In an effort to boost internal expertise and enhance customer service, laboratories are bringing dentists on staff. By drawing on the knowledge of a staff dentist, your clients have access to another peer's perspective, technical insight and increased continuing education opportunities. For your laboratory, a staff dentist provides technicians with a valuable chairside perspective.
Service to Clients
The most-often asked question laboratories with dentists on staff hear is, "What exactly does he do?" Though titles vary, the focus of most staff dentists is technical service, from remake problems to shade matching. For example, Dr. Tim Hayes has managed the fixed and implant departments at United Dental Laboratories in Akron, Ohio for ten years, providing assistance to clients over the phone or chairside by request. "Tim works with the difficult and implant cases," says R.J. DeLapa, owner of the 70-employee laboratory. "He advises our clients on how to make the case go as smoothly as possible."
Once a staff dentist-client relationship is established, laboratories tapping into this unique service niche are reporting cleaner lines of communication between laboratory and customer. "Our level of communication and problem solving is superior," says Josh Green, owner of 175-employee Green Dental Laboratory in Heber Springs, Arkansas, who hired his first staff dentist, Dr. David Startup, 10 years ago. "When a staff dentist calls a client about an inadequate impression he can say, 'Boy, I had a patient that tough a few years ago' and the client can relate to him." Startup worked so well with clients that Green brought in two more dentists, Dr. Michael Hestir, who also does technical troubleshooting, and Dr. Charles English, as education director.
A staff dentist can also enhance your laboratory's continuing education program—a vital service as more and more clients look to their laboratories for education. Two years ago, Doug Baker, owner of 40-employee D.H. Baker Dental Laboratory in Traverse City, Michigan, was feeling overwhelmed with questions from clients on the latest techniques and products. His solution? He hired Dr. Damon Adams—a well-known area dentist, who could no longer practice dentistry due to an accident that damaged his eyes. While Adams started out providing technical consulting to clients, today his position has expanded to vice president of marketing/consultant.
With Adams in this dual role, Baker has been able to better meet client demands and expand the laboratory's continuing education program. Adams presents six seminars a year—which provide continuing education credits—on topics ranging from cosmetic dentistry to direct and indirect composites.
Inside the Laboratory
As staff dentists work directly with clients, technicians are experiencing benefits as well. "We are trying very hard to end this 'prepare first, ask questions later' mentality that exists—especially as our clients try new procedures," says Adams. Thus, as clients learn to produce prep models correctly before they're sent to the lab, there is eventually a reduction in remakes.
In addition, a staff dentist offers technicians valuable client insight, especially when working on difficult cases. "Tim has given our laboratory an understanding of what really goes on in the office," says DeLapa. "He tells us what our client is up against, why our client wants it done this way, and really puts it into perspective for the rest of us."
While ultimately providing your clients with a better product, this type of "big picture perspective" also promotes valuable cross communication inside the laboratory—DeLapa reports technicians even go to Hayes individually for advice on certain cases.
Overall, say many laboratory owners, having a staff dentist means a competitive advantage for their laboratories—and a service that clients may be willing to wait for. Since D.H. Baker Laboratory began offering a peer's perspective and more education programs as part of its overall laboratory services, it has developed a waiting list of clients. "After Damon goes out and gives an evening seminar, half the doctors want to send their work to us," says Baker.
Preparation is Key
Before your laboratory can reap the benefits of a staff dentist—and for your dentist to be successful in his position—your clients must feel comfortable having another dentist providing feedback and advice on their work. "Initially there was some difficulty with existing clients adjusting to technical feedback coming to them from the laboratory," admits Adams. "It was a new experience for many of our doctors. However, our clients now see and appreciate the value of having a doctor on staff at the laboratory to help, support and teach them." In fact, out of 200 dentist-clients, Baker reports that only two chose not to work with Adams.
To help your clients adjust, make sure they're aware that the dentist is a non-competitor, hired to give the laboratory a more clinical perspective which ultimately means a better product. "We let our clients know that we're trying not to be critical, but to solve a problem that's in their best interest," says Tom McAndrews, chairman and co-owner of Americus Dental Lab, Inc. in New York City, who has employed four staff dentists over the last 10 years. Also, stress that consulting with your staff dentist is an available service, and not a requirement of working with your laboratory.
Before hiring a staff dentist, take the following steps to ensure a smooth transition and successful partnership with your laboratory:
Get to know the dentist and his beliefs. Does he seem to fit your laboratory's overall service philosophy and ethics?
Write out a job description. Review the job responsibilities together and make any changes before hiring.
Educate him on lab procedures. "Properly educate your dentist on what your ideal preps are and how to deal with your clients," suggests Green. "The last thing you want is the owner and the dentist giving out two different perspectives to your clients."
Consider starting on a part-time basis. As the need develops, and clients become more comfortable working with your dentist, add more hours or go full-time.
And finally, discuss the new staff-dentist position with your technicians. Make sure they know that the dentist is there to help them and not to look over shoulders or criticize. This can help both your dentist and technicians form compatible working relationships from the start.
If your laboratory is considering bringing a dentist on staff, here are some recruiting ideas:
- The local dental society.
- Local dental study club.
- A classified ad in a dental publication.
- A retiring client.
- Area dental schools.