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Your "A" Game


Co-authored by Larry Chatterley and Crystal Smith

"Bring your “A” game!"  It is a common phrase repeated when golfing or when participating in some other sporting activity.  Similar to school grades, bringing your “A” game refers to doing your best and performing at your highest level. 

So when it comes to dentistry, what does a practice look like when the doctor and staff are bringing their “A” game every day?  One of the major characteristics is a high number of patient referrals.  The practice atmosphere is such that the patient's experience is something way above average. An "A" game exceeds patient expectations and motivates patients to go out and tell others about the practice.  Consider the following advice, adapted from Intuit’s operating values: 

“Many practices say that their most important job is satisfying the patients.  But satisfying the patient is simply the minimum requirement for staying in business.  Therefore, don’t seek to just satisfy; seek to “wow” them.  Wow means creating patients enthusiasm and delight.  It means giving patients dramatically more value than they expect - whether measured by price, performance, quality or service.  You know you are succeeding when you inspire your patients to go out and tell others about your business.”

So how do you know if you are bringing your "A" game to your practice? Patient referrals are usually the ultimate gauge.  How “wowed” are your patients?  If they aren't, how can you “wow” them now?

Let's explore that. As the doctor, you should determine how you feel about yourself and your performance. "Wow'ing" patients has much to do with your attitude and how you focus on them through a continuous process of enhancing your interpersonal, communication and leadership skills.

Unfortunately, some of the “quick fix” systems promoted among some practice management consultants generally treat the symptoms, but do not cure the problem. Why?  Because the heart of the problem lies in attitudes and beliefs—not in circumstances or the way things are done.  While it is relatively easy to instruct others on how to do things a different way, it is much more difficult to teach others how to be a different way. But success in this area comes from changing attitudes and changing perceptions--both of which require great effort.  This change in who we are is paramount for creating atmosphere in which patients can be truly "wow'ed" by being truly cared for. It is much more important than just changing what we do.  And the bonus? When we change who we are, what we do changes almost automatically.

If you want to start changing who you are, we suggest starting with what Shawn Achor advocates in his book, “Happiness Advantage.” In it, Mr. Achor lays out five simple habits that are proven to make humans happier and more successful. He explains, “Ninety percent of your happiness is predicted not by your external world, but by the way your brain processes your external world.”

Here are those five simple habits:

1 – Write down three new things you are grateful for every day.  Doing this for 21 days in a row rewires your brain to retain a pattern of scanning the world not for the negative but for the positive first.


2 – Journal.  Journaling about 1 positive experience you’ve had in the past 24 hours allows your brain to relive it.


3 –Exercise.  This teaches the brain that behavior matters.


4 – Meditate.  Meditation allows the brain to get over the cultural ADHD you create by trying to do multiple tasks at once and allows the brain to focus on the task at hand.


5 – Perform random or conscious acts of kindness.  Write one positive text or email every time you open your inbox praising or thanking someone in your social support network.


The old idea that "if I work harder, I’ll be more successful, and if I’m more successful, I’ll be more happy," is backwards. Positive psychology researchers have found that if, instead, you raise your level of positivity then your brain experiences what’s known as a “happiness advantage” – intelligence, creativity, energy all rise and every business outcome improves.

Success doesn’t bring happiness. But happiness is much more likely to bring success.

Once you have yourself in order and you are ready to bring your "A" game, focus on your teammates, viz., your staff.  You have heard the saying "the customer comes first." If practice success is a function of defining and exceeding patient expectations, then that holds true--but not quite.  In order to "wow" patients, you need to have staff that are committed to doing that as well. As such, technically the customer comes second.  Your staff should come first. The doctor needs to create a culture in which the staff feels appreciated and trusted.  In essence, they need to be "wow'ed" by you first, before they will be motivated to "wow" patients.

So focus on winning over your staff.  If you do not, cannot or will not “wow” your staff, what incentive do they have to take care of your patients?  Ask them to rank you and your relationship with them on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being excellent). How do you rank as a boss?  A dentist? A human being? If your score is less than 10, ask what you can do to improve. 

Once you have asked your staff, ask your patients. Ask them to respond to this simple question anonymously and in writing:

On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to refer a friend or family member to our office?  (With 1 being not at all likely and 10 being extremely likely.)

If the average score patients give you is 8 or less, you are failing to "wow" them, and you are at risk of losing them to another dentist that will.  If such is the case, you need to find out how and where to change.  You might follow up by asking your patients: What is one thing you would like to see us change or do differently?

On the other hand, if your average score is 9 or above, then you must be doing something right.  Find out what it is so that you can do more of it.  Ask: What is the one thing you appreciate most about our practice, i.e., what keeps you coming back to see us?

Once you have reached a point where a majority of your patients have become “advocates” of the practice, you will begin to see substantial growth and prosperity in your practice.  By "advocates" we mean patients that actively refer to you and promote you to others as "the best dentist in the world." And how would that be . . . to be considered the best dentist in the world by every patient you treat? Not too shabby, eh? Once that happens, your patients will be bringing their "A" game to you.

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