Five Customer Service Tips I Learned From the Orthodontist

How ironic that the day I set aside to write an article on medical practice customer service, I find myself sitting in our orthodontist’s office. With two children in braces, I’m here often. If you are looking to improve the customer service you provide your patients, consider modeling your office after my orthodontist’s office.

They are the epitome of great customer service. Why? Because they have to be:
• Most insurance plans do not cover orthodontics. Therefore, most patients are self pay. A satisfied patient pays his bill; a dissatisfied patient does not.
• If you enter your zip code and Google “orthodontist,” you’ll get a long list of options in your area. You have many choices and your orthodontist knows this.
• The orthodontist relies on you for patient referrals. Other parents see that my children have braces and they immediately ask who my orthodontist is and if I like him.
• The orthodontist’s best referral? A second (or third) child from the same family. As in my case, many parents choose an orthodontist more than once.

Here are five customer service tips compliments of my experience at the orthodontist. You should strongly consider implementing them as well.

1. Office Hours and Appointment Scheduling
• The patient’s schedule is acknowledged – Three mornings a week, my orthodontist’s office opens at 7 am, and two afternoons per week, they are open until 6 pm. Why? To accommodate their patient’s school schedules in the event the child is unable to miss school. As a working mother, I appreciate the schedule as well as it’s more conducive to my work schedule.
• They are flexible – On numerous occasions, I’ve had to make a last-minute call to the office because the next day’s appointment conflicted with a test, a presentation or an extra band rehearsal. Each time, I’ve been greeted by a friendly voice that tells me she understands and who works with me to get the appointment rescheduled as soon as possible.
• They are considerate – Even though I have two children at different stages in the orthodontic process, the office works with me to schedule their appointments at the same time whenever possible. This shows me that they value my time and my business.

2. The Waiting Room
What does your waiting room say to your patients? My orthodontist’s waiting room sends the message loud and clear that this is an office that values me as a patient. How?

• It is large and includes many seating options including couches, chairs and benches.
• There is a large table and chairs in the corner designed for patients and siblings of patients to use for homework while they wait.
• There are two play areas (one for younger children and one for older children) designed specifically for siblings to use during appointment wait times.
• There are many magazines. They cover a multitude of interests, and they are all current.

3. Internet/Computer Access in the Waiting Area

My orthodontist’s office has two computers set up in the waiting area with internet access. They also provide free wireless services for parents/patients with their own devices.

I’m always looking for ways to be more efficient and to get more done. I frequently use these services to check work email, research a practice efficiency topic or to send emails on behalf of the marching band. I very much appreciate this attention to detail and access to this service. Some orthodontic appointments are long, and I get a lot done. I bet your patients would appreciate the same consideration.

4. Appointment Reminder Services

We are all busy – at times, extremely so. And sometimes, things like scheduled doctor’s appointments fall through the cracks. I truly appreciate it when an office calls to remind me of my appointment, and I’m sure your patients would appreciate it as well.

When should you call? Most consultants say the day before. My orthodontist calls two days before? Why? They figure if I’ve forgotten about the appointment that it might take me a little longer than one day to shuffle things around in order to keep it, especially when you factor in that I need to take my child’s schedule into consideration as well. Now, that’s being considerate and thinking of your patient first.

My orthodontist uses existing staff to make these calls but there are also automated services available as well.

5. The Patient Experience

Here are just a few of the things that my orthodontist does to make the patient experience special:
• They take and provide copies of before and after pictures.
• They have an entire hallway where they display all of the after pictures.
• They have a room with disposable toothbrushes and toothpaste so the patient can brush his teeth just before his appointment. This is particularly helpful for those middle-of-the-school-day appointments.
• They do all of the legwork when a referral to an oral surgeon is required. They make the call, they set up the appointment and they get pre-approval from the insurance company.
• The after-hours office message includes the orthodontist’s cell phone number. I’ve had to call several times when a wire has come loose or when my daughter needed a prescription for ointment to heal terrible mouth sores. Each time, the doctor answered the phone himself. On one occasion, he met me back at the office that night because we were leaving for vacation the next morning. I’ve told that customer service story over and over again. I’m sure he has several new patients as a result.
• They celebrate when the braces are removed. Each child receives a huge goody bag filled with all of the things they couldn’t eat while they had their braces (gum, popcorn, chewy candy, etc.) It’s a nice way to celebrate an important milestone.

While I realize that not all of these ideas will work specifically for your practice, specialty or patient population, I do hope that you look beyond the specifics and consider the spirit with which they are offered up as suggestions. Take a few minutes and ask yourself what you and your practice could do to provide a similar experience for your patients.

© 2011 Efficiency in Practice

Sue Kay, Senior Consultant at InHealth, is the Editor of Efficiency in Practice, the free eNewsletter for medical practice managers who want to save time, money and reduce risk. For more information and to register for a complimentary tele-class, visit

This article can be reprinted freely online, as long as the entire article and this resource box are included.

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