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There are about 200,000 dentists in the United States.

And, depending on where you practice, there may be hundreds if not thousands of dentists in your immediate area.

With all of this competition, how can the average private practicing dentist make their office stand out?  For that matter, what makes your practice different? Why would a patient choose your practice over the office down the street? And with that accomplished, how would you retain – and grow – your patient base?

The answer is simple: customer service, or the patient experience as some like to call it.

When we talk about patient experience, we often focus on things like individual attention, communication, attitude, phone skills, making the patient comfortable, and running on-time. These are all, of course, critical. But there’s one other thing that can be easily overlooked: your office’s appearance.

(Related: How to create First-Class Customer Service in a Dental Office)

Ultimately, the patient’s experience of your office starts with its appearance.

The point of this article isn’t that you need a million-dollar redesign, fancy new hi-tech gadgets or giant 4k TVs. I want to start a little more basic than that.  And while what I say in this article might seem too simple – believe me – it can go a long way.

To start, I recommend doing a “tour” of your office. And when you do this tour, it’s important that you assume the viewpoint of a new patient.  Take a minute and imagine that you’ve never been to your office before and start looking. Begin with….

The Waiting Room

Important – before you do this, don’t tell anyone you’re doing it – we don’t want anyone to prepare ahead of time. And we’re not doing this to give anyone a hard time. Instead, we’re looking for an organic response.  We want to see things as they always are.  Start by going outside and entering your practice as if you’re a new patient.  Open the door and walk into reception. Look around. Look at the furniture, the floors, the walls, the art on the walls, etc. Are things damaged? Are they dirty? Dusty? Is there a stack of magazines under the table that needs to be gotten rid of? See what catches your eye that somebody new to the space might notice. Things that you or your staff may not notice anymore because you walk by them every day.

In the end, you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg remodeling. Maybe your furniture isn’t brand new, but if it’s cleaned and not damaged, I guarantee you, most patients aren’t going to notice that it has a few years on it.  As with the rest of the office, start taking notes of what you find.

(Related: Why the Customer Isn’t Always Right)

The Front Desk

Now, walk up to the front desk. Look at the desk itself, the space in front of the receptionist, and the space in back of the receptionist. What do you see? Are there stacks of charts? Papers? A broken fax machine or copier that now doubles as a table for those things that somebody “will handle one day?”

What do you see as you stand there as “the patient?” Is the clipboard in good shape? Are the counters dirty? Really think about how it looks as if you were the patient standing there at the front desk signing in.

Treatment Area

Now, go down the hall and walk into to each operatory. As you walk, again, I want you to look at the walls, the baseboards, the pictures on the walls, etc. Now, look at the op.  Stand back before you sit down in the chair. Look at the counter – is it filled with bottles, an electric toothbrush, three different overused pamphlets? How many things have accumulated on that counter over time? Are they all necessary? Do they need to be out for every patient, or can we put a lot of that away and take it out as needed on a patient by patient basis?

(Related: Dental Customer Service Strategies: How to Make Positive Changes in Your Practice)

Now, sit in the chair and look around again from a patient’s perspective, and don’t forget to look at the ceiling! I’ll tell you, it’s the worst thing when you’re lying back looking up at ceiling tiles that have water stains on them. These are simple to replace and make a huge improvement, (and may be indicative of a leak – so be aware)! Remember: a lot of a patients’ time in your office is spent in the chair looking up at the ceiling.

I’ve visited offices that were run by great people, that probably do great work…but I couldn’t help but think “Hmm…I’m not sure I want to get my dental work done here. And I probably won’t tell my friends to come here either.” Nobody wants to get dental work done in a dusty, messy, disorganized space.

The Bathroom

Depending on the size of your office, your tour may only have on more stop, but it’s a very important one: the bathroom. Needless to say, this area needs to be extremely clean. I’ve seen doctors do different things. Personally, I’m a fan of mouthwash and cute little cups in the bathroom, but this isn’t a must. Regardless, it must be clean and well stocked. I would suggest assigning a staff member to maintain the bathroom throughout the day. It is their job to go in and clean it up and make sure it is well stocked. Obviously, you should have a janitor or cleaning person who comes in for deep cleaning, but throughout the day someone needs to at least check in and tidy up.

(Related: 5 Ways to Improve the Patient Experience)

Other Areas of the Office

Your office may have a consult room or any other area where a patient may go. Make sure you go to those areas and repeat this same routine. Look for anything that can be cleaned up, any paint that can be touched up on the walls, piles that can be gotten rid of, etc. Now, I do suggest that you do this for every area in your office – not just the ones your patients go to.

Everybody likes to work in a clean space.  For that matter it can contribute to increased efficiency. A messy, disordered work environment does not lead to an efficient, organized team. It shows one and all that low standards are acceptable!

And don’t forget, as you’re walking through the office, there may be places patients see but don’t enter – e.g. lab, sterilization, etc. These also need to be clean and tidy. This would also include the Doctor’s office. I’ve seen plenty of these get a little bit piled up.  So, make sure those are clean and presentable as well!

(Related: Low Cost Ideas That Can Create Excellent PR For Your Dental Practice)

Office appearance is one of the more basic points of customer service and can have a far greater impact than you might think.  And when there are problems, it’s also one of the fastest ways to drive patients away.

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot that goes into creating a great experience for your patients. And to improve on these, I recommend coming to the MGE New Patient Workshop.  In the meantime, try the steps in this article and watch what happens!

I hope this tip helps! If you ever have any questions, feel free to call us at (800) 640-1140, or you can email me directly at ashleyf@mgeonline.com.

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