Nothing beats good manners

Most receptionists place great value on offering excellent customer care, whilst working in a busy, high-pressure dental reception. However, your efforts can sometimes be seen as little more than good intentions.

I have spoken to people from time to time who believe that good customer care means having a range of costly gimmicky systems in place, when in fact the best type of service is closely linked to old-fashioned good manners and costs nothing.

Customer care begins with recognition of what patients want. In terms of reception services, patients want to feel important, understood, to deal with competent people and to get good service.

To feel important they need:

• Your undivided attention when you are working with them. The telephone is the biggest detraction from this, so protocols need to be developed to give the customer at the desk priority. This may mean dividing duties when there is more than one receptionist on duty.

• To be called by name. This is a powerful way of showing someone that they have been noticed as a person, rather than just ‘the next patient’.

• To be complimented. Sincere compliments are positive strokes that build respectful relationships and make people feel good. For example, when you comment on how well-timed a patient’s arrival is in view of their appointment slot, it is likely to reinforce that behaviour.

• To be thanked. Use simple good manners and thank patients when you take their payments, as they leave the practice or when they call to change appointments.

• To be remembered. With established patients, take the trouble to show you remember something about them. In this way you are showing them their importance to the practice.

To be understood they need:

• To be asked. At times we feel that we know what patients will say before they say it and we fail to ask them about their interests and concerns about aspects of their care. Take time to ask them how they’ve found your services and they will be able to provide you with valuable information.

• To be listened to. Active listening is the most important part of communication. When people feel listened to, they feel valued. Having the chance to voice their concerns makes patients feel understood.

• To be treated with patience. Even people who are normally confident and outgoing can feel a lack of control when visiting the dentist. Always be patient and do not allow people to feel you are judging them if they do or say silly, irrational things as a result of their nervousness. This is especially relevant to elderly patients.

When people-centred aspects of customer care such as these are in place, a patient’s view of the practice takes on a different light and they become more positive to your competence and the quality of your service.

Feel free to use as many costly and gimmicky customer care measures as you please. But it is worth remembering that without a basic foundation of good manners, they will fail to achieve the results you hoped for when you invested in them.

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