A recent mystery shopping experience

A friend of mine has moved to London and in August I went to stay with him and he told me he was looking for a dentist in his area. He said to me ‘You’re the best person I know to help me choose a great dental practice’. The search began with browsing practice websites – looking at practice pictures, brand feel, treatment selection offered and of course the team page which I always have a good read of.

From the websites viewed, we compiled our list and set to work as mystery shoppers.

Here are the areas that I uncovered:

  1. The desks are too high! The desk is a big blocker and they continue to be a feature in high level practices – now I understand they are hiding things but having a receptionist look up with just her eyes as the first contact is not building a relationship with a patient. You must stand up to greet patients, in top practices. Only two did during my mystery shopper experience, the receptionists came round from behind their desk to greet me – now that’s a gold star.
  2. The receptionist is too busy doing admin to be interested! Shuffling papers and pens as they start to tell me the cost of an examination is a no no – the reception team need to be able to meet and greet easily and not have their heads buried in paperwork. The best practice was so welcoming it was beautiful to watch; body language engaged, happy, introduced themselves and genuinely interested in making the most of the conversation. This may also shock you, it was a male receptionist who was the star of the day.
  3. Explaining the examination. You cannot give a price to prospective patients until you have built value. The worst practice said that they were unable to confirm the price as it was going up and they only had old information to hand! What on earth! Several practices told me the price in less than 10 seconds with x-rays used as a free gift or two bite wings as part of the price before anything is charged!  To make matters worse, after this they then looked at me to continue the conversation! No skills in how to build value or how to build a conversation with a patient, getting themselves trapped with price is something I witness on too many occasions. Only two practices went to the effort of talking about the practice and what was on offer before giving the price. The best practice took over 5 minutes at which point I knew that I didn’t care how much it was going to be as I was sold.
  4. A tour is so important, if patients walk in they want to have a nosey, so you need to give prospective patients the permission to have a look round and the receptionist needs to be cheery, sharing interesting facts about the place they work. One practice told me the story of the two dental owners who were Italian brothers, who built the practice with a real passion to deliver the very best experiences for their patients. The receptionist told me their history, how long the practice had been open for, the key benefits of having them as your dentist and how they work together to achieve the best for every patient. I said to one practice ‘This is a beautiful building is it relatively new?’. Only to be told, ‘No it’s a really old building and it always has maintenance issues.’ I mean really!
  5. Patients are very good at refusing treatment, one practice tried to upsell the hygienist to me. I was told the cost of a general hygienist appointment was £85 and that the first hour’s appointment would be £190. I promptly said ‘Gosh, what could they possibly be doing in an hour that’s a lot of money!’. The receptionist said ‘Don’t worry, we often just book patients in for a general hygienist appointment after the exam as patients don’t like the cost of the hour!’. There are so many failures here, the reception team cannot be giving clinical advice and talking about appointments they do not understand, then changing prescriptions for patients when they question why. I can tell you this happened in half the practices I walked in – this troubles me greatly. Is this happening in your practice?
  6. Attitude is so important in making the right first impression; eye contact, body language and connecting with the words is vital in effective communication. You can tell straight away if a receptionist is confident with their language or whether they are making it up as they go along. I had various experiences, the worst one was the receptionist drank their tea in front of me and then proceeded to slam their mug on the desk when I kept asking more questions – body language failure even though she was still smiling! The most engaging were genuinely interested in what I was saying, asking how I had found their practice, what made us come in today, whereabouts in London were we living.
  7. Membership conversion – My friend has an existing membership from their last practice. It is so important that receptionists know what to say about membership. They need to understand the process of changing the membership over, that the dentist will assess this as part of the examination and prescribe a membership that is right for the patient. Your receptionists need to be able to give advice on closing their existing membership and support in completion of paperwork for a new one at your practice. The worst practice said ‘It is a right hassle to change membership, I wouldn’t bother with it personally just pay as you go along’!
  8. Treatment coordination. Only three practices had a Treatment coordinator, in two practices I was introduced to the TCO and in both, they said it would be lovely to show us both around and get to know how best they could help us. The two TCO’s were clearly trained and were effortless in their approach. This really supports a busy reception team but they do still need to be trained for walk in patients.
  9. No brochures. I know we are getting to a stage where written information is not a primary way of communicating, but only one practice offered me a brochure and it was fantastic, three offered me a follow up email and I have only received one email so far! If you are a private practice (for me) you still need a brochure for prospective patients. I am all for email versions but if you go down this route please actually send them to the patients and they need to be on-brand.
  10. Waiting to be served. I know us Brits all enjoy a queue but one practice took 10 minutes to acknowledge me and then they were promptly sidetracked throughout talking to me; going on about it being such a busy day! In another practice a patient commented ‘Gosh you’re busy’, to get a blunt reply ‘You haven’t seen anything this is quiet day’! Most practices had two receptionists and were able to greet me in less than 2 minutes. The two best practices wowed me by standing up straight away to say hello and welcome me to the practice and use their name in the introduction. This is what I like to see.

A bonus:
Dirty toilets – I make a habit of visiting the facilities to see if they match the brand. The restroom is so important and if you have a grotty one then this will cost you patients. In my survey, two had no loo roll, one actually had no loo seat. three had run out of soap, two had towels in them! In over half the restroom had not been tidied recently, there were splashes on the mirror and stuff on the floor and two had dusty shelves. Your toilets need to be spit spot clean so make sure they are checked at regular intervals.

Ultimately out of the practices we mystery shopped I narrowed it down to three. My friend went on to choose the one that had the appointment times he needed for work with easy access links via tube. I would have been happy to receive treatment from any of the three choices I had made. In five practices they scored lower than 5! So if you are an owner, have you really invested money where it counts? When was the last time you were a mystery shopper in your own business, are you really seeing what patients are actually seeing. I can tell you I witnessed other areas where I could see money opportunities were being wasted but that is for another day.

Training is vital for your front desk team, you must have robust systems and the receptionists need to be on point at all times. This is a huge role and I am only discussing a walk in potential patient. Have a think about what you may be losing by not investing in this lasting impressions area.

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