What can business owners learn from their dentist?


So I had the ‘opportunity’ to go to the dentist this week.  It’s not my favorite thing to do, although luckily there were no issues!

On this trip I distracted myself from the scraping and polishing by observing how they ran their operation.  Maybe  a lot of dentists are this way these days (I’ve been going to the same one for quite a while) – but they have things running like a well oiled machine.

It got me to thinking – what could other business owners learn from this?

photo by azrainman

Although it’s a medical treatment, there are a lot of similarities with other kinds of businesses.  They have customers who have an issue, they create the solution using fixed resources and generate revenue based on their team’s efforts.

What could you learn from my dentist?  Let’s take a look:

Build the schedule

It all starts with efficiently building a schedule.  Because they’ve been doing this for quite a while, they know what their capacity and throughput is.  They know how many slots they have available each day.  To make it work, they do a great job of committing clients to their next appointment before they leave the building – letting them build the schedule out 3 to 6 months in advance.

They also do a good job of maintaining that schedule.  You can expect that you’ll get at least 2 or 3 calls, starting as early as 2 weeks ahead of your scheduled appointment (along with a reminder card) to make sure you know and recommit to your scheduled time.

What could you learn?

If possible come up with a clear, tested results of how long and how much effort it takes to ‘do the work’.  Estimates are always going to have some guesswork, but you should be reviewing and improving them all the time.

Schedule the work as efficiently as possible to maximize profitability.

Efficiently line things up and follow through up front to minimize wasted efforts / no-shows.

What could they do better?

My only thought for improvement is to use automated electronic / email reminders instead of the post cards (or maybe instead of the phone calls).

Work the System

Once you get to the office it’s a pretty impressive scenario.  They have 4 levels of staff members – the first level checks you in and gets the ball rolling (and checks you out at the end).  The second level welcomes you, reviews the file, sets everything up at the chair and does some basic setup.

The third level – the hygienists come in to clean the teeth and that’s all they do.  The whole process is built around making sure the hygienists are very focused and productive.

The hygienists even have a step in the process to up sell a fluoride treatment or a whitening treatment (pending their observation of the teeth).

Finally – the dentists are there to do the final walkthrough, answer questions and make sure you are officially ‘checked’ at their superior skill level.

What could you learn?

Create and use strategic processes!  I know of very few businesses that have anywhere near the documented and executed operational processes my dentist office is using.  It’s clear they have strategically created and tweaked every step of the maintenance visit process (which is the bulk of their work).

Maximize productivity by having people focus only on their strengths.  The dentist doesn’t answer the phone or run the credit cards.  The hygienists don’t spend any time making you feel welcome or looking at paper work.  Everyone has a strength and a focus and that’s all they do!

What could they do better?

Not much – although they are incredibly efficient, there’s nothing interesting or unusual that they do….although I suppose excellent operations is probably unusual enough by itself.

Get the Money!

Finally at checkout they do a great job of making it easy to pay them and make sure that everything gets submitted the way it’s supposed to.  If you pay in full at checkout you get a 10% discount, encouraging better cash flow and fewer hassles.

They also encourage a referral by giving out a card that gives the new patient some free up front services.

What could you learn?

Make sure you get paid!  I don’t know how many people pay in full at check out, but I bet it’s a lot more than might do it without the discount.  Would they like the additional revenue?  Maybe, but I bet they’ve built their pricing so that it accounts for the discount.

Make it easy!  They understand that the insurance piece is a headache at best for  people, so they have figured out how to totally remove it from the customer’s plate.

Ask for referrals!  The best time to ask is when your clients are happy with what you’ve done.

What could they do better?

The referral card is a good idea, but the person giving the referral doesn’t have any incentive to pass the card along.  They should consider giving both the current customer and the new customer some sort of benefit (especially considering the lifetime value of a new customer!).


As far as I know, they don’t really do any marketing other than the referral piece – likely because they are near the maximum capacity with the space and number of dentists they have.

The kicker is they typically only work 3 or 4 days a week (3 for ‘regular’ visits) and even though those are long days, they still enjoy significant time off every week and a high level of revenue and profit – primarily because they’ve created the systems and hired the right people to make it all work like a well oiled machine!

Is your dentist this efficient?  What could you do in your business to learn from this example?  I’d love to hear thoughts – share them in the comments below!  (And if you need a new dentist in Kansas City, drop me a line – I have a referral card for you!).

Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach