How to be the best

Every client interaction is crucial to business
Every client interaction is crucial to business

Being recognised for outstanding customer service is one of the best achievements your business can make. Samantha Trenoweth reveals what you need to know

Everyone’s talking about customer service, and dentists are no exception. With an increased variety of dental services available and more practitioners from which to choose, patients are less likely to stick slavishly with one practice throughout their lives, and excellence in clinical dentistry isn’t always enough to hold their loyalty.

Moreover, with the proliferation of popular social media, everyone has become a critic and one good or bad review has the potential to make or break a practice.

Every client interaction is crucial to business and a focus on customer service has become indispensable.

“We can no longer afford to have even one unhappy patient,” says Dr Shereen Lim of Sparkle Dental in Joondalup, Perth. “Every interaction we have with our patients has to be a positive experience, so we’re always asking ourselves what we can do better at every point of contact.”

Last year Sparkle Dental (which Dr Lim operates with her husband and fellow dentist, Dr Alex Devellerez) won one of Western Australia’s top awards for customer service—an Australian Institute of Management WA WestBusiness Pinnacle Award.

“We’re a suburban practice with a staff of 15,” says Dr Lim with a smile, “but there we were, on stage to accept our award, alongside major winners including Rio Tinto and Andrew Forrest from Fortescue.”

Part of the secret to Sparkle’s success, Dr Lim believes, is that they make communication a priority. Members of the Sparkle team try to communicate clearly with patients about what they do but, more importantly, Dr Lim says, they communicate what they stand for and what they believe.

In this respect, Drs Lim and Devellerez are fans of motivational speaker Simon Sinek. He’s the author of Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action and a star on the TED Talk circuit. His central tenet is that people “don’t buy what you do, they buy what you believe”.

Drs Lim and Devellerez have taken this on board. It’s important, they insist, that everyone on the team has a similar idea about the beliefs and goals that underpin the practice, and that they feel some ownership of those.

If you want to refresh your customer service, Dr Lim suggests the first step could be to get your team together and talk about your core beliefs.

“Decide what difference you want to make to your patients. How do you want them to feel? Do you want to create a sense of belonging? Do you want to change their perception of dentistry? Do you want to help them towards total health? Dig deep to find out what it is that makes the team feel emotionally connected, and then get them involved in contributing ideas to make sure everything you do is aligned.

“Our entire team has a good sense of ownership of the practice and its vision,” she explains. “We’re passionate and purposeful and we communicate our passion and purpose clearly in everything we do.”

It begins with the very first phone call. “We take the time to really talk to people,” she says. “That first call lasts for an average of 10 minutes at our practice, while we get to know the person and find out what they want, so we can personalise their appointment.”

The first time a patient appears at the practice is another once-only opportunity to make a positive impression but, Dr Lim says, at Sparkle, the team aims to greet patients as they would welcome guests in their own homes—not just the first time but every time they visit.

“Many patients have negative associations or at least some level of anxiety when coming to the dentist,”
she explains. “We want to exceed their expectations by creating an environment that makes them feel completely at ease and well looked after.

“So, making them feel welcome is important and we focus on the simple things, such as having a courtesy mindset, becoming familiar with our patients and their preferences, attending to the little things and having a happy work environment.”

Drs Lim and Devellerez believe that a happy team is essential to happy customers and they have worked hard to create a great working environment at the practice.

“People can see we clearly love working together to serve them,” Dr Lim says. “We’ve built a fun, positive, caring team spirit and most of us refer to the team as our ‘work family’. I think everyone on the team feels that their ideas are heard and that they make a positive contribution.”

“We look after our patients, look after each other, work hard and play hard,” Dr Devellerez adds. “We genuinely care about each other and we combine as a united team.”

Drs Lim and Devellerez also make sure that the practice “is constantly evolving” and that staff members have opportunities to travel and to continue learning”. That way, nobody gets bored or feels their career has stagnated and staff turnover remains low.

“We’re also very proactive in creating awareness and bridging the gap between dentistry and medicine, which adds to everyone’s sense of purpose,” adds Dr Lim. “Our dental therapist, Rachel Harvey, has been sharing her knowledge by lecturing at university, and we’ve collaborated with sleep and ear-nose-throat physicians.”

Moreover, Sparkle lets patients know about what they’re doing on its webpage and its very active Facebook page, which not only posts dental news but personal stories about the team. Recent posts include a recipe for dental assistant Liz Fenn’s lemon and berry cake (a hit at last week’s Friday bake-off) and a shout-out to winners of the monthly ‘compliments and successes’ competition. There’s also a picture of Alex Devellerez at sea with an enormous, freshly caught fish.

All of this, Dr Lim believes, helps patients get to know the team and feel at ease. As she explains: “It reinforces that we are the right practice for them.”

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