Are you swimming naked?

swim in the nudKevin Rose weighs up the temptations of helping your patients and the financial pressures running a business brings.

It’s a familiar scene; you’re a dentist keen to help your patients, and of course the more you can help them, the better your business’ results. With the financial pressures that many dentists face, white space to fill and bills to pay it’s tempting to think that more and more is the answer. But in this there is a potential conflict of interest because, however good it might be for your financial results in the short-term, just because you can treat a patient doesn’t necessarily mean that you should…does it?

Well, there are many answers to that question and there are certainly different scenarios around whether your proposed treatment is clinically necessary versus it being purely cosmetic. For the former, you are expected to explain what is necessary, and hopefully, regardless of GDC (General Dental Council) requirements, you will want to point out what is in the best interest of your patient. And the latter, well if a patient wants a mouth full of veneers and you have explained everything to the letter, then that’s OK isn’t it…or perhaps not?

The common denominator in both these situations is your values, and by that I mean what is important to you. Businesses that compromise on their values, or allow them to be compromised, don’t survive over time. The whole payment protection insurance (PPI) miss-selling farce was really about values; as was Glaxo’s major wrist slapping, Equitable Life’s demise, market fixing of interest rates…the list goes on.

Good intent

Most businesses that I have examined certainly seem to start with good intent, with the right values and to do the right thing; helping their customers and receiving a proportionate financial return (customers call that value for money). But all of the scandals that we have seen outside of dentistry have somehow crossed a line to where more and more is at the expense of doing the right thing for the customers.

In other words, when values are compromised the good intent of: ‘Help our customers out if they loose their jobs and can’t repay their loan,’ becomes: ‘Tick that box and shift enough of those by Friday afternoon or you won’t hit your target.’ When values are compromised, does: ‘Help our patients with the best possible care that we can provide,’ become: ‘We can use this or that technique to get one more patient to say yes to some whitening this week’?

So does that mean businesses should stand still and wait for the perfect moment when customers volunteer themselves and arrive ready and waiting with some kind of waiver that absconds the supplier from any potential liability? Of course not, although in essence highly regulated businesses have been forced to work in that way. Think about it, the 24-page ‘know your customer’ form that you will have had to sign before anybody would talk to you about regulated financial products serves two purposes. Firstly, the information contained in it is useful (it’s what a sensible person would need to know anyway), but secondly it is to keep the regulators happy in a profession that largely did a perfectly good job at looking after itself despite a few rotten apples.

How has it come to this?

We are back to values, and for every protagonist behind the next miss-selling scandal, fuelling yet another profession that has to have external regulation forced upon it, there are enough of the rest of us for whom getting a financial return is an outcome of doing the right thing for our customers.

What is the answer? There are plenty of opportunities out there that on the face of it will help you get better at something, and if that something is about your desire for more and more (whether that be through selling, communication and marketing for example), then more and more is what you will get. Just remember to keep an eye on your values before the claw of even more regulation takes a swipe at dentistry.

As Warren Buffett said: ‘Only when the tide goes out, do you notice who was swimming naked.’ It takes time for the tide to go out, 20 or so years in the case of the banks, but it was always going to happen, and look at the mess they left.

More and more is fine, it’s good for business and should be good for customers, but just make sure you have your swimming costume on.

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