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Let's talk about the big 3.. reasons your veterinary dental program isn't working!

Posted in Festival of All Things Dental @ Sep 3rd 2014 - By Dr Gary Turnbull, Managing Director, Lincoln Institue
The Big 3

Best practice dentistry isn't a program - it's a belief and a culture

Last year I contributed a blog post to provide some insight on how to launch a “dental program” in your practice and share with you the mistakes I made in the early days (Time to get serious about dentistry in your veterianry practice?).

Having seen the results of Vetanswers online dental survey (Survey results: Dentistry in your veterinary practice - a success or just painful?) that was conducted last year, I felt the best way to try and add value for readers this time around was to address the main challenges people are facing out there. Hence, let’s talk about the big three…..

The top 3 reasons respondents felt dental procedures weren’t accounting for at least 7% of turnover:

1.       Didn’t believe clients were interested in paying for the necessary procedures

2.       Support staff / team don’t see dentistry as a high priority

3.       I don’t feel confident in selling the procedures to clients

Can I start by stating that whilst the industry average for dental procedures as a percentage of turnover is around 2-3%, a result of even 7% is conservative.  Growth of this magnitude is absolutely achievable within 12 months of commencing a concerted effort. For comparison, our practice now sits at 10.4% and I’m sure there’s others out there doing even better.

Before addressing each concern, we should perhaps start with a shift in mindset.

Stop thinking “dental program” as if it’s an initiative that falls outside the bounds of NORMAL companion animal practice and start recognising dentistry as part and parcel of high quality health care.

By the way, if you don’t believe in delivering high quality health care for your patients and their families, please stop reading now…..your time would be better spent elsewhere!

Best practice dentistry is not really a program, it’s a belief and it’s a culture.  

It’s recognising that every pet deserves to have a comfortable, functional and healthy mouth. As ‘experts ‘ in our chosen field, it is incumbent upon us to do our very best to facilitate this at ALL times for ALL patients. By facilitate I mean; examine patients appropriately, educate owners accordingly and intervene when necessary to complete the process.

Framed in a more realistic sense, the top three “challenges” are really the top three EXCUSES. Be honest with yourself. Before blaming the general public or the rest of the team or lack of education and training, take a good look in the mirror. How is your resolve to make this thing really happen? Where’s your motivation at? Ask yourself, “What else can I do?” Because all three issues can be conquered…..and in a relatively short time frame.

In addressing the top three, I’m going to work backwards because it’s a logical flow.

1.       I don’t feel confident in selling the procedures to clients.

The fundamental problem here is knowledge. You cannot sell anything that you don’t believe in. To have belief and be passionate requires deeper understanding (with the exception of “blind faith” which is counter to everything that evidence based medicine represents). So to be confident selling, we need to improve our understanding. Once you become a “relative expert” on dental disease, the whole process feels a lot less like selling and more like simply acting on overwhelming evidence.

Consider the scenario of vaccinating a puppy or kitten for the first time. Without thinking twice you make a recommendation for the client to return in 4-6 weeks for a booster vaccination. Is that a hard sell? Of course not. And let me ask you this, when you make that unwavering recommendation how many people decline? Why is it so easy? Because you understand the interactions of infectious disease, vaccine generated immunity and maternal antibody and consequently believe (and in fact know beyond doubt) it’s in the patient’s best interests to receive a second dose.

As you gain a deeper understanding of dental diseases and their implication to patient health, well-being and comfort, the selling process becomes easy. Suddenly you’re not selling anymore, simply sharing your belief system. And of course that belief system is underpinned by sound scientific evidence.

2.       Support staff / team don’t see dentistry as a high priority.

There’s a great saying in Leadership……”The fish stinks from the head down!” In other words, any teams’ values, behaviours and ethics are a reflection of the leaders. If the leadership team (ie practice owners, managers and senior veterinary staff) don’t view dentistry as a high priority, how can possibly expect the rest of them to??

Does your team see the following as a priority?

  • Prevent diseases that cause pain and suffering
  • Treat and cure infection
  • Resolve disease processes that cause chronic pain
  • Take appropriate measures to avoid systemic illness when it becomes a threat

If the answer is yes, then what’s the problem?

Once again, it’s knowledge!

When the (whole) team gains a broad understanding of dental disease and most importantly its implications for patient well-being, they will become the greatest advocates of oral health.

3.       Didn’t believe clients were interested in paying for necessary procedures.

There’s a key word in this statement….believe. It implies that respondents don’t actually know whether or not clients were interested in paying but rather it represents their preconceived view of the situation. So is this reality or simply a misconception?

How often do your clients visit your clinic to browse or “window shop”?

People invariably visit with the clear intention of spending money. They seek your expert advice for one of two reasons……either they want their sick pet made well or they want their well pet kept healthy. ALL dental services, products and procedures fall under one of these two categories, so why wouldn’t they be interested?

All the great “sales” teachings indicate that people just want to be led. That is certainly consistent with my own experience. So understand, most are walking through your door with the mindset “just tell me what to do”. Now of course this is not quite a universal truth. We all know a few will enter quite begrudgingly because it’s someone else’s fault that they chose to have a pet without the financial means to look after it. However this typically represents a small minority. By the way, if this is not the minority please review what you are marketing and who you are marketing to.

In a worst case scenario, your organisation, like all things in life will follow the Pareto Principle ie 80% of your business will come from only 20% of your clients. When you do decide to step up and take dentistry seriously, focus on that top 20% first. They will welcome the change and thank you for it.

I wish you all the very best of luck in taking dental care the next level. I promise you will have happier clients, healthier patients, more contented staff and more money in the bank!

If you feel you and your team might need some help taking the next step, please contact me.

If you have any questions or comments for Gary just add them into the comments section below

Dr Gary Turnbull is the managing director of the Lincoln Institute, a boutique leadership development company delivering facilitated training and coaching to a broad range of industries including the veterinary profession. He is a highly recognised speaker and presenter in the fields of veterinary practice management and leadership, veterinary business models and life balance strategies. Gary developed the Goldmine Dental Program which he has presented internationally. He is also the director of the East Port Veterinary Hospital, a multi-award winning ASAVA accredited Hospital of Excellence on the mid-north coast of NSW. 

Comments

Rose @ Sep 5th 2014 9:02am
TOTALLY agree with what Gary has said re: belief in what ur "selling" BUT we still hav a decent proportion of people who just won't do it - even though we go thru reasons etc and everyone in our clinic believes in it (have heard them talk to clients too). I believe the main problem is VETS. In our area we have a vet who is ridiculously cheap for everything - basically enhancing the belief that vets are too expensive. Also we have had 2 senior pet cases where 2 different vets have said to "let the teeth rot out naturally"??????? (one was written on the history from the vet so not a miscommunication!). So for us, veterinary ignorance and cheap service only achieves a justification of the public's belief that we're all too expensive - not always easy to re-educate them on true costs of good service. Very frustrating...but we keep trying :)
Judy @ Sep 5th 2014 11:06am
Hi Rose, thanks for your comment - my favourite part is "We keep trying"! As a pet owner - I think that may be the key. I know when dental treatment was first mentioned to me I wasn't keen & totally disregarded it. It wasn't until I started to read extensively about dentals last year that it became clear how essential dental health was & now I'm a convert! BUT I didn't get all this information from my vet... I found it myself. So I think the key is consistently repeating the same message, over & over again. And maybe, just maybe.. you'll start to educate clients. As for the lack of consistency amongst your vets? Well that's a totally different topic!
Gary @ Sep 5th 2014 12:27pm
Thanks Rose. Remember the vet down the road who is charging ridiculously cheap prices is actually doing you a favour. They are attracting all the "C" and "D" class clients that you don't want anyway. Don't try to be all things to everyone. Don't focus on price, focus on value. If you communicate this message clearly and back it up with high quality service, like-minded people will choose to do business with you. And the best part is "birds of a feather..." so all your "A" class clients will attract (through referral) more "A" class clients. Unfortunately however, you do have a serious cultural issue in your practice. Dentistry will NEVER fly whilst you have practitioners that believe it's ok to let teeth rot out of the mouth. Your ability to deal with this will be entirely dependent on your role in the practice. Happy to help if you're in a leadership/management position within the team and you can therefore ask for it. Best wishes

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