A very good patient of mine told me a disconcerting story about her daughter. Her daughter used to be my patient, but she told me she won’t come back because I scared her. This was quite bothersome to me, not because the practice lost a patient, but because dentistry may have lost a patient.
We do our best not to frighten anyone. I think we really try hard to be nice. But my answer to my patient was really lame…I told her, “I’m a dentist, sometimes that happens.” It was lame because it is my responsibility to manage the patient’s experience.
In the classic book, The Experience Economy, authors Pine and Gilmore describe experiences in terms of explicit and implicit outcomes. In a dental practice the explicit outcomes would be the quality of our work, things we can easily judge. But the implicit outcomes or the subjective experiences of our patients are rarely measured.
Many times we don’t even know how the patients perceived the experience, or they can’t find the words to describe the experience. Sometimes, years later…they might say…”he hurt me, I don’t like him, I’m not going back.”
I guess that’s how it came down with my patient. If she’s reading this…”I am truly sorry”
But a great screenwriter once wrote, “Love is never having to say you’re sorry.” And if your practice is one that claims they “love their patients,” maybe it’s time to take better control of the implicit outcomes.
Think about your last experience with any service provider. How did you feel when it was over? How did you feel when you walked away from the ticket counter at the airport? Or from the clerk at the convenience store. I know I have stayed away from restaurants…forever…because of bad service and how it made me feel, rather than because the food was bad ( I just had a horrible Father’s Day experience—and the fish was good).
Feelings and emotions rule.
The difficulty most of us have is to systematize these subjective emotional experiences. The dentist must become, what I call, a master of the intangibles. And that is not easy.
I have found the key to creating great dental experiences is to control the environment. Companies likes Disney and Apple spend fortunes keeping their environments “happy.”
The best advice I ever heard on this comes from the late positive psychologist Chris Peterson who said:
“Positive institutions facilitate the development and display of positive traits, which in turn facilitate positive subjective experiences.”
In other words…It’s the culture.
In a new book, The Customer Service Solution, authors Sriram Dasu and Richard Chase actually use an example from a dental practice to make their point about subjective experiences. I certainly wasn’t surprised that they chose a dental practice considering how we do as an industry.
I don’t think that’s our fault when you consider the amount of sharp objects we work with.
In their example a hygienist is cleaning a six-year old’s teeth. At one point the hygienist inadvertently hits a sensitive spot on a tooth. She could either stop the cleaning or continue on with less discomfort. If you’re a dentist I know what you’re thinking.
But, this moment of truth can effect the child’s subsequent visits, and the hygienist realized this.
Dasu and Chase actually site research in behavioral science that suggests that continuing the treatment at lower levels of pain may actually cause people to have a less negative recall of the experience.
The principle is that the patient will only remember that the “pain wasn’t so bad, in the end.” Endings matter.
This blog concerns it self with many of the softer, subjective feelings that go into the patient experience. Understanding human behavior and cognitive psychology is a big part of dentistry. The books mentioned above go a long way in explaining what every dental practice should know about people and their experiences…after all sometimes it’s not about the teeth.