Stephen Thorne builds long-term patient relationships at Pacific Dental Services

Consider the cycle

Pay attention to every step of the customer experience, beginning before customers even walk in your door.

“It starts at the very, very front end: How did they call, were they referred in, did they see an ad, did they go through the website?” Thorne says. “The look and feel and how that all worked is where it all begins.”

Increasingly, customers are likely to find your company on their computer screens. About 20 percent of patients come to Pacific Dental Services through some sort of digital media, and that number is growing. Thorne has to be conscious of how those outlets look and feel to the end-user.

You can make the online experience gratifying by providing information and easily accessible tools — even when your service requires that customers come into a physical office. That may be as simple as letting them tackle some necessary tasks on their own time before they see you.

“As an example, patients do all their paperwork online, hopefully, before they come in,” Thorne says. “Home at night, watching TV, they can enter their patient information so when they come into the office they have no paperwork to fill out.”

That convenience and attention has to continue throughout the entire customer cycle for the result to be positive.

“They have to have a good overall experience,” Thorne says. “That includes the entire team.”

To keep the process smooth as patients move from one interaction to the next, Pacific Dental Services developed a system called the Perfect Patient Experience.

Employees in each function receive specialized training specific to their role. The most important piece of that looks beyond their individual responsibilities and zeroes in on the transition when they pass the baton to the next person in the cycle.

“We define what each role is responsible for and what they’re responsible to do to set the next person up for success,” Thorne says. “Then we really drill down on that at a very detailed level and train on best practices.”

Employees should understand their colleagues’ roles. The receptionist needs to proactively prepare for the dental assistant, the dental assistant must anticipate the dentist’s needs and the dentist should know what the financial coordinator requires.

The steps for those transitions will vary with each position in each business, but the one steadfast consideration is time.

“We just did a study where the No. 1 element of the overall satisfaction of patients was dependent on how the team cared about the use of their time,” Thorne says. “Teams that work fast and care about helping patients [get through the] process quickly do better.”

Consistency is the biggest challenge in maintaining long-term customer relationships, so educating across the board is key.

“The more consistent we can make it, the better,” Thorne says.