14 Jun 2018  •  Practice Management  •  5min read By  • Ed Challinor

Brave new dentistry – a code for success

Smileworks dental practice in Liverpool has carved out a unique niche by basing its entire approach on the experience of flying first-class. From the team uniforms, to the airplane seats in the waiting room and the job titles, the practice aims to elevate the patient experience to that of a luxury flight. 

Here, First Officer, and digital marketer, Ed Challinor shares how 1980s computer coding inspired him to map out each stage of the practice’s patient experience and build each marginal gain into major success…  

The first time I saw machine code was on my brother’s ZX Spectrum when I was about eight years old. Along with some seriously dodgy games it came with an inch-thick manual explaining machine code. Watching my father reading the manual and keying in that language was transformative.

A new language only spoken by machines was just amazing to me, and when we hit execute and the thing worked we celebrated. We felt like pioneers. We had no idea that future generations of that little black box would eventually recast the workings of the entire world but, of course, technology has done just that.

But now instead of learning a new language you can simply Google your problem and get the answer immediately. There is literally no technology in 2018 not capable of being mastered with time, effort and willingness.

If dentists just stopped thinking about teeth and their associates for a few minutes they might see the bigger picture, start embracing the future and spend less time bemoaning the past. A great mentor of mine once said ‘the past is past and the future has not happened yet. There’s only now.’  So, when it came to the question of how to build a business, the solution for me was a simple one – I just needed to learn how to build a business.

“when it came to the question of how to build a business, the solution for me was a simple one – I just needed to learn how to build a business.”

I discovered that business, just like my brother’s 1984 Speccy, only understands numbers. And I found out that you can literally program a business with systems and processes. You can program your people with training and time just the same way you can program an 8-bit computer.

So, I set out to build a code, a system that was elegant, simple and structured. A system where each individual part had a purpose and served a unique function. A machine that would deliver good dentistry.

Building the machine

I began with a patient journey that was just a list of rules to accomplish a series of aims. I got my aims from reading about companies like Ford, Pandora, Google, Amazon and SpaceX and studying the methods of automotive, luxury travel and professional services, but mainly software companies.

Our aims and outcomes are not, by any means, innovative:

  • To make patients feel happy, cared for and valued
  • To eliminate anxiety and demonstrate clinical brilliance
  • To make it easy for patients to accept their full treatment plan
  • To be talked about and recommended
  • To produce ‘wow’ dentistry.

These goals were translated firstly into workflows for our front of house and sales teams and then, once working, we integrated them with the clinical teams.

There is no ‘secret sauce’ kept in a vault somewhere or a magical strategic playbook that we keep locked away. There’s a simple reason for this. Contrary to all this ‘think big’ and ‘think even bigger’ stuff that you read, business is not about giant leaps, it’s about small wins. Continuous and cyclical improvements and relentless small victories.

“Business is not about giant leaps, it’s about small wins.”

Don’t try to be 50% better at marketing or get 20% more leads, you’ll just fail and feel bad. If you’re thinking in terms of ‘if we just had more patients’ then you’re not even close.

You’re trying to get better at chasing your own tail.

Instead you need to do what the Formula One teams do to win the Grand Prix, what SpaceX does to fly satellites into space or what Mo Farah does to win gold medals. They simply cannot improve their technology or performance in leaps and bounds, they are so good that there’s almost nowhere to go.  So, they will focus instead on becoming 0.1% better in 1,000 different areas. This is where success comes from, it’s a compound effect. This is not innovation; these principles have been around for decades.

So, we simply divided each stage of the patient journey (first to final interaction) into its constituent parts. Then we analysed it’s quantitative and qualitative elements and found ways of measuring them, e.g. interactions, conversations, documentation.

There are dozens of steps, hundreds of data points and numerous inputs and outputs all with different values. If you look at each step and really think about how to improve it 1% or 2% then the compound effect will astound you – just as I was astounded that day that little green ball bounced around my dad’s TV screen after an hour of careful hexadecimal coding.

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