5 Lessons Doctors Can Learn From Starbucks®

Starbucks began as a small Seattle company in 1971.

Forty-seven years later, it is one of the world’s most beloved brands.

Why do people love Starbucks so much? It has to be their coffee, right?

Well, not really. In 2007, Starbucks’ coffee lost out to coffee from McDonald’s in a blind taste test. Not exactly a boost to the ego.

What Starbucks does do masterfully, however, is make people feel good. And fortunately this is something endodontists and general practitioners can do, too. You’ve probably dreamed of it already – patients associating your practice with warmth, relaxation, and familiarity. You imagine a cadre of fans singing your praises, and, even better, always coming back for more.

How can you make this dream a reality? We can learn a lot by looking at Starbucks’ 5 Ways of Being, which form the basis of their culture and leadership principles. What are these Ways of Being, and how can doctors incorporate these values into their practices?

1. Be Welcoming

Starbucks baristas remember regular customers, call them by their first name, and remember their preferences. A simple way to help you and your office staff remember patients’ names is to keep a picture of each patient on file. When the patient enters the waiting room, it will be a snap for the receptionist to immediately recognize them.

Small touches can make all the difference. Consider setting up a welcome sign with a handwritten list of the first names of the patients who will be seen in the next hour.

Help children who might be scared. You can create a positive association with the dentist’s office by giving each child a small toy, either when they arrive (to calm them down), or after the appointment (to celebrate making it through the appointment).

2. Be Genuine

It can be hard to be genuinely invested in our patients’ lives if we know nothing about them! If you find yourself forgetting basic information about your patients, you can try out the following strategy. One Starbucks barista keeps a set of index cards to remind her of talking points about regular customers – their favorite drinks, their pets, or their interests. When regular customers come in, she can easily jog her memory and strike up a conversation.

You can also ask your patients to be genuine – by leaving an honest review of your practice on Google or Yelp. Customers will be especially eager to help if your practice is fairly new – they will think of themselves as your partners in building a good business.

3. Be Considerate

At a corporate level, Starbucks shows they care by supporting initiatives like global clean water projects. Is there a local charity you could support? Check out BestLocalCharities.org to find one near you. And don’t forget to encourage your patients to support your charity of choice as well.

Have you ever been in a waiting room or restaurant and absolutely hated the music? Your patients might feel the same way, so why not let them choose the music? The Rockbot app allows patients to request a song they want to hear and automatically add it to the music queue. If multiple people choose a song, the songs will all be queued up and played in the order they were requested. Other apps with similar functions also exist.

4. Be Knowledgeable

At some Starbucks locations, the day starts with a morning huddle where managers remind employees of the high-level goals they are striving for. You can also begin the day with a team huddle to set a positive tone and remind everyone in your office of the big things you are trying to achieve (your own 5 Ways of Being, perhaps?). Go team!

Did you know that the typical business hears from only 4% of dissatisfied customers? Most businesses don’t actually ask how the customer’s experience really was. Change this by following up over email, text, or phone to ask how the patient’s visit could have been improved. Even if patients don’t have a suggestion, your thoughtfulness will impress them. The next time they have a negative customer experience and don’t receive a similar conscientious call, they’ll remember how you were different.

5. Be Involved

Did you know Starbucks spends more money on worker training than on advertising? This means employees do their job better and stay around longer. You can easily rack up several small wins by being more involved with your employees. If an employee has big news or a noteworthy celebration coming up, celebrate with them. Order them a healthy birthday snack, pay for them to go out to their favorite restaurant, or buy a ticket to a show they’ve been wanting to see. Happy employees are happier at work, and happy vibes rub off on clients.

One anecdote tells of a Starbucks barista who noticed a new customer looking like she was about to cry. She offered the customer a free toffee nut latte to cheer her up. The next day, the barista received a thank you letter and flowers from the customer, who clearly appreciated the barista’s thoughtfulness. Kindness counts.

Providing a Starbucks-level Experience

It’s not just Starbucks providing a stellar customer experience. Other businesses that consistently rank highly in customer service surveys include The Container Store, Costco, Southwest Airlines, and Whole Foods. Small businesses also have a reputation for a tailored customer experience. You probably have your own favorite companies as well. Chances are your affinity for these companies has relatively little to do with the actual product (since other people offer similar products and services), and more to do with how you feel doing business with them.

Your patients will say the same thing. Their preference for one dentist over another probably has relatively little to do with the intricacies of the technical dental services provided.

Building rapport with customers may take only a few minutes, but the good effects can last a lifetime. With these tips, we hope you can craft a superior experience for your patients – so they keep coming back for more.

Note: This article was inspired by Amol Nirgudkar’s piece in Dr. Bicuspid: “4 ways to create a Starbucks-style experience.” Nirgudkar is the co-founder and CEO of Patient Prism, a service that helps doctors turn callers into patients.

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