The Daily Grind offers readers a glimpse into the life of general dentists practicing today. Each post offers a perspective on managing a dental practice or balancing a life outside of the practice. The Daily Grind is written by several general dentist and student members of AGD. All content published on The Daily Grind is property of the Academy of General Dentistry and cannot be reposted or reprinted without permission.

Relationships Matter above Everything Else

  • by Duke Aldridge, DDS, MBA, MAGD, MICOI, DICOI
  • Jun 15, 2017, 10:42 AM
As we know, dentistry has entered a new economic reality — a reality that is reshaping the way in which we do business, as part of an industry whose foundation is built upon the appreciation and realization that relationships matter, above everything else. Yes, everything! Stated another way, no longer are our clinical skills the differentiator between success and failure. Rather, it is the manner in which all team members commit to building relationships that has meaningful and lasting importance.

In 2017, dentists are no longer insulated from market forces. In many communities, the competition is fierce, employee engagement is abysmal, and the price shopper is alive and well. For the new dentist or seasoned practitioner, the ability to carve out a “niche” is seldom based upon clinical skills. Rather, building long-term relationships that lead to a following of lifetime customers is key to personal and professional satisfaction. Considering less than 1 percent of dentists file for bankruptcy, I don’t think we need to worry about going out of business. However, as an industry, we can do better. How much better? A lot! We are fortunate to have chosen a profession that by its mere existence is financially successful. Consider us wise from this perspective. Or maybe lucky? Who knows.

For most general dentists, their profit margins are shrinking and will continue to do so. Why? The competing forces are fierce; dental insurance reimbursements are continuing to decline as more dentists enroll (this is simple economics: supply and demand); corporate dentistry will grow (they want a piece of the profits); fewer dentists will retire (many because they didn’t prepare for retirement); and there will be more graduating dentists, not to mention poor business acumen and an employee-engagement profile that is frighteningly low. What does this mean?

According to Gallup, a worldwide strategic consulting firm whose focus is on “analytics and advice to help leaders and organizations solve their most pressing problems,” only 32.6 percent of employees are engaged in their place of business. Gallup defines engaged employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace. The remaining 67.4 percent were found to be not engaged or actively disengaged at their place of employment. In other words, they are underperforming and costing the business owner a substantial amount of money in wages and lost production. Suffice it to say, there is a production crisis and relationship disconnect in today’s workplace. Gallup’s employee engagement work is based upon more than 30 years of in-depth behavioral economic research involving more than 17 million employees.

A recent study by Deloitte, one of the four largest consulting firms in the world, reported a direct correlation between the patient experience and perceived quality of clinical care, noting that higher patient experience ratings are associated with higher profitability. Relationships were key. Not only was there an increase in profits, but there was also an increase in customer loyalty, reputation and brand while boosting utilization through increased referrals to family and friends. The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions’ outcomes mirrored the Gallup poll findings, stating, “A highly engaged staff likely boosts patient experience, translating into better performance.”

Are these new findings? No. According to the article, “Top 10 Online Patient Complaints – How Does Your Customer Service Stack Up?” published in September 2012 in the McGill & Hill Group LLC newsletter, McGill Advisory, nine out of every 10 dental patient complaints are relationship-based and continuing to rise. Our employees and teams can do better, and when they fail to do so, they are hurting our business. How are your relationships with your team and patients? Are they built upon a culture of “do no harm” or “do unto others as you would have done to you”?

While we may be facing big-box dentistry, miserable insurance reimbursements, and a marketing maze of well-intending individuals and companies, there is no substitute for a culture whose core is built upon developing rapport that leads to value, and value that leads to trust. When patients trust you, they will buy from you.

While we can’t be all things to all people, we can be all things to some. This includes our patients and team members who appreciate our services, education, and commitment to each of them and each other — a type of credo that nourishes relationships built upon rapport, value and trust, or what I refer to as “RVT,” an association between the services we provide and a relationship-driven culture that leads to brand loyalty for life.

Are your employees engaged, enthusiastic and committed to their work and workplace? Remember, a highly engaged workforce means the difference between a company that outperforms its competitors and one that fails to grow. Relationships matter, above everything else.
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