"Ensuring a prosperous future in today's climate is a lot like making a soup - you have to focus on the ingredients to achieve a successful result. And the more you heat it up, the better it gets," industry veteran George Obst told attendees at the Dental Services Group (DSG) annual meeting in January.
The meeting, held every year in Tempe, Arizona, is well-regarded for its open environment and palpable sense of camaraderie among the laboratories, including the affiliate members - independent laboratories that aren't owned by DSG but derive a range of membership benefits.
With the theme Gateway to the Future, this year's event emphasized management and leadership, new technology and customer service. Obst, chairman emeritus of DSG, noted during his opening comments that, in terms of customer service, the bar is being raised in our industry every day. "Service is a prerequisite to predictable growth in every one of our businesses," he said. "Quality products and service used to be good enough. But now many of our competitors offer good quality and good service. So what's next? Exceptional quality and exceptional service."
To create exceptional service, Obst offered attendees a six-point plan:
- Develop a statement of purpose. What is the purpose of your operation and what does every employee need to understand and embrace?
- Cultivate an excellent team. You need associates who are willing to work harder and smarter to create a customer-driven organization.
- Remember that customers will not love you unless you love them. If you don't care passionately about exceeding their expectations, they won't perceive you to be different than any other laboratory.
- Create customer loyalty. "Companies that grow year after year know their customers better than their competitors do," said Obst. "Never forget that customers want and value reliability and consistency in their business interactions."
- Teamwork includes both inside and outside customers. Having a cohesive team in your laboratory is certainly important, but the teamwork sentiment should also extend to customers; partner with them to learn their strengths and weaknesses.
- Keep in mind that employee attitudes impact customer retention. Customers don't see the organization through slogans or marketing brochures, they see it through the attitude and actions of employees. If an employee doesn't feel good about where he works, it affects his ability to relate to customers.
Obst's advice was the perfect lead-in to the meeting's keynote speaker, author Lisa Ford, whose lively presentation, Extreme Customer Service, offered attendees a host of ideas on how to "wow" their customers. "It's not rocket science. You just have to know what works and what doesn't," she said. "We say we're faithful to the customer, but even if our attitudes are on target, our actions have to be on target, too."
She concurred with Obst's assessment that customers' expectations are higher today, both inside and outside of our industry. She referred to Starbucks and how the company has been so successful at creating the ultimate "customer experience" that customers happily hand over more money for its coffee than they would for the average cup. "When one organization does something unique and different to create this kind of satisfying experience, it raises the bar for all of us, even if it's not in the same industry," she said.
Ford emphasized the need to lead and train your team on customer service, and stressed how crucial it is to know your customer and his needs. "If you really know your customer - and demonstrate how much you do - it's harder for them to take their business elsewhere because they don't want to go through the trouble of re-educating someone," she said. "Ask yourself: does your service deepen the relationship? Are you merely processing a transaction or are you truly serving your clients?"
Technology and technique
A significant part of the meeting was devoted to new technology updates. Mike Girard, vice president of marketing for Brontes Technology, and Severino Gomez, chief technology officer for DSG, discussed advancements in digital impressions and CAD/CAM technology.
A panel discussion - including Dr. Linda Niessen of Dentsply, Rich Miranda of Henry Schein, and Lou Azzara of Captek - addressed trends in dentistry and noted how quickly the industry is becoming digitized. "The current graduating dentists will be more comfortable using their computers than their hands," said Dr. Niessen. "They will be comfortable with digital dentistry in all its forms."
During the Friday night manufacturer exhibits, as well as at break-out sessions organized by technical specialty, attendees got the low-down on new products and techniques from more than 25 manufacturer sponsors, including 3M ESPE, Argen, Atlantis Components, Biomet 3i, Captek, Darby, Dentation, Dentovations, Dentsply Prosthetics, GC America, Heraeus Kulzer, Ivoclar Vivadent, Jenmar, Jensen, Leach & Dillon, Matech, Nevin Laboratories, Nobel Biocare, Pentron, Renfert USA, SafeLink, Sterngold, Vacalon, Vaniman, Vident, Whip Mix and Zahn.
"You've been exposed to a lot of material," Obst told attendees at the meeting's end. "How do we sort it all out?"
He urged attendees to stay focused on their primary objective - consistent, profitable growth - and to make a commitment to "be in front of change." He explains, "This means not reacting to change, but anticipating and adjusting so that we can be more effective in today's environment."