Where did the relationship go?

My favorite sushi restaurant closed about six months ago. Not long after, new owners opened a new sushi restaurant in the old location. I waited several months before even giving them a try—and even then only for the lunch menu.

Unlike the countless visits to my favorite, old sushi restaurant, this time no one called me by name when I came through the door. And no one delivered my usual—hot tea and hot saki—automatically like they used to at the old place either. It felt weird.

No familiar faces, but at least there was the sushi, I thought. The waitress tried to be pleasant, but, forgetting to leave chopsticks with my order of rainbow roll, she was clearly inexperienced. I asked for hot tea, too, but when they said it would be hot water with a selection of tea bags, I was no longer interested. What happened to the hot green tea in its small brew pot?

The serving sizes were fine. The presentation was OK. I was pretty much left to myself, which I prefer—especially among strangers. I paid with a credit card, so the owner now had me tagged as Dr. Cole. He came by my table with the receipt and casually asked where my office was and whether I lived nearby, so that I could sign his petition to help him obtain a liquor license. Hmmm, I thought, I don’t even know you, and you are asking a favor of me, your customer.

I got up to leave, made eye contact with the sushi chef, and bowed out of respect and habit. He just stared at me like a deer caught in headlights. I was stunned! No bow. No courtesy. No “thank you.” I left, hoping I’ll be able to find a better replacement for my sushi fix.

What does my disappointing sushi experience have to do with the experience of the typical dental patient? A lot actually.

In our offices, we ask patients to part with their insurance or their out-of-pocket, hard-earned cash. We subject them to uncomfortable positions. We poke and prod intimate areas of their anatomy. And we wonder why they gag, sputter, and complain.
A good relationship goes a long way towards overlooking marginal service on a bad day. It makes reaching into the pocketbook to cover a broken tooth repair—instead of a fun four wheeler or new car—that much easier, too.

A respectful “thank you” and acknowledgement of my appreciation to the patient for giving me their trust is just plain old common courtesy that I try to display whenever I have completed a patient’s treatment. It only takes a minute to push my chair back and wait for the patient’s chair to upright. Then I let them get reoriented, look them in the eye, and express my gratitude for having the privilege to complete their dental treatment.

Patients have many choices, and the competition in dentistry is steep. That’s why it’s so important to give patients reasons to stay—and having cultivated strong relationships is one of the most effective ways to do just that.