If you look through negative online reviews for dental offices, you’ll notice one of the common themes is, “The doctor is great, but _________ .”
Fill in the blank with things like, “They messed up my insurance,” “I had to wait an hour,” “The receptionist was rude on the phone,” “I got billed the wrong amount,” “They didn’t send in the lab case on time, so I was stuck with a temporary crown for weeks,” etc.
I’ve found that most dentists are perfectionists when it comes to the clinical side and do great quality control. But they don’t have the same level of quality control when it comes to customer service and organization in their practice. And if you want to have a successful, growing dental practice, it is equally as important.
Of course, we provide extensive education on organization and management (see the MGE Power Program for more info on that), and if you want to touch up on your customer service I recommend reading our free ebook on Customer Service. But right now, I have an easy tip that you can start using in your practice today:
Start doing “Exit Interviews” with patients after their treatment is completed
First of all, I should explain what an exit interview is and what its purpose is.
An exit interview is done at the very end of a patient’s service (e.g. at the end of their final follow-up appointment). Before they leave the office, a staff member sits down with them and walks them through a series of questions to get an idea of their overall experience with the practice.
The purpose of the exit interview is to get honest feedback on the patient’s experience and to find out if there are any areas of the practice that need to be corrected.
This may seem too simple and obvious, but properly done, an exit interview can be a game-changer for your practice, so I want to share a few tips on what we used to do when we held exit interviews in the practices I managed.
(Related: A Simple Way to Improve Customer Service in Your Dental Practice)
You’ll discover surprising things you never would have known about otherwise.
Have an exit interview for each type of service.
You should have three types of exit interviews:
- Hygiene appointments. This can be a quick conversation at the front desk. You can ask questions like, “How was everything today?” “Do you feel there is anything we could improve upon?” “Do you have any family members who need to see a dentist?”
This can just be a quick conversation, but it’s highly important you do it because a problem in your hygiene department can cause patients to not want to come back in for recall, which can absolutely destroy practice production.
I’ve seen many a practice before that struggled with hygiene production and patient retention, only to discover later on that the hygienist was being too rough with patients or there was a scheduling issue that could have been easily resolved if they’d been on top of quality control.
(Related: How to Create First-Class Customer Service in a Dental Office)
So, it’s important that you do it, and I suggest randomly selecting a few hygiene patients to do a more thorough interview like you would for a major service.
- Basic services, such as fillings, perio work, etc. Again, this may be a quick conversation, and then periodically select a few random patients to do a more comprehensive interview.
- Major services (anything that required more than one visit). This should be the most extensive interview. Every single patient who received a major service gets the full interview, and I’ll explain more on how this is done below.
Conducting exit interviews
For full interviews, you would have a piece of paper or a tablet, etc. with the questions you’d like to ask the patient.
Simply let them know you’d like to ask a few questions to help with quality control and make sure every patient has the best experience possible if that’s okay with them.
The questions you ask will vary from practice to practice. I’ll provide some samples, but you should come up with what works best for you.
A few examples are:
- “How was your experience?”
- “Is there anything that didn’t go well? Anything that could be improved upon?” (Dig around a little here. They may simply say, “I don’t know” or “Nothing really,” but you can tell there’s something they’re not saying. Make sure you get their honest answers.)
- “How was your first initial appointment?” “Was your treatment plan explained to you well?”
- “Did you have a follow-up appointment? How did that go? Were there any issues or problems that came up?”
- If you recently implemented a new service or software (such as texting reminders), you can ask them what they thought about it and if it made it easier for them.
- “Do you have any family members that need to schedule an appointment?” “Do you know anybody that needs a dentist?” You can also ask about specific family members if you know them by name, and then get them scheduled.
- If their experience was positive, ask for an online review. You may say something like, “Before you go, I wanted to see if we could get your help with something. We’re trying to improve our online presence, and Google and Yelp are very important nowadays. Would you be willing to leave an honest review for our practice?” And if yes, send them a text or email with a link to leave a review.
You could also ask for some 1-10 ratings on various aspects of your practice to get an average. For example, you could ask, “On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your overall experience?” If you start noticing the ratings dip at any point, you’ll know there’s something you need to fix.
Who should conduct the interviews?
In my practice, the doctor never did these interviews. Nor did anyone the patient knows well, such as the hygienist or receptionist.
For some reason, people are much more willing to be open and honest with a stranger. I suppose it’s because people want to be nice and it’s hard telling a person their faults right to their face. It’s easier to make a complaint to someone else they don’t know and wasn’t directly involved.
(Related: Getting Control of Your Schedule: Can You Tell Patients What to Do?)
In our office, we had a PR Director that most patients never saw in-person except when she did these interviews, so that worked out perfectly. She was also in charge of our marketing and new patient acquisition, so it was a good fit and she always made sure to ask for referrals and online reviews because it fit right into her goal of getting more new patients.
At any rate, try to find a person that patients don’t often interact with otherwise (if possible), and who is friendly and represents the office well.
This person should also understand this next point here…
Don’t just read the questions off like a script. Have a real conversation.
The goal here is to discover any issues that can be improved, but many patients will want to be nice and just say everything was great.
So, you may get people giving short, one-word answers and not being fully open.
This is why it’s important not to just ask a couple of general questions like, “How was your experience?” or “Is there anything we could improve?” and leave it at that.
If they’re not forthcoming initially, you can ask about specific things. “Did you need to wait a long time to see the doctor?” “Did you experience any pain or discomfort at any point?” “Did you have any questions after your procedure, and if so, were we able to answer those quickly for you?” Etc.
These are more direct questions that make it hard to beat around the bush.
Also, observe the patient during this interview. You can probably tell if there’s something they’re holding back. And you may notice that it would (or would not) be appropriate to ask this patient for an online review, or a referral based on their answers, or simply by their emotion. If they seem guarded or unhappy, it would be more appropriate to find out what might have gone wrong.
Review the information regularly and use it to make improvements
As you ask your questions, note their answers. Once you have all the answers, get it into their chart. I recommend also keeping hard copies (if you’re not doing this digitally) in a file so that the doctor or office manager can review them periodically.
The next step would be to correct things if needed.
(Related: Patient Retention: Why Your Patients Aren’t Coming Back and How to Fix It)
You may find that something is wrong with your scheduling, or you may find that a policy isn’t being followed.
Or you may find that patients are waiting too long for a follow-up or that no one told them how the procedure went.
You may find that many patients would prefer to just get a text message for appointment reminders, and then you can implement a text messaging service.
The feedback you could get is infinite and incredibly helpful.
Any issues found should be fixed ASAP because it’s what will improve your office and give a better experience to your patients.
I hope this helps! Quality control is extremely important for the overall business side of your practice as well as the patient’s experience.
And again, if you really want to improve organization, look into the MGE Power Program or request a free consultation here and we’d be happy to help.
If you have any questions, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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