The lesson that Apple taught us this weekend about how to keep our patients interested

As a committed member of the innovation tribe, I downloaded the beta versions of macOS High Sierra and iOS 11 over the weekend (just in case that doesn’t mean very much to you, they are the next generation of operating systems for Apple Macs and iPhones and will launch to the general public in the Autumn).

There are some nice enhancements to the basic functionality of applications, a promised increase in speed that will be unnoticeable to the human eye and a new look to some apps, especially Photos (with added editing features).

There is also a brand new look to the App Store on iPhone as of this morning.

Those of us who are Mac-heads just love all this stuff and the clever folks at Apple have us salivating at every ring of their Pavlovian bell.

Very few businesses have succeeded in the way that Apple have, training us to update and upgrade both hardware and software when they bring out a new versions.

It’s pretty easy for most software developers to do that, as who wants to miss the boat when it comes to the new release (well – I suppose the NHS, clunking along on Windows 10, would be an example)?

There is a thrill associated with moving from 1.0 to 2.0 and beyond – a sense that we are progressing, evolving, staying at the edge, keeping up with the iJoneses.

Hardware usually involves a more significant financial investment and so my MacBook may not get changed for a few years, my iPad probably never but the pressure is on with every new iPhone.

(watches? I’m not sure)

As soon as that new model iPhone appears, we feel a growing sense of dysfunctionality, especially if our fellow commuters, workers or diners are nonchalantly displaying their trophy.

All of which rambling leads me to muse on how we can apply this knowledge to our own businesses?

The conclusion I reach is that you and I are often guilty of simply doing the same things, the same way, in the same place, over and over again.

In a world in which our patients have become indoctrinated with the inevitability of constant change, I suggest we have to ask ourselves two serious business questions:

  1. what will my patients appreciate if I endeavour to keep things the same?
  2. what will my patients appreciate if I endeavour to change things?

The answer to the first question would include:

  • the clinicians – we all know that patients dislike change when it comes to “their” dentist/therapist/hygienist
  • the team – similarly, if you have gregarious and popular team members, your audience will shout for many encores
  • the prices (only kidding – but you know how they love the fact that you constantly “forget” to put your prices up, even when your operating costs are rising)

But is there anything else that really has to remain a constant?

In business, antique is now anything more than 2 years old.

So looking at this from the opposite perspective, let me ask a few questions.

When was the last time that you changed:

  • your brand – we seem to have eliminated most of the smiling molars holding toothbrushes but I still do see a lot of cringeworthy branding out there
  • the signage, posters and a-boards – many is the sun-bleached advertisement in the surgery window, the dog-eared poster on the wall, the consumables cabinet that looks like an insect display in a museum; what message does that send?
  • your web site – I said EVERY 2 years and I mean it (and I’m not on commission from web developers). Functionality and aesthetics are changing rapidly. 65% of your visits are from mobile devices, if your bounce rate is over 60% you are in trouble
  • the art work and photographs in the common areas of your premises and (if applicable) in the surgeries – by the way, the most forward-thinking practices have done away with all that advertising and simply (with consent) decorate their premises with portrait photographs of happy patients
  • your uniforms and scrubs – please ignore the stagnation of attempted consensus
  • the patient lounge – come on please – we are past the days when the furniture in there used to be in your lounge at home. It’s time to create a business class lounge but also to re-decorate every 2 years and add extra features that can be commented upon
  • and here’s a thought – the way you deliver preventative maintenance – imagine that you emailed your patients once every 2 years to let them know that their Dental Health Review was being upgraded to embrace the latest in knowledge and technology – DHR 2017, DHR 2019 and so on – re-selling the added value benefits each time around. A great way to ensure loyalty, attendance and the possibility of referral

If Apple can do it – so can we.

To paraphrase Seth Godin, we don’t need to sell dentistry, we need to teach patients to have taste when they buy dentistry.

Death and taxes we have to live with but let’s disrupt as many other things as we can – it’s fun.

I want you to upgrade to the latest version of YOU.


Published by

Chris Barrow

Chris Barrow has been active as a consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. As a writer, his blog enjoys a strong following and he is a regular contributor to the dental press. Naturally direct, assertive and determined, he has the ability to reach conclusions quickly, as well as the sharp reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. In 2014 he appeared as a “castaway” in the first season of the popular reality TV show “The Island with Bear Grylls”. His main professional focus is as Coach Barrow, providing coaching and mentorship to independent dentistry.