Howard Speaks: The 'Retail Therapy' Experience by Dr. Howard Farran

Dentaltown Magazine

One of the most exciting things about being 55 years old is that I’ve lived half a freaking century. Every rodeo I’ve seen now, I’ve seen it two or three times. When the VCR came out, it was going to be “the end of movie theaters” … but it wasn’t. Then when DVDs came out, it was going to mean the end of movie theaters … but it wasn’t. Every time I turn around, someone’s saying the movie theater is going to die. They don’t realize the importance of the retail therapy experience—the innate desire to get out of the house, go out to eat, enjoy yourself somewhere besides your own house.

It was easier for services like Redbox to kill Blockbuster Video not just because the latter had limited hours and the former is available 24 hours a day, but also because Blockbuster stores offered so little in the customer experience realm. The staff was so lame and limited that renting a movie at a Blockbuster store was basically no different from getting a movie out of a Redbox machine.

In contrast, when I go into million-dollar dental practices the first thing I notice is how magnetic the staff is. They’re connecting with patients, who start experiencing those feel-good chemicals in their brain—dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin. All the dental consultants I know say that when they walk into an office, they can tell within two minutes whether it’s just an average practice. How? There’s no excitement: When you walk in, it smells like a hospital and sounds like a library.

Another example of how the lack of a retail experience effected major change: ATMs and bank tellers. Banks are open what you may disparagingly call banker’s hours, but they’re actually open longer than your typical dental office. (Dental office: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Bank: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, plus Saturday morning.) The ATM is open 168 hours every week, plus it offers the same customer experience that you’d get walking up to most bank tellers, who are quiet and proper—“please enter your account number”—and offer no relationship-building.

A retail experience in the dental office
How this could affect your dental practice: First off, who’s answering your phones? When potential patients call, are they greeted by the human equivalent of a Redbox or ATM?

In most businesses, the people who are taking inbound calls are called “inbound sales”—they’re wearing suits and ties and making six figures. The people in the back of the machine shop, welding or making the actual product, are carrying lunch pails and making maybe $20–$30 an hour.

In dentistry, that’s reversed: The person who makes the big bucks is the one in the back—the doctor—but the person with the most important job still works up front, in inbound sales. They’re making sure that people who call schedule appointments. We call it “the funnel,” and it starts with the fact that on average, 100 people have to land on your website before three of them call your office. And on average, only one out of three schedules an appointment.

How many calls end up on hold because you’ve got only one person up front to handle inbound sales, but two assistants helping the dentist in back? That ratio should be reversed: You should have twice as many people manning inbound calls (and making outbound calls to patients who haven’t been in for a while) as you have assisting a doctor.

Almost every time I walk into a dental office, the doctors are back in their private offices. When I ask what they’re up to, they’ll say, “Oh, I’m letting this soak in for 10 minutes” or, “Well, the assistant’s packing the cord.” I’ll say, “How long are you going to sit back there while she packs the cord?” “I don’t know—10 or 15 minutes?” Dude, I can pack the cord myself in one minute. You’re sitting back there for 15 minutes because you’re lazy, you’ve got two assistants doing this work and yet you have only one person answering inbound calls and making outbound calls. That’s why she can’t take the time to convert.

Most offices that are doing $1.5 million to $2 million a year do so because they can convert 70 percent to 80 percent of inbound calls to make an appointment. That’s why the retail therapy experience matters in your dental office.

Dentaltown Magazine

Ensure great service for all patients
Something else that really gets under my skin is when I hear people talk about the importance of the “new patient experience.” Fortune 500 companies don’t focus solely on new customers—they’re into loyalty programs, because they want customers for life, and you’re not going to get them if you treat new customers or patients better than existing ones.

I know tons of women who have moved houses or changed jobs, yet drive 10 or 15 miles back into their old part of town to see that special hairstylist or manicurist. In reality, that salon doesn’t offer better services than one that’s closer, but they value the fact that they made a connection with someone. Patients like coming back to our office because they like Jamie, who cleans their teeth, and Valerie, who’s always so friendly when they walk in. It’s therapy—after they come in, they feel better.

It’s not the same experience if a patient is greeted by a glass wall that some weirdo slides over, just to hand her a chart and tell her to sign in. Patients won’t like coming to your office if you treat them like property being returned. Make them feel connected!

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Share your tips— or questions!
Got a question for Dr. Howard Farran about how to enact change in your own practice? Or advice for your fellow Townies about something that works well? Share your thoughts about this column online, on the message thread under this column!


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