The personal touch

Posted by Simplyhealth Professionals on 24/07/2017

In the last couple of days I have stayed at the smallest hotel I have stayed in on a work trip and possibly the largest. The extreme of the two, especially as the stays were one night after the other really highlighted the difference between the two establishments.

I often think that hotels are a lot like dental practices, well I guess apart from the teeth bit! When I stay in one there are so many factors that influence how I feel about my stay. I’m sure this is similar to how patients feel when they choose a practice, first attend and on subsequent visits. If you think like this you can start to understand why a patient can suddenly react differently to how we expect.

For work I am mainly not the decision maker as to where I stay, it will be driven by where an event is being held or where the meeting I have to attend is. I suppose it’s a bit like all those patients (mainly men) who get their partner or PA to book their appointments. On the whole I do not like to complain full stop. But I am definitely less likely to complain if I didn’t make the choice to stay there. I’m still trying to work out why that is, but interestingly from my experience patients who have been booked by someone else tend to be less demanding too.

Staying in a hotel for work is a totally different experience to staying for pleasure. People often say to me it must be great to visit so many places and hotels. The reality is very different, you often don’t unpack, see anything outside of the hotel and discover you really hate sleeping in air conditioning!

When the above occurs, the customer service is a huge part of what you experience. That makes or breaks your stay, regardless of the size or quality of the hotel. From my experience with helping practices with complaint handling this is also key to patients when they visit a practice. Interestingly, just writing this has made me realise that I do not expect a large chain hotel to provide me with anywhere near the service level that a small hotel would. I wonder whether that applies to patients when they visit a large or small practice. The large hotel or practice may have more facilities and equipment, which dependant on needs is more suitable for you on that visit, but do you get the care you wanted?

Fundamentally, I would say, good customer service comes down to good leadership associated with good teamwork. Of course, this is not always true, there are some amazing practice teams I have seen who provide outstanding customer care even when there appears to be very little leadership. Good leadership would take for ever to define and would arguably be different in different situations but for customer care I feel that a lot of it is leading by example. If you ever meet the manager of a hotel, be it in good or bad circumstances, it is usually obvious almost instantly why their team act as they do.

As practices have changed and practice managers are more common, it is now not just about the dentists’ leadership. For customer care it may be the practice manager who is the leader, even if the principal leads financial and clinical change. As we see more practices where the owner is not present on a daily basis we should see more and more of this devolved leadership. Sadly, I often see lack of clarity of responsibility in this situation and can see how frustrating this must be to a patient with a concern.

Another thing I see in hotels often is lack of ownership. Regardless of where the leadership lies, ownership of customer care has to be with everyone involved in dealing with customers. There is nothing more infuriating as a customer than when the person you are speaking to is taking no ownership of the issue. We must remember this in practice. Clinical complaints often have a large customer service element behind them and we ignore it at our peril.

So if you asked me which was a better hotel, the small or the large, my answer would change according to the part of the hotel you were referring to. However, from the customer service perspective it was the small one. The personal touch is really important to me, especially when you are away on your own and working. To feel someone cares will throw any little concerns you have about the room, parking or food out of the window…and I strongly suspect that is how our patients feel too. 

About the Author:

Catherine Rutland

Catherine Rutland works as Head of Professional Services at Simplyhealth Professionals, and writes a monthly column for Dentistry.