Differentiate your laboratory by customizing each dentist's experience
Early every product that dental laboratories fabricate is custom made for a dentist with specific preferences and a patient with specific needs. Yet, the dentist-laboratory relationship so often has been reduced to filling a prescription with no interaction beyond a few words on a piece of paper or an online submission form. As laboratories of all sizes seek to differentiate themselves from the competition-and from the race to the bottom on price-one tactic that many have utilized successfully is placing a heavy emphasis on personalized service. "Think about a hotel you've stayed at before that welcomes you back and remembers that you liked a certain type of pillow, a specific newspaper, and a corner room," customer service consultant Shep Hyken writes in Forbes. "The experience is becoming more and more common, and this type of service is crossing over into many other industries."1
For the dental laboratory, personalized service can come in many forms. Kyle Swan, Owner of Functional Esthetics Dental Laboratory in Lewisville, Texas, says it can be as simple as accepting payments by phone.
"It is amazing how many of my accounts really want to talk to somebody," Swan says. "That level of interaction is something I still maintain, even though I also offer the option to pay online if they choose."
Personalized service can extend through all steps of the laboratory operation, says Jessica Paulen Goldich, COO of New Image Dental Laboratory in Morrow, Georgia.
"From the initial conversations with the sales representatives to the phone introduction to the team, our laboratory creates the bond with the clinician," Goldich says. "Every touch solidifies our relationship, from patient shade consultations to discussing preferences and restorative options. Quality controlling each case from start to finish, including making the difficult phone calls at times, ensures our laboratory is meeting or exceeding our dentists' expectations. We often hear, ‘Thank you for looking out for my cases,' from our customers. They know we care."
Answering the Call (or Text)
Research has indicated that 53% of consumers are irritated if they do not speak to a real person right away when calling a business.2 A recent Harvard Business Review article says research shows that exceeding customer expectations during service interactions makes customers "only marginally more loyal than simply meeting their needs."3 In other words, just being available goes a long way.
"Finding the time to field all the calls that come in while also working on the cases can be difficult, but it is so important to many dentists," says Swan, who has a team of approximately 10 employees but takes most of the calls himself. "I used to resist responding to dentists' questions outside business hours, but I do it all the time now. More and more of my dentists have my mobile number. Even during business hours, dentists often want to text me instead of going through our receptionist. That mode of communication can be effective for both of us, but it can get away from you if you are not careful. I schedule a lot of calls with dentists in order to avoid as many of the random interruptions as possible."
Goldich says many New Image clients write on their prescriptions "Fabricate models and call me to discuss" or "Sending photos; evaluate for best product choice." When dentists are first venturing into digital impression scanning, New Image offers to use screen-sharing to walk them through the process.
"Whether dentists want screenshots to review a design before we fabricate it, or they want photos of the final restorations before we ship them out, or anything in between, they can be hands-on in multiple areas," Goldich says. "That is why clients choose to work with us: They have the choice to be as involved as they want."
Learning Dentists' Preferences
Because dentists have different preferences as to which types of interactions they want with the laboratory, learning what each dentist wants is important.
Swan says the key with new clients is both listening to what they want and articulating what the laboratory needs from them.
"I want to know why a dentist is changing laboratories, or what it is that they have not been able to achieve before," Swan says. "Then, I can try to shape our services to meet their needs. Some dentists get really into photography, which is great. Others want to send the bare minimum amount of information that we need. I discuss that differently with each person. I don't want to go over the minutiae of photography with someone who really does not want to get into it, but I will take it as far as they want to go if they do. Everybody's needs are different, and the things they want for their patients are different. I just ask what is important to them, and then do a few cases and make sure their expectations have been met. If I am not getting what I think we need to do a great job, then I continue to ask for it. Either we meld into a synergistic relationship, or we do not."
Goldich's team has preferences saved digitally that print on every work ticket, as well as stickers to denote certain dentists' preferences. In management meetings, department heads discuss any changes or issues with particular clients.
"With so many dentists and so many different preferences," Goldich says, "what means one thing to one dentist means something different to another. Ensuring that our team members all know those preferences is one of our biggest challenges, but it is critically important."
As relationships develop and those preferences are learned, direct interaction time can be reduced and limited to only unusual or complex issues.
"I do not always want to talk to dentists about every case," Swan says. "The goal is to get on the same page as them and know what they want. They may not want to spend extensive time on the phone, either, because their time is so valuable. They want to be able to trust the laboratory's decisions and know exactly what to expect when they open that box."
Backing It Up
Personalized service is not for every client. Some dentists prefer to simply send prescriptions and have them filled. That model may work for some laboratories, but it is less realistic for others.
"Our clients are not the ones searching for the lowest price," Goldich says. "They know they will get the service and value they seek when using our laboratory and it is worth the price."
Dentists can change, too. When a dentist is trying to improve their work by getting away from the price wars, laboratories must be prepared to show them the benefits of personalized services.
"The level of service, the level of detail, and the quality of the product is where I can compete, and that is not for everyone," Swan says, "but more and more dentists are looking to break out of that mold."
Personalized service also goes hand-in-hand with other qualities that can make a laboratory valuable, such as artistry and dental knowledge.
"If you are a smaller laboratory, you need to have personalized service, but you also need to have better quality," Swan says. "It is not just getting on the phone. Some of the big players have tons of people to answer the phone, but it needs to be backed up with knowledge. You need to know a lot about both dental technology and dentistry to really be an asset to their practice."
1. Hyken S. Personalized Customer Experience Increases Revenue and Loyalty. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/shephyken/2017/10/29/personalized-customer-experience-increases-revenue-and-loyalty/?sh=40ab0fe84bd6. Published October 29, 2017. Accessed July 7, 2021.
2. Tiffany A. Is A Bad Caller Experience Costing You More Than You Think? Invoca. https://www.invoca.com/blog/is-a-bad-caller-experience-costing-you-more-than-you-think. Published January 19, 2017. Accessed July 7, 2021.
3. Dixon M, Freeman K, Toman N. Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers. Harvard Business Review. 2010;88(7).