Winter 2002


Attitude is Everything

By Patty Spannagel
Senior Member Consultant, 1-800-DENTIST ®

About the author

Patty Spannagel, a Senior Member Consultant with Futuredontics/1-800-DENTIST®, has coached over 800 dental offices across the country on practice management strategies and practical solutions on how to best achieve success with 1-800-DENTIST. Patty joined Futuredontics in 1996 with over 16 years of dental office experience. Since then, she has enjoyed meeting and coaching many wonderful dentists, and their enthused staff members, to develop new ways to reach out and help consumers in need of dental care..

Prior to joining Futuredontics/1-800-DENTIST, Patty served as Vice President of Education for her local chapter of Toastmasters International wherein she provided training modules for improved public speaking techniques for people interested in improving their speaking skills. When she is not traveling the country, Patty resides in Illinois with her husband and three children, who also happen to be teachers.

She can be
reached via e-mail at: To request information on the 1-800-DENTIST program, visit or call the Membership Development team at

The initial step in creating a "wow" experience is taking the time to make a good first impression. Attitude is the primary contributor to this step. It's not easy to put on a happy face and focus on a potential patient's needs when other phone lines are ringing, a stack of insurance forms is piled on your desk and you have three patients standing in front of you to appoint and dismiss. Suffice it to say that competent multi-tasking requires a positive attitude. Patients on the phone have no way of knowing what you're facing because their only concerns are their own dental needs. Add that to the fact that many a caller's attitude toward dentistry is one of apprehension, fear and concern about cost. Our attitude about patients' needs can make a big difference in scheduling an appointment. We have all felt the effects of positive, negative and indifferent demeanors, and we know that a difference in attitude can play an important role in our experience. This applies not only to the dental office, but in other situations as well.

For example, a tired traveler arrives late at his hotel and is met by a sleepy, uninterested desk clerk who makes him feel even more tired and exhausted. After having made a reservation for a non-smoking room and now being informed that there are only smoking rooms available, the traveler feels doubly unappreciated and unwanted. When the desk clerk continues to display a lack of sensitivity to this dilemma and makes no attempt to correct the situation, the traveler concludes he will not make a reservation with this hotel again. The attitudes of both the hotel clerk and traveler play major roles in this decision .

If the weary traveler was met with a pleasant greeting and was told that the non-smoking room he had requested was no longer available but that the hotel had prepared and readied a non-smoking suite for him, his attitude would be one of gratitude and even relief. The willingness of the hotel to not only meet the traveler's request for a non-smoking room, but also going beyond his expectation defines good customer service and demonstrates the difference having a positive attitude can make.

In dentistry, patients' fears can prevent them from accepting a dentist's treatment recommendations. Positive attitudes on the part of the dentist and staff can encourage fearful patients to look forward to coming into the office. When patients visit a dental office with a positive vibe, they feel cared for and appreciate the concern shown for them. Patients who are surrounded by positive attitudes feel content with their dental experience and, therefore, tend to refer their friends and family. After all, they want their loved ones to have the same positive experience.

Dentists and staff know they need to learn the various tasks that are required to run the clinical and business aspects of a dental practice. However, attitude and personality are not things that are taught. Rather, attitude is chosen. In every interaction, we make a deliberate decision to be positive, negative or indifferent. Our attitude about life and people is reflected in our daily interaction with patients.

Starting a day with a positive attitude helps to set the tone of the practice - and the dentist is responsible for setting that tone. Yes, it is the dentist's attitude that plays a key role in the way other team members feel about the patients .

As grandma always said, "You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar." In this world of mediocre customer service, the expectation of a positive attitude is often not even there. Because it takes so little to exceed this expectation, doing so should be the primary focus of both the doctor and the staff. Like it or not, nice margins and shiny amalgams do not determine a patient's perception of the practice.

Following are several tips to help you and your staff express a great attitude in your practice:

  1. SMILE - It all starts with a smile. It's the least expensive gift you can give to anyone. A smile can even be transmitted over the phone! A smiling voice is warm, friendly and helpful. Callers can "hear" a smile and it reassures them that their problem will be taken care of. Having a mirror placed near the phone can be a gentle reminder to smile before you answer a call. As we know, going to work, arriving on time, reviewing schedules and setting up treatment rooms are all part of the preparation of getting a job well done. Remember that putting a smile on your face is also a key part in that preparation. Something as simple as a smile can make a difference in your attitude, as well as in the attitude of others.

  2. ENTHUSIASM - This is the ingredient that makes a positive attitude shine. It helps provide a patient not merely with just a visit to the dental office, but rather with a wonderful dental experience. When the staff shows enthusiasm for the practice, anxiety-ridden and hesitant patients find it easier to commit to an appointment. It's easy to lose the sense of enthusiasm we may have had when we first started in dentistry. We work in the same environment, we do the same things, and we talk to and see the same type of apprehensive patients every day. The same encounters with insurance carriers, explaining dental benefits to patients, cleaning instruments and ordering supplies all become mundane. So recapture the feeling you had on your very first day in the dental world, helping others feel and look better. And do it with enthusiasm!

  3. TONE OF VOICE - The sound of a voice emphasizes enthusiasm. It helps to convey the desire to be helpful and understanding. Voice tones help put patients at ease. This leads to comfortable and open communication between the practice and patients. Being spoken to sternly or told what to do is a turn-off. Patients are seeking value in dentistry and they want to be heard and understood. They can't accept recommendations made in an indifferent or uncaring tone of voice. Test your tone of voice by tape-recording yourself when speaking with a patient or even with each other. Does the sound of your recorded voice express frustration and annoyance, or care and concern?

  4. SHARING INFORMATION - This provides valuable insight into how a potential patient can expect to be treated while in your dental practice. Letting patients know that the dentist is gentle and caring helps to create a positive image in their minds. Whenever we go someplace new, we unconsciously ask ourselves three questions: What does the place look like? How will I be treated? Are the people working there nice? All patients are asking these same unspoken questions. By providing them with some information and using "wonderful doctor, staff and practice" statements, we can help patients to make the decision to schedule an appointment.

  5. EMPATHY - The sound of your voice coupled with empathy helps patients to realize they are heard and understood. When we empathize with others they know we truly understand what they are experiencing. This step in attitude is the cement that bonds us with others. When the weary traveler tries to express that he has had a long day and is ignored by the hotel desk clerk (who is complaining about his day), he immediately feels a lack of concern for his well-being. On the other hand, if the traveler is met at the hotel by an understanding desk clerk who expresses empathy for his long day and the late hour, the traveler feels understood. He opens up to the desk clerk and is more receptive.

When we empathize, we begin to establish a relationship. This easily can be done before a potential patient even enters the office. The key to providing empathy is focusing on the dental concern rather than on the barriers that may stop them from scheduling an appointment. Expressing words of concern such as "that sounds painful" and "the doctor would be concerned about that" lets the patients know you truly care for their dental wellbeing.

It's often said that we only have one opportunity to make a good first impression. To take it a step further, you are encouraged to make a lasting impression as well. A lasting impression comes from a consistent positive attitude that is not flustered by tasks, inner office disagreements, or personal issues. Attitude can show a genuine care of others, realizing that dentistry plays an important role in the overall well-being of a person and the simple fact that many are fearful about dental care.

Attitude is what takes us to a higher level of achievement in our professional and personal lives. By implementing the steps of smiling, showing enthusiasm, having a pleasant tone of voice, being willing to share something positive about the practice and empathizing with a patient's dental concerns, our attitudes will exceed the patient's expectations.

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