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The culture of your dental practice

Updated: Jun 30

The culture of your practice and the way it functions could be having a greater impact than you think on the retention of clients. By John Burfitt

In the simplest terms, company culture can be defined as how your practice does what it does. That includes your practice systems as well as staff behaviours and values which create an experience for employees and clients.

A good way for a practice owner or manger to understand exactly how a client experiences their practice culture, recommends productivity specialist Dermot Crowley, is to imagine stepping outside the business to consider what it’s like dealing with your business.

“From making a booking to arriving at the practice, through how the practice staff deal with the client and how the consultation unfolds and then paying the bill, think what all that is really like?” Crowley of Adapt Productivity says.

“Is it smooth, personable and professional, or is it actually chaotic, dismissive and messy? Either way, that sends out a big message about your culture and the way you do business. And clients will either return or possibly not.”

Crowley, a specialist in helping businesses increase productivity and shift cultures, is the author of the books Smart Work and Smart Teams which explore how a business culture can have a significant impact on clients.

“If you have disgruntled team members, that shows and you will have disgruntled clients,” he says. “The thing to always remember is that everything in business is connected.”

The following are six of the most important practice culture points that Dermot Crowley along with Prime Practice’s Bethan Flood and esteemed dental consultant Julie Parker believe need attention in order to keep the flow of clients coming through the doors.

Make a good first impression

As the adage goes, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. “If I walk into a dental practice and they ignore me or are too busy talking among themselves to acknowledge me, then that speaks volumes about what kind of behaviours have been allowed by the leaders in that practice,” Crowley says.

Moreover, he believes it’s likely the standard of behaviour has been modelled from the top down. “In that kind of culture, everyone usually acts that way and so they don’t see anything wrong with it. But the client does and doesn’t feel valued from the first interaction—and that’s a big problem.”

Get your house in order

Some practices are neat, with everything tidy and in order. Others, however, are a mess of post-it notes plastered across computers with high piles of papers on desks, and clinic rooms filled with an overflow of bags and boxes of supplies.

“This is often the kind of practice where the staff always appear stressed and will tell you how frantically busy they are,” Crowley says. “I’ve seen dental practices that are so chaotic, and it makes me wonder about the systems they have in place, and if they actually have my own files in order. It does not engender a great deal of faith in how they function.”

Learning how to be an effective leader and encouraging open, honest and respectful communication including active listening will equip all team members with tools to be empowered to make decisions with clients within certain boundaries. Bethan Flood, HR general manager, Prime Practice HR Solutions

Then there’s the matter of timing. “Being organised is such an important factor of creating a strong culture,” he says. “If your practice does not send out appointment reminders or is always running late when the client turns up, then don’t expect to hold onto that client for too long.”

Have a clear purpose

The power of a unified team who have been well-trained, well-managed and demonstrate a clear understanding of the values and standards of a business should not be underestimated in terms of the impact they have on clients, Julie Parker says.

“The power of purpose is so important in business as a clearly defined purpose can align all the team members to a goal that is greater than just themselves. I encourage the teams I work with to brainstorm the many ways poor oral health impacts patients, so that a practice’s overall purpose is to help people live better lives. Getting that purpose clear for everyone is something that clients notice.”

Offer regular training

Regular training and development opportunities for the entire team will, Parker claims, result in raising the overall standard and culture across the practice, and in time, the patient experience.

“Developing the value of growth in your team and taking powerful steps to foster this value, will have a wonderful and powerful impact on the performance of each individual team member and the team as a whole. That kind of a culture—one with a happy productive team—is one all practices should aim for.”

Practise good communication

Just how team members and dentists speak to clients as well as each other is paramount, Bethan Flood, HR general manager of Prime Practice HR Solutions, says. “Effective communication means understanding different, individual communication styles, and ensures everyone understands, listens and works together.”

To develop such skills might require additional training, not just for more efficient ways of dealing with clients but also how the team interacts with each other, Flood adds.

“Learning how to be an effective leader and encouraging open, honest and respectful communication including active listening will equip all team members with tools to be empowered to make decisions with clients within certain boundaries.”

It’s all about empowerment

A team that has been developed well and provided with clear expectations is able to take responsibility for the scope of their roles and show accountability in the way they deal with clients and colleagues, Flood states. Doing so under the guidance of a strong leader with a vision for the culture of the team can make the world of difference to the client experience.

“You achieve this by setting and providing a clear vision for the practice and then empowering the team to be the best they can be, with the right development and clear expectations in place,” she explains.

“This gives accountability and responsibility which, in turn, provides satisfaction for as job well done—and that is a great culture to have.”

This post originally appeared on Bite Magazine.

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