Communicating the true value of laboratory technology to your customers
By Deborah Curson-Vieira
Digital dentistry has arguably been the biggest advancement in years for dental laboratories and technicians. Fifteen years ago, the technology was a differentiator: You could set your laboratory apart from the pack with CAD/CAM capabilities and newer materials like zirconia. Today, with the majority of laboratories investing in digital dentistry, the technology has become an equalizer and zirconia crowns have turned into a commodity.
According to the National Association of Dental Laboratories 2015 Materials and Equipment Survey,1 more than 57% of respondents owned or leased a CAD/CAM system. Of those that didn’t, 34.3% outsourced their CAD/CAM restorations. The survey also showed that approximately 78% of the respondents offered full contour zirconia restorations.
With the rapid rise of digital dentistry, basing sales and marketing efforts solely on technology has become increasingly difficult. It is no longer enough to say that you accept digital impressions or are milling your own crowns. Because many laboratories have access to the technology, it is easy for dentists to switch from laboratory to laboratory. In the minds of our clients, if we all use the same design libraries, equipment, and similar materials, all restorations are the same, right? You have to shift your role as a laboratory and change your marketing focus to differentiate yourself.
So what do your customers want? Dentists and their teams are less concerned with whether the model was milled or printed or which design software you used. They expect results; they want quality restorations that fit and look good, are consistent, and are a fair price—that’s always been true. Now it’s even more important to market your technicians to showcase their expertise, to educate clients about new developments in the industry, and to emphasize the added value that your team and technology bring to the partnership.
A common misconception is that with digital laboratory technology the role of the technician has been automated or diminished. While it is true that some of the more time and labor-intensive processes like waxing, investing, and casting have been reduced, technology has not replaced practical experience, artistry, and technical skills. If you don’t understand occlusion, function, anatomy, and material properties, all of the computer skills in the world won’t allow you to create a good digital restoration.
Focus your messaging on the expertise and artistry of your technicians who have mastered the technology. The technology enhances their skills and makes more elaborate and complex restorations possible. As technology and materials continue to advance, the role of the expert technician will continue to be important in delivering the best possible outcomes for patients.
With changing technology and new materials entering the market, part of your sales and marketing strategy should include education for your customers. The abovementioned NADL survey reported that almost half of the respondents ranked education and training from the dental laboratory as one of the most important ways dental clients learn about new restorative materials.
Dentists and their teams look to the laboratory for information not only on materials and techniques, but also technology. They want to know which digital impression systems to use and how to work within the new digital workflow. They want to know what materials work best in different situations. Encourage your clients to come to the laboratory to see the digital workflow and how it can benefit their practices and their patients.
The more knowledgeable a dentist or practice is with the technology, the more likely they are to communicate with the laboratory, leading to better patient outcomes. A key way that laboratories can cultivate lasting relationships with their clients is to embrace their role as “technical consultants” and vital sources of industry information.
Digital technology adds a lot a value to your laboratory that your clients may not recognize but certainly appreciate. Using digital laboratory technology makes results more predictable and consistent, seems to speed up turnaround time, and can lower prices. Even though these points may seem obvious to you, it’s important to communicate those things in your sales and marketing material, because they are the things that matter most to your customers.
Digital laboratory technology helps laboratories position themselves as partners with their clients. The adoption of a digital workflow has led to increased dentist/laboratory communication and collaboration. From catching problems before milling to collaborating on the best approach for treating special cases, the relationship between the laboratory and the dentist has been forever changed by this technological shift. For the dentist, a laboratory technician well-versed in digital dental technology and new developments is a valuable resource. Take advantage of it.
1. NADL 2015 Materials and Equipment Survey. National Association of Dental Laboratories, 2015. Web. 26 May 2017.
About the Author
Deborah Curson-Vieira is the Director of Customer Care at Dental Prosthetic Services in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.