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Fun in Dentistry

When Trish Lewis-Clark walks into your practice, don’t be surprised if she counts your parking spaces and lets you know how your office smells.

Those are just some of the observations that the dental practice consulting coach will make. As director of practice development with Phoenix Solutions, it’s her job to sniff out areas of improvement and give office staff the encouragement and tools to make a great environment for patients. Yes, she says, you can even have fun in dentistry.

She shared how she does that with Amol Nirgudkar, CEO of Patient Prism.

When Lewis-Clark works with a practice, she first puts on her consulting cap.

“When I’m in there I’m kind of analyzing everything from the parking lot to the backdoor and everything in between,” she said. “And I sit down with the doctor and I listen to what their concerns are and I go over what I found, and we come up with a great game plan.”

Once the plan is in place, she becomes a coach, working with individual staffers on best practices, among other things.

“I’ve been there — I’ve had consultants come in practices in my career and it was very stressful because they come in and they throw it all down and walk away and you go, ‘what is all this?’ And then you don’t know how to implement them because they’re not there to help you.

“So I want to be there to help them to show them to guide them.”

Coaching is not telling the staff what they’re doing right or wrong, she said, but it’s a daily encouragement to use the skills and tools they already have and to enhance them to build a great office culture.

She often uses role-playing in her coaching. For example, if a hygienist doesn’t feel comfortable recommending additional treatment, she has her sit in the patient chair and models a conversation, then they reverse roles. Often, that’s when the light comes on: it’s really about communicating with the patient’s best interest in mind.

“It’s there all along,” she said about the skills staffers have. “It’s just someone to bring that out in them, to coach them and show them, and guide them in a real-life situation versus ‘here’s a book to read here’s a pamphlet to follow up on.’”

Motivational and educational opportunities have changed over the years, said Amol Nirgudkar. That’s why coaching can help.

Gone are the days of taking the whole office team to a convention with keynote speakers. Often the staff would come back with notes that are never referred to again.

“At the end of the day, coaches empower people to be the best they can be,” he said.

To make sure your office is a place where people enjoy coming to work, try adding elements of fun that build trust for you team.

It may be something outside the office and outside their comfort zone, like playing paintball. Trish-Lewis said one of her clients did that, and the group that barely talked to each other inside the office, now saw each person as an individual they could relate to because of the experience.

But it doesn’t have to be an elaborate ritual. Lewis-Clark said it can be simply designating a word of the day and seeing how many times staffers can use it in one day. She often recommends the word ‘amazing.’ It’s a culture-building word.

And it’s not just getting your staff more involved. Invite patients to enjoy a piece of a someone’s birthday cake, and let the fun rub off.

“When a patient walks in, they can feel if there’s a disconnect between the team or if there’s a connection. And when there’s a connection, they do want to be part of that team,” Lewis-Clark said.

And it carries over into first impressions. And second and third impressions.

“It’s a group effort to continue to make a first impression,” she said. “The first impression isn’t just the first time you meet them; it’s every time you meet them, as if it is the first impression all over again. Don’t ever lose that and don’t forget that, because your patients won’t.

“They’ll leave there with the feeling with how you made them feel. And if you make them feel it’s their first time every time, it’s such an incredible feeling.”

Lewis-Clark likes to think of it as getting everyone in the office to lead. In fact, she’s turned it into an acronym: Leave Everything At the Door.

“Leave distractions at the door,” she explained.

In some offices that have staff that constantly bring personal issues into the workplace, she’s had everyone take a few minutes at the end of the daily meeting to write out what’s bothering them, then crumple it up and put it in a basket. She then tells them they can dig theirs back out and take it with them if they want. Usually when they do, they see others’ notes and realize everybody is dealing with personal problems.

‘We all have something in that basket. Just don’t bring it to the practice,” she tells employees.

Another way to improve office culture and customer service is to encourage storytelling in your staff. You want to hear about when staffers went out of their way to help a patient or set the treatment room for another co-worker. Those stories are contagious.

Think about the customer service you experience at the hotel chain you like. Why do you go back again and again? Because they treat you right.

And arguably, the king of treating-you-right is Disney.

“Do you think if Cinderella was having a bad day, she could bring it into the park because she spilled her coffee that morning?” she asks. “Or Mickey Mouse had an attitude because he was stuck in traffic. Would that be OK with you or Disney. No. Why? Because we know Disney for excellence and we get the same excellent experience every time you go.

“Why should we not have that in dentistry.”

And finally, be on the watch for what she calls “Snap. Krackle. Pop.”

The snap is when anyone walks into the office and they can feel the tensions. Krackle is when it spills over into office gossip. And the pop is when the issue finally blows.

It needs to be eliminated from your practice. And if you’re having particular trouble with those kinds of issues, and long to see your patients have a Disney experience right there in your office, maybe it’s time to consider a coach.

“At end of the day, all of us need coaches,” said Nirgudkar. “If (New England Patriots quarterback) Tom Brady needs a tune up, we all do”

About this Industry Leader:

Trish Lewis-Clark, FAADOM - Profile Pic

Trish Lewis-Clark, FAADOM

Dental Practice Coach

Trish Lewis-Clark, FAADOM, owns and manages Phoenix Solutions of the Lowcountry as the director of practice development. Trish uses her more than 30 years of experience in the industry to help teams communicate clearly and deliver exceptional care. With nearly 30 years as a CDA, RDA - EF, her experience has allowed her to share insights on what works well and what can be improved upon in the dental profession. Trish is an ambassador of the American Association of Dental Office Management (AADOM) and achieved the distinction of Fellowship (FAADOM) in 2012. She is a member of the Speaking Consulting Network and Morado Allied Speakers and Consultants.

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