In this economy, working faster, smarter, better is the key to riding out the storm. Here are 3 easy-to-implement tips that can lead to a leaner, meaner, more efficient laboratory operation.
Problem: I want to find a concrete way to reward customers who have remained loyal to us and haven't been lured away by lower prices in this economy.
Strategy: Consider a loyalty rewards program; many laboratories have programs that award dentist-clients cash, credit or even travel credits equal to 2-5% of their total volume. In 2009, Doug Egts, Owner of Esthetic Dental Creations in Rawson, OH, was spurred by the challenging economy to implement the loyalty program he had been considering for a few years. He awards clients 3% of their monthly volume in "Creation Credit Points." Doctors can then use each point for a dollar off future lab work or 50 cents in cash back.
"I always think it's unfair when businesses give new customers all the perks, while it's the loyal, long-term customers that keep a business alive," says Egts. "I couldn't be happier with the program; it's a great way to thank my clients, some of whom have been with us for 25-plus years."
Problem: I've been working on ways to re-energize our customer service effort and I need to get my employees as fired up about it as I am.
Strategy: Before you can expect your customer service ethic to be embraced, you must be sure that you are servicing your internal customers--your employees--effectively. If low morale is rampant in your laboratory, it's going to be difficult to rally the troops.
On the flip side, employees who feel valued and are shown how their work contributes to the success of your business are more likely to "buy in" to service goals and supply the enthusiasm you need to fire up your service effort.
But even the most motivated, eager-to-please employees need some guidance.
• Give employees "the big picture." Share your goals for the business and explain how the renewed concentration on service can help achieve them. For example, are you focusing on added-value benefits to combat the loss of clients to offshore laboratories? Are you striving to be seen as a technical resource to encourage more customers to transition to digital dentistry?
• Share customer feedback. Keep employees motivated by letting them know customers have noticed and appreciate their efforts.
• Empower your staff. If you own a larger laboratory that employs customer service representatives or other front-line staff, you must allow those employees to make decisions or offer solutions to customer problems. Set guidelines for employees to follow and be sure they understand how their decisions affect the laboratory's profits and work flow. This avoids putting off a customer and shows him that service is a matter of course at your laboratory. It also gives your employees a chance to "own" making a customer happy.
Problem: I picked up a few new customers last year but lost two of them within a short time. Neither of them gave me a concrete reason but assured me it wasn't due to quality or price.
Strategy: Always roll out the red carpet for new customers. The first few cases are a precarious time because the client is trying something new and watching results very closely. Plus, he's not yet invested in your laboratory so the smallest detail can turn him off. Be sure you know his preferences inside and out. Whether it's with a technical preference questionnaire or simply a phone call, develop a clear understanding of the new client's expectations. Does he like tight contacts? What style of laterals does he prefer? What about occlusion?
Laboratory Owner Jeff Hucek uses his introductory phone call to not only cover technical and esthetic preferences, but also business-oriented expectations. "We establish a game plan, which includes topics like whether he wants the case back one week or one day before the seat date, does he prefer UPS or FedEx, will statements be paid by check or credit card...those kinds of things," says Hucek, Acorn Dental Ceramics, Crivitz, WI. "During that 'settling in' period, you don't have the luxury of assuming a single thing."