Being a parent of grade-school age children means being a witness (and bankroller) of fairly predictable consumer transactions: the big girl/big boy bicycle (no training wheels), the whole-class-is-invited birthday party at ‘BouncyLand’ (inflatable indoor “moonwalk” city where pizza + soda pop + cake + bouncy = mop and bucket needed in room 3), and even the off-hand “you may be looking at orthodontia” comment at a routine dental check-up. Each a major milestone with the price tag to match.
Our eldest daughter did require braces, so we visited the shop that every pre-teen in the town seemed to frequent. Let’s call him Dr. Style DDS.
The waiting room was very modern and…slick. A whole wall was an enclosed glass case showing the ‘rewards’ a young patient can ‘earn’ through compliance with their orthodontial duties. Another area offered free single-serve flavored coffees from pods to moms and dads (or hot cocoa for kids – possibly sugar-free?). None of the requisite magazines and books, but waiting room ‘stations’ where affixed Nintendo DSs could be enjoyed by waiting young patients (a little taste for free to whet the appetite for ‘earning’ a ‘reward’ from the aforementioned glass case?).
An orthodontics assistant showed us all to a consultation room where we waited for a bit. Dr. Style came in, introduced himself to my wife and me, sat down and began examining our daughter’s bite, jaw, etc. He had an uncanny knack for being able to do so with his head turned back to the adults, engaging us in conversation. Okay, maybe not ‘engaging’ or ‘conversation’ really – for a medical professional, he seemed to be doing an awful lot of ‘selling’ – hands busily working on our daughter’s mouth while his eyes and intention on working on her parents. In fact, I don’t recall he ever spoke to my daughter.
Clearly, he was competent, with a successful, popular practice. Really quite slick.
We decided to also look at another orthodontic option in a neighboring town. Offices also modern, but with an open floor plan/feel, including an open, circular reception area (populated by no fewer than three receptionists at any time, each offering eye-contact, a smile and a hello as they covered their telephone headsets briefly with their hands. Yes, we were actually ‘received’ by reception.
Instead of being shuttled back to a room to wait, the orthodontist — let’s call him Dr. Substance DDS — came out to meet us in reception. More accurately, to meet our daughter first (by first name and a smile), and then introducing himself to mom and dad. Dr. Substance led her (and us) to a consultation room and engaged our daughter in conversation (about her family, her friends, her school, her hobbies, and yes, her smile). He too engaged my wife and me, but more through his actions and interactions with our daughter. He led her and us to one of the ortho “stations” and introduced her to one of the friendly young technicians. We were given a brief but complete tour of the entire space, and bumped into Dr. Substance’s partner, the slightly younger and possibly even more friendly “Dr. Care.”
After the consultation visit, we asked our daughter who reported she felt much more comfortable at Drs. Substance and Care’s. We were already ‘sold.’
In the four years we’ve been paying visits (and yes, bills) to Drs. Substance and Care, we’ve regularly experienced the following:
+ Every time she steps through the door, no matter how busy they are, the receptionists all cover their headsets and offer her a genuine smile and stage whisper a big ‘Hello, (my daughter’s first name)!’
+ Every visit includes an engaging technician and Dr. Care or Substance
+ Adherence to good dental health is met with verbal praise, not commercial incentive
+ At least twice, we’ve run into one of the two partners off site and out of context (e.g. the grocery store). Each time the doctor greeted her by first name, a big smile, and a friendly exchange. Note: these doctors see literally hundreds of mouths every week. Here, there was no appointment ledger in hand – just great recognition and memory
Most recently, my wife and I met with Dr. Substance to determine course of action for Phase II of our daughter’s ortho ‘plan.’ As happy parents of a happy patient, we candidly opened up to him about how he, his partner, and their staff do so many things the right way. We also relayed that whenever given the opportunity, we frequently talk up and recommend their practice to families from our area considering orthodontics (we know for a fact that we’ve referred half a dozen families toward Dr. Substance & Care’s practice, and all seem equally as thrilled as we are). He really was touched and thanked us sincerely.
Next we had a brief sit-down with the ‘business plan nurse’ (for lack of a better memory or title) – again, professional and pleasant.
As we checked out at reception ready to depart, Dr. Substance came striding forward, with a smile, handshake, and an envelope, thanking us for being advocates of their practice. Inside was a $50 gift certificate to a new, nearby restaurant. He said they didn’t have a formalized process to elicit referral, but they did like to acknowledge families who helped them spread the word.
I (much too) occasionally blog about customer engagement and corresponding marcomm practices – yet this real life and personal experience serves as a great example:
+ Slick marketing is fine, but nothing takes the place of a true customer experience
+ More often than not, customers want to be listened to, not ‘sold’
+ Engagement is something that should permeate an entire business – leadership on down, and in every facet
+ On-going customer engagement elicits word-of-mouth, referrals, advocacy, and ultimately additional sales – even if formalized efforts haven’t been put in place