Familiarity breeds a poor customer experience... are you complacent?

I was at the dentist last week.

In a quick free moment as the chair dropped back I asked my dentist about innovation, anything new in the last ten years?

“In materials, yes. Bendy drills for a start (can get round corners in root canals) plus the general understanding of the related medical aspects. But mostly it is manufacturers making small improvements to their tools and equipment.”

But, as I lay there, it got me thinking about the user experience – which seemed not to have changed over the last 24 years I have gone there.

You arrive up some stairs, check in, sit in a waiting room, read a notice to switch off your mobile (that’s relatively new) and read the usual magazines. The dentist collects me.

I look around. The treatment room is exactly the same as last time, and the time before and the time before that. In fact the same at least for the last 10 years. It was then I remember a wall poster changing!

The dentist adjusts the (same old) light above me, I open my mouth and he begins to explore.

I guess one new experience is that the dentist now checks the gums – so he carefully pricks them on every tooth around the mouth. After a rinse I ask what he was doing/achieving by this pin prick method. (He has never told me anything except “checking your gums”).

Apparently he is checking the distance between the tooth and the gum. Now if I could have spoken at that point I would have asked for a clarification. What distance? Where? What should it be? What does it mean? Instead he continued and told me I was borderline! What does that mean (I thought) but could not ask.

After a good clean I hear “that’s it” and the chair sinks lower and then upright to signify the end of the session. The dentist shows me out.

So what can we learn from all this?

Firstly, familiarity makes us blind especially with how we run our own businesses. According to critic Timothy White, familiarity breeds a kind of complacency. I had not questioned any of this at my dentist before but I am sure the whole user experience could be dramatically improved.

Client communication is clearly difficult during the treatment so it is vital that there is some other method of customer feedback. How does the practice understand the satisfaction or otherwise of their clients? How can the services ever be improved?

They could communicate with their clients between visits. There is no newsletter, no reminder of appointments. They have a computer but not apparently for communications. That would be innovation in this business!

Apart from one poster in the waiting room there are no guidance notes about tooth care etc. More on the website would help!

I’m sure there are many opportunities to interact with and help the client, mostly with added value information. But they don’t.

Within three days after my visit I heard elsewhere about new headphones for patients, a new practice locally which can show live video of your mouth and another practice that is using personality analysis techniques to help bond and motivate staff. All innovations in practice (pardon the pun).

How do we use this observation?

We must all look regularly and critically at our own businesses through our customers’ eyes. What is their experience? In contacting us, in walking up the stairs, in the waiting room i.e. not just in the direct service (or product) we supply.

Is that experience in tune with modern life? Is it what people expect? Is it what your competitors do?

What possible referrals are you not getting because of this? Who says what about you out there when someone needs a service like yours? Do you know?

Innovation is as much about processes, perception and practice as it is about bendy drills and shiny new gadgets. How does your business match up?