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Inside Dental Technology
August 2019
Volume 10, Issue 8

Get Off the Bench and Create Value

Focus on customer service with dental practice teams

Jill Swafford

Having spent 15 years working in dental offices, I have a different perspective than many other laboratory owners. So it's not surprising I decided to do things a little differently with my laboratory. There are so many ways that laboratories can provide value to their clients and their teams. Does your laboratory team prioritize the dentist's staff? Does your team deliver post-operative instructions or polish patient restorations after years of wear? Most importantly, is your laboratory team talking to the patient when there is a challenge with a case? Many would answer "no" to these questions. Yet doing these things is exactly what can help set a laboratory apart from the competition.

Something we try to do differently is to not be "just any laboratory." One way to deliver this is by offering training for the dental office teams on everything from temporary fabrication to shade selection. Many laboratories claim that is not their responsibility to teach the offices those things. They may be right-it isn't their responsibility; it is, however, an opportunity. Going above and beyond helps our bottom line. By spending 2 hours in an office, together we can improve how that dental practice sends work to our laboratory. This allows us to streamline our process greatly, limiting having to reach out to the office to get more information, proper shades, or more accurate temporaries.

All of these things help ensure that our restorations get seated correctly the first time. The laboratory is not the only one benefiting from this. Laboratories do not often have to handle upset patients, such as those who "spent a fortune" on a restoration that could not be seated properly and complain about needing to make yet another unexpected appointment before they get their final prosthesis. But the team members at the dental office do not have anywhere to hide when those patients start ranting and raving. It is not pleasant for any party involved. My laboratory teaches dental practices how to recognize and flag those patients, and take care of everything possible for them at the first visit, including setting them up for multiple future appointments. Setting expectations like this is a game-changer. When we are all on the same page about the patient behind the teeth, everything goes smoother. We work with the offices to set the patient's expectations at a reasonable level. We let them know that it will probably take more than one visit to deliver the case, because we won't settle until it is right. That way when we get it right the first time, the patient is thrilled; but if we do not, the patient was already set up to expect that it would require more than one try.

Running lunch-and-learns with your clients' teams can also be very effective. Dental assistants always have so many questions. What materials are available, and what are their indications? What cement should we use and when? What about different shades of cement? Why do we always seem to get bubbles in our impressions? What preparations are the most conducive to the final restoration material we want? Yes, the dentist knows these answers, but they do not have time to sit down and teach the team the whys behind every decision or change that is made. Since these are the people who most often handle work sent to your laboratory, it benefits everybody that they know what they are doing and why-so it gets done right.

Laboratory managers and owners could improve their results, be more efficient in their laboratories, and become invaluable to their clients by getting off the bench to conduct these educational efforts or hiring someone to do it for them. Laboratories that do not have anyone on staff with the personality or aptitude for teaching can opt to hire someone who does. When they go to dental practices and offer the customer service aspects that separate you from the laboratory down the street or across the country, these educators add so much extra value that they will pay for themselves.

Dentists will not often ask for help for their staff, but they typically will not turn you down if you offer. Make sure to highlight that it is all about benefiting them. How will this help the dentist? Educating their staff and improving processes can help reduce remakes and improve patient experiences, benefiting the practice directly. The fact that these changes also greatly benefit the laboratory's workflow and business is probably not even on the dentist's radar.

Another way to help clients and their staff to better understand your world is to invite them to the laboratory. Educate them on how much easier communication can be with all of the laboratory's digital tools. If they are considering getting a scanner, show them the process of how quickly their case can go from preparation to production. Show them the benefits of marking their own margins while the patient is still in the chair and how they can ensure the bite is spot-on before the patient ever leaves the room. With the technology that is on the market today, it even takes digital impressions to another level by capturing very accurate edentulous impressions. Review with the client teams the time and money that will be saved in the long run. Remembering that although you are giving up your time to go to educate the teams, it can pay off for you in a big way when you are no longer spending hours in the model room.

Take action today by deciding to call one practice or send a handwritten invitation for your laboratory to visit and help them with their top laboratory challenge. Separately, decide a day and time each week that the laboratory manager will walk away from the bench for just 2 hours and work on communications with clients. They may decide to call or send a letter to two offices per week, or to send an email blast to all clients on a weekly basis, letting them in on all the latest and greatest that is going on in the laboratory. Be clear of the goals to accomplish within those two hours every week; using them wisely will pay off. Being available to clients is so important. They have questions and need to know that their trusted laboratory partner will be there to answer them. Don't just be "the laboratory"; the client's team should know you by name, and you should know theirs.

Don't forget the entire team is involved in these restorations. Be appreciative to the practice's staff if the laboratory requests to move the due date or similar inconvenience. They are tasked with smoothing things over with a potentially unhappy patient. If the laboratory is not grateful or takes this accommodation for granted, the office staff will certainly tell the dentist about it. However, if the laboratory is always appreciative and grateful, and has a genuinely good relationship with the dentist and their team, those team members will have your back when the dentist considers switching laboratories because the other one charges $10 less per crown. You will have an entourage of people who want to see your laboratory continuing being "their laboratory."

In closing, remember the whole dental team. It is not just about taking care of the dentist or the patient. The laboratory needs the entire team to help ensure that the restorations are delivered and cared for in the best possible way. Any one of those team members can break or make a case. Take care of them, and they will take care of you.

About the Author

Jill Swafford is the Owner of Oaks Dental Designs in Pikeville, Tennessee.

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