By Luc Wade, Marketing Director at Hive Business.
Cars, a more imaginative, exciting and customer-centric form of transport than trains, are the reason why we didn’t get round to upgrading our Victorian rail network, once the technological wonder of the world. And the humble telly put paid to the booming cinema trade, decimating our three times a week habit.
I need to ask, are you in the dental business or the people business? I ask because had the railroads and studios been more imaginative and customer-centric than product-centric they may not have lost out. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with trains and cinemas, just that businesses that think they’re immune to change invariably come a cropper.
What does customer-centric mean in dentistry? Anything that people decide is more convenient than what they’ve had before. But no one really knows.
Even though dental consumers, like people everywhere, won’t want the same thing forever, dentists tend to be quite conservative in the services they make available and how. I’m struck by how normal it is for dentists to focus on improving efficiencies, systemising their practices and perfecting their clinical skills, whether or not there is evidence that their patients want them to. They believe customers will keep turning up because they understand and appreciate what is being done in their name. But can it really be in their name if they weren’t asked?
I think it’s helpful to remember that people are usually indifferent to the aspects of what they buy that the seller thinks are most important. A pilot takes pride in the beauty and power of the aircraft he flies, the passenger remembers the lack of legroom and the dirty toilet. A coder rejoices in the elegance of his new code drop, the user punches the screen because his email inexplicably no longer works. We inhabit different domains of expertise and we use different language as we move through them, but mostly it’s layman’s English because most of the time we’re consumers of things we don’t understand.
It’s the same with typical consumers of dentistry: they’re indifferent to the craftsmanship and technical prowess of their clinician, they simply want to feel comfortable and look good. That’s not a particularly revolutionary statement, but it’s revolutionary to say, “OK, how might I deliver the best customer experience imaginable?” Imagine you’re in the experience industry, not the dental industry.Now stop imagining, you are. You can mail order orthodontic treatment online now, a business model that’s doing very well because it’s serving demand. All businesses that serve demand effectively do well. They’re customer-centric, but industry-centric businesses die.
The idea of being in a customer satisfying process rather than a treatment delivery process is an uncomfortable one for most principals. Many assume that our affluent ageing population will continue to bring a rich flow of revenue, even a rising torrent of demand, as increasing numbers of people need big ticket restorative work. But that’s missing the point that neither you, nor I, nor anyone else can say how pensioners prefer to consume dentistry until they are presented with new options and we see how they react. As it happens most over-50s I know are assiduous online researchers when they are thinking about buying an expensive dental treatment, possibly even more adept than millennials. You wouldn’t have expected that because they aren’t digital natives.
It feels to me like dentists shy away from questions like how else can dentistry be provided, and what’s better and easier for customers. There’s a comfort zone they inhabit where they improve their clinical skills and look for clinical efficiencies. It’s a depressing thought for many but nevertheless true that these improvements mean less than nothing if customers aren’t coming through the door. One of my clients was advised years ago that if he only improved his skills and systems then new patients would follow. He’s done an outstanding job but his business is flatlining.
Going into dentistry now is so different. There’s less room for cruising, more need for really understanding the customer and creatively meeting their needs in new ways. Diminishing margins and increasing competition has a funny way of working in the consumer’s interest, but supermarkets didn’t totally kill off independent grocery stores. You still see them around, albeit only very good ones.
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