practice.

Female dentists are a disruption, as they exceed 50% of graduates. They bring a feminine touch to the chairside experience, and from what I’ve seen don’t have any of the self-esteem issues that male dentists have been plagued with.  The idea of a female dentist is also very appealing to patients.

Dental insurance companies are initiating a disruption.  They are the bastard children coming back to kill daddy.  They are cutting reimbursements and dictating care, at the same time as more and more patients are unwilling to go out of network.

Digital communication is a disruption. If you don’t have a dynamic website, a Facebook presence, and use automated communications that text and email your patients, you are way behind the curve at this point.

So what can you do as a dentist practice?

  • Make it easier to pay.  Get the money handled sooner, rather than last thing.  And offer financing.
  • Make it easier to make and change appointments. (Do I need to mention PatientActivator?)
  • Be friendly.  We are keenly tuned to people’s attitude, and all it takes is indifference to turn us away. You don’t need to be rude or inconsiderate.
  • BE MORE CONVENIENT!  Early morning hours, early evening hours, Saturdays. Even banks don’t work bankers hours anymore.
  • Get ahead of the digital curve: have a dynamic website (they are not expensive anymore); integrate social media into your practice; text your patients at night to see how they are doing; have an ongoing process of generating patient reviews.
  • Be available for emergencies.

We are a service business. And most of our services are optional, on demand. Disrupt yourself and your own entrenched beliefs, before someone else does.  Usually right across the street.

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6 thoughts on “The Lessons of Uber for Dental Practices

  1. Five-Star customer service is not a policy or procedure, it’s a way of being! It is the care you provide, the products you use, the services you provide and the list goes on and on. Our patients are a gift and ought to be treated as such. If every member of your team is not living it and breathing Five-Star customer service, let them off at the next stop!

  2. The sooner dentists come to the realisation that we are as you say Fred in the *SERVICE* industry the sooner we can move forward as a profession.

    We are in the CUSTOMER SERVICE business. Dentistry is purely our vehicle for allowing us to serve our customers

  3. Just one more disruption I’d like to mention. The usual way dentists and dental personnel learn about a continuing education course is through advertising from the course sponsor. Online ratings and reviews are a staple on the web, but up to now, they have not been available for rating and reviewing continuing education courses. That’s changed – visit RateCE.com and learn how. Find (or suggest) a course, attend, rate and review and receive marketing materials based on your CE experiences. Let’s make a difference in the quality of continuing education.

  4. Über sounds a convenient way to go anywhere. And it will be better if there will be more new technologies for dental practice. But I am still uncomfortable with digital communication for dental appointment. Feminine touch is convenient for me because my female dentists reassured me and made me comfortable.

I welcome your comments--don't pull any punches!