(1) Free, Interactive Webinars
Webinars offer a convenient way for you to provide information to--and interact with--your clients without leaving the comfort of the laboratory or dental office. Arrowhead Dental Laboratory, Sandy, UT, began offering free monthly webinars in 2009. While initially its webinars were geared to potential clients as a way of giving them a taste of the laboratory and its philosophies, the webinars now include topics for current clients as well, such as how to file insurance claims for oral appliance therapy, practice management and digital occlusion. The programs are generally presented by a well-known clinician, and the response has been incredibly positive with attendance ranging from 125 to 160 dentists depending on the topic.
In addition to growing the lab's reputation as a technical resource, the webinars are helping enhance Arrowhead's traditional, in-person seminars. For example, in the past when the lab provided a live seminar on oral appliances for the treatment of sleep apnea, it spent the first couple of hours covering basic information like definitions and concepts before the hands-on portion of the class could begin.
"Now we provide that basic information in advance of the live course via a webinar," says Matt Cook, Director of Information Technology. "Attendees come to the live events ready for hands-on instruction allowing us to offer a more engaging event."
To host the webinars, Arrowhead uses a third-party website--webex.com--that allows it to share anything on its computer with the participants, like a PowerPoint presentation, video or Word file. With its $500 monthly subscription, the lab can host an unlimited number of webinars for about 750 participants each (subscriptions for fewer participants cost less). The lab markets the programs via direct mail, email, social media, newsgroups and fax.
Participants access the webinar by logging into the site and use their computer's speakers/microphone or call a predesignated number to be part of a conference call. The webinars generally include a 50-minute presentation followed by 10 minutes of Q&A.
Sun Dental Labs, Clearwater, FL, also offers webinars via webex.com and Stephanie Jones, Director of Marketing, finds the Q&A portion to be the most valuable. For instance, in the lab's August webinar on implant abutments, participants--mostly Sun's laboratory clients--were able to ask detailed questions about cases they were working on. "It was almost like an individual case consultation and the participants not only got feedback from the Sun technician giving the presentation but from other people on the line," says Jones.
Another plus of the service: the laboratories can archive the webinars on their websites for anyone who misses the live presentation. In fact, Arrowhead typically sees downloads in the 1,500-2,000 range for most of its webinars and it only expects demand for webinars to grow. "As bandwidth and video support continue to progress on the internet, webinars will constitute a larger portion of CE-based events," says Cook. "Though the hands-on portions can't be presented via a webinar, the information presented is high quality with the added benefit that dentists can watch a webinar and implement what they learned the same day."
(2) Chairside Support
Long recognized by its dentist-clients as a valuable source of technical information, Green Dental Laboratories, Heber Springs, AR, has offered chairside assistance to its dentists since the mid-1980s. Though the service started modestly--technicians were pulled off the bench to help local clients with custom staining and porcelain add-ons--it was so effective at improving communication and reducing remakes that the laboratory continued to grow the program.
Today, Green employs eight full-time assistants who work in tandem with customers in the laboratory's four-state pickup and delivery area. They now provide a much more comprehensive service that goes well beyond chairside staining. Because of that, they must be dental assistants with at least 10 years' of experience and undergo Green's three-month, in-lab technician training. "We're a full service laboratory, so we have to ensure each of them can support our clients on removable, fixed or implant cases," says Susan Larson, Supervisor of the Chairside Department.
Dentists call the laboratory's scheduling coordinator to request help with everything from adjusting wax try-ins at denture appointments to seating restorations for implant patients. The assistants also help customers troubleshoot--for example, going over impression-taking techniques if a dentist is consistently reporting high occlusion during seating--and educate the office staff on techniques like temporization.
Clearly, the service is a valued resource: nearly three-quarters of the clients in the laboratory's pickup and delivery area have used the service at least once in the last year. One of the reasons it's such an effective educational strategy is that dentists don't have to take time away from their practice as they would for a continuing education program. Instead, they get one-on-one, hands-on instruction while a patient is in the chair.
"Many of our customers tell us this service is one of the main reasons they use our laboratory," says Larson. "We put a lot of emphasis on education and going into their offices to support them consistently reinforces it."
(3) In-House Education Center
Burbank Dental Laboratory's in-house educational facility is key to its efforts to build relationships with its current and potential clients. "Dentistry is in the midst of a paradigm shift and adjusting to that shift requires education. Offering in-house education enables us to enrich our client relationships, give them a chance to get to know us and our philosophy, and provide a value-added experience," says Holly Lagos, Director of Education.
Opened in July 2010, the laboratory's Advanced Technology Center (ATC) is an 3,000-sq-ft facility featuring the latest in audio visual equipment, 15 fully equipped workstations and a clinical operatory with a large viewing window so attendees can watch live procedures such as implant placement with bone grafts and hygiene techniques. "Live patient and hands-on courses are in keeping with the high level of education we want to provide, both of which are logistically easier in our own facility rather than at a nearby hotel," notes Lagos.
ATC hosts two to four courses per month, some of which are solely sponsored by Burbank Dental Lab while others are co-sponsored by the lab and a manufacturer or association. Topics include practice management strategies and a variety of technical topics including partial dentures, implants, and smile analysis and digital design. "Our sleep apnea courses are especially popular and always sell out. Dentists can't just start offering sleep apnea devices. They need to be educated on treatment options, why it's important, navigating medical insurance, etc. It's a great topic for bringing something new to the table and expanding our dentists' practices," says Lagos.
In addition to providing valuable education, the courses give the laboratory the opportunity to show off its CAD/CAM department housed next door. "We have two million dollars' worth of equipment and clients are always interested in seeing the new technology and how it works. It's been incredibly beneficial in terms of building our high-tech workload," says David French, Vice President of Marketing.
(4) Lunch 'n Learns
The Lunch 'n Learn concept is an effective way to bring education to the client in a time-saving, easy format. "These types of programs provide valuable one-on-one time with a dental practice. We try to involve the entire office staff, not just the clinician, so we can educate everyone on the subject matter," explains Darryl Maclin, CDT, Regional Vice-President of DSG Dahlin, one of the 25 DSG network laboratories.
DSG sponsors four to five Lunch 'n Learns per week. Its sales and technical reps bring lunch into clients' offices and conduct programs based on customer-specific questions or general interest topics such as digital impressions and DSG-branded products like DSmzTM monolithic zirconia and the VisiClear flexible partial. Laboratory President John Proebsting, CDT, PJ's Dental Lab Inc., sponsors similar programs but often holds them in the morning before patients are scheduled and includes breakfast. Another strategy is to bring the doctors to him by hosting both Breakfast and Lunch 'n Learns at his laboratory in Slinger, WI. Inviting clients to his laboratory gives them a chance to meet the technicians, many of whom they've spoken to on the phone. "When clients learn how many years of technical experience we have on staff, it makes quite an impression. These programs are a great way to strengthen our connection with our clients as well as educate them on the different products we offer. Our goal is to be an extension of the dental office and to have their staff look to us as a resource for technical and product information, not just a sales pitch."
Given the skyrocketing price of gold, metal-free alternatives are especially popular topics right now. "We also get a lot of interest in courses on the fundamentals of implants such as brand selection, implant placement and torqueing technique," says Proebsting.
(5) Offering Clinical Advice
Dentists all over Ontario call Rick King, RDT, for clinical advice and he's able to deliver on topics ranging from occlusion, esthetics and impression taking. King, Manager of Shaw Kingston, a Shaw Group-member laboratory in Kingston, ON, has been taking clinical courses since the 1970s when the lab--then doing only dentures--expanded to C&B and started receiving a large number of inadequate impressions. "I realized that dentists were only learning the bare minimum in dental school--a situation that has gotten worse over the years," says King. Since then, he has sought out CE programs geared toward dentists at LVI, the University of Western Ontario, dentist study clubs and more, and regularly shares his knowledge with his clients and potential clients. "Not a day goes by that I'm not on the phone with a client or in their office," he says. "Some call me regularly for input or to bounce ideas off of me."
While much of the guidance he offers are simple techniques--like double-cord impression taking or a "grinding-in" method for better-fitting cast partials--these are often door openers to greater collaboration. For instance, once the dentist sees the positive results of his new impression skills--better-fitting, more esthetic restorations and less chairtime--he is receptive to King's feedback on more challenging cases involving implants and smile design.
King's input is especially valued--and needed--by younger, less experienced dentists. For instance, last year one of the lab's new clients--a recent graduate--was sending inadequate preps. King visited him at his office and brought a model of a similar case that was properly prepped. "The doctor knew I had his best interests at heart and was so pleased I'd taken the time to show him what he was doing wrong," says King. "He had been working with another lab for a year, had problems with the final restorations but the staff never commented on his preps and, ultimately, he left that lab." While the doctor's preps didn't change overnight, they gradually improved; today the two even attend CE courses together.
Most clients hear of King's clinical prowess through word of mouth and it has proven to be a valuable marketing and client retention strategy. But, for King, it's about much more than that. "I want to help make our profession better," says King, who frequently clinics across Canada and the U.S. "I've made a commitment to educating myself and now I feel I have an obligation to help my clients do better work. In doing so, patients love their doctors more, my dentist-clients are more successful and we end up having great client relationships."
(6) Work-and-Play Education
Rather than taking the traditional approach of sponsoring continuing education at nearby hotels or dental meetings, some laboratory owners are thinking outside of the box and offering seminars at unique venues or combining them with recreational activities like fishing, skiing or golf. It's an opportunity for dentists to learn in a relaxed setting and for lab owners to bond with customers and foster camaraderie.
Asteto Dent Laboratories, Maplewood, NJ, is one of the pioneers of this strategy, first holding a porcelain laminate workshop aboard a 76-foot schooner in 1986. Since then, Co-Owner Marc Daichman has planned seminars in conjunction with trips to Las Vegas and several week-long cruises to the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Alaska.
The lab has also been hosting an annual Sunday cruise for the last 20 years, which starts with a morning seminar and brunch and ends with a two-hour cruise around the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan Island on the Spirit of New Jersey. Topics vary, but Daichman strives to find one that not only interests his clients, but will also help build their practices. This year, approximately 100 dentists, staff and family members heard Dental Consultant Jackie Doyle's presentation on increasing productivity and patient referrals.
The laboratory charged only $49 per person, keeping costs down by inviting a few vendors to contribute in exchange for having table displays during breakfast. "We usually break even, and the goodwill gained, new customers we attract and relationship-building with our current clients make the effort well worth it," says Daichman. "The dentists love the programs and value the fact that we sponsor fun, educational events at the least possible cost to them."
(7) An On-Staff Dentist
When Dr. Jeff Benson--a long-time client of Renstrom Dental Studio--was retiring but interested in staying active in dentistry, Randy Renstrom, CDT, saw an opportunity. "We had been looking at new ways to get information to our clients and having Dr. Benson come on board was a perfect fit," says Renstrom, owner of the Vadnais Heights, MN laboratory. "With all of today's changes in materials and processes, he can help dentists decipher the information coming at them from so many different sources; it helps us help them practice better dentistry."
Working two days a week, Dr. Benson spends the majority of his time on client education, such as troubleshooting or researching and discussing new materials and technology. He also holds monthly courses at the laboratory on topics like impression-taking, photography, temporization and shade communication. In addition to inviting current dentist-customers and their staffs, as well as other area dentists, the laboratory opens the courses up to students from nearby University of Minnesota Dental School. "It's an invaluable opportunity for us to expose dental students to topics and techniques they don't learn in school and gets them thinking about the laboratory's perspective before they even start practicing," says Renstrom. "Dr. Benson also provides long-term mentoring to some of our clients who are new dentists."
Thayer Dental Laboratory has been reaping the benefits derived from an on-staff dentist since the mid-1990s, when Greg Thayer, CDT, FICOI, hired a dentist to focus on implant cases and act as a liaison for the dental team. Dr. Dean Mersky, currently Thayer's full-time Implant Coordinator, works with general dentists and surgical specialists on planning and problem-solving the laboratory's implant cases. He also researches new implant products and techniques and presents continuing education courses on implant abutments, bars and restorative materials to Thayer's customers and technicians and local study clubs.
"Having this kind of resource on staff has helped us establish a peer-to-peer service that creates dialogue between the surgeon, restorative doctor and the laboratory and achieves optimal treatment planning for each patient," says Thayer, President of the Mechanicsburg, PA laboratory. "From the beginning, we made a concerted effort to market our combined technical and clinical expertise and, to this day, it's one of our strongest value-added services."
Educational newsletters, often covering new products and technology, evaluating material choices or illustrating recent cases, are an opportunity to offer dentist-customers the technical information they need in an abbreviated, easy-to-read format that reinforces your expertise and role as a technical educator.
Unlike sponsoring CE courses or hiring extra staff members to focus on client education, newsletters are within reach of even the smallest lab's budget. Slav Odynocki, owner of three-person Slav Odynocki Dental Lab in Ronkonkoma, NY, mails a quarterly "no frills" print newsletter created with his word processing program. "I share ideas I think will improve our cooperation with dentist-clients and it's been effective at fostering productive conversations," says Odynocki. One such exchange arose from Odynocki's newsletter article about the pros and cons and remake frequency of an all-ceramic material. Several of his clients called to discuss the article and, as a result, agreed to switch to a different material, allowing Odynocki to provide his clients with what he felt was a better quality restoration.
Larger labs, like D & S Dental Laboratory, Waunakee, WI, have the resources to create a more sophisticated newsletter, but the goal of providing dentists with relevant technical information is the same. Its quarterly communication--Incisal Edge--is sent in a print version to the lab's entire database of dentists, emailed to those who have opted in and archived on the lab's website. A typical issue incorporates a practice management article, a product spotlight, upcoming lab events and an industry "hot button topic"--the most recent being how to handle the rising costs of precious alloys. "Doctors are thankful we show them the advantages and disadvantages of different alloys and all-ceramic restorations we offer, along with comparison pricing," says Travis Zick, a member of the D & S management team. "It's valuable for our lab to be that resource for them."
(9) How-To Videos
When it comes to education, showing--not telling--clients can be the key to success.
Since 1989, Glidewell Laboratories has produced over 100 educational videos for its dentist-clients on topics ranging from troubleshooting tips to new clinical techniques and products to digital photography. The videos--which range in length depending on the topic--are mailed as DVDs, streamed on the lab's website and featured as Podcasts on itunes.
"Clients tell us our videos help them implement new products into their practice, better understand new technology and, ultimately, build their practice," says Mike Cash, CDT, Sales and Marketing Manager of the Newport Beach, CA-based laboratory. "Many have a personal Glidewell video library on their shelves and we even have university professors using them to teach dental students." The laboratory has its own eight-person video team that handles all aspects of production, including script writing, filming and editing, and the videos are hosted by Dr. Mike DiTolla, Glidewell's on-staff dentist.
Even labs with smaller budgets can tap into this educational strategy. For instance, Custom Automated Prosthetics (CAP) produces three- to five-minute videos using Apple's Final Cut Pro to show its laboratory customers how to finish their CAP restorations. CAP technicians serve as the "actors," and Co-Owners Rob Nazzal and Bob Cohen handle the voiceover.
Much of the content is based on the most common questions the lab receives from its lab clients. For instance, after several customers asked about finishing IPS e.max units and adhesion techniques, Nazzal developed a series of videos on these topics. Customers can access the videos for free at CAP's website, cap-us.com/tutorials.