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

Listen to feedback

As customer needs change, so should your process for building relationships with them.

Every month, Pacific Dental Services receives feedback through tens of thousands of patient satisfaction surveys.

“The patients are telling us what they like and dislike — hopefully more of what they like,” Thorne says.

Surveys should be simple to increase the likelihood that customers will respond. Currently, Thorne’s survey consists of eight questions and scaled options for answering.

Some general catch-all questions are important, such as, “Would you recommend us?” and, “Were you processed in a reasonable amount of time?” But to identify breakdowns in your customer service, solicit feedback specifically for each step of the cycle.

Direct a question at each interaction a customer has. At Pacific Dental Services, those include: Did the receptionist greet you nicely? How was your cleaning from your hygienist? Did you understand the cost of the treatment?

“We look at each role, so (the survey) mimics our Perfect Patient Experience model,” Thorne says. “We can pinpoint if they have a rude receptionist. We can pinpoint if they have a rude doctor. We can pinpoint if their hygienist is outstanding.”

If the feedback is going to have any effect, you need a system for sorting, scoring and recording it. Start with specifics so each department can see feedback regarding its function and make necessary adjustments.

“Any comments are posted once a week to the teams in the field so they can respond to any positive or negative ones immediately,” Thorne says.

He requires that operations managers personally respond to comments directed at their area, and he tracks whether they take action. For positive responses, that may mean a simple thank you or a request for referrals.

“Any negatives, they’re expected to call the patient and document what they did to resolve it,” he says. “A lot of times, you can resurrect a bad experience by just calling and talking through it with the patient.

“Maybe they can call and say, ‘This is Steve from Dr. Smith’s office, and I was just responding back to what you wrote in our satisfaction survey. I see you’re unhappy with whatever it may be, and I want to do my best to make it right for you.’ A lot of times, they just want to vent. You just have to empathize wit
h them: ‘I understand.’”

Sometimes, customers may be dissatisfied about things that are out of your control. You can’t just adjust your entire business model to make one customer happy. So explain why your process is set up the way it is and why their contention may be out of your hands.

“We don’t subscribe to the philosophy that the patient’s always right,” says Thorne, who hears from many patients who are frustrated with the amount covered by insurance. “In this business, the patient’s often wrong. So we have to spend a lot of time educating.”

His goal is that patients see him as an advocate and partner who will do whatever possible to please them.