I would never want somebody to come in my environment and make me feel less-than or tell me what’s wrong with what I’m doing,” declares Pam Peterson.
Nobody wants what Pam doesn’t want – intruders in the workplace who make harsh judgments from a safe space all their own. But that, she says, is exactly what many dental practice team members imagine they’re getting, when they first meet Practice Advisors on the team Pam leads, as President of the Total Patient Service (ToPS) Institute.
Some team members have learned (the hard way) to distrust and even fear outside professional “consultants” with their, what Pam and ToPS colleagues call, “the white glove treatment.” The name harks to military inspections by officers looking for dust and reasons to scream and mete out punishment. As Pam says, “People think they’re going to hear how they’re not doing their jobs, sometimes even think, ‘Oh, you’re going to fire me!’ These feelings are not their fault, either.”
For good things to start happening, ToPS Advisors must get past suspicion and awkwardness. “It’s a process like speed dating, where you have 60 seconds to create a positive encounter,” Pam says, “We tell them that we work for them, not the other way around,” Pam says. More importantly, Advisors immediately start showing, not telling. They dive in and work with team members on the job where, “We focus on what to do today, based on what works, versus finding fault. Our job is to exceed their expectations and give people the opportunity to perform at their best.”
This positive, side-by-side coaching is so unlike traditional third-party observation and assessment that ToPS ditched the bad old C-Word – “Consultants” – in favor of “Advisors.” The process breaks new ground in other ways, too. Work is always custom-tailored. It begins with careful questioning and listening to determine what each client dentist wants from her or his working partnership with the ToPS Advisor Team. Success is client specific and flexible, never predefined and modular.
As Pam explains, “Our clients are just like patients. Some want to go from good to great in the overall business health of their practices… Some have ‘toothaches’ and contact us because something hurts or doesn’t feel right day in and day out in their business.”
The most common “toothache” is a feeling like this: “I’m working hard, and I just don’t see the financial payoff.” As in dentistry, Pam says, “We have to go in, and make a detailed assessment to find the problem.” It might be a breakdown in practice systems, or lack thereof, or problems with collections. Dentist and team members might lose revenue out of reluctance to talk about financial arrangements and insurance, because they don’t know how, and have trouble getting case acceptance.
Diagnoses stand firmly on the facts. Pam says, “After our first conversations, we’re looking at available data, looking at reports.” In data assessments and strategizing, clients get the benefit of the combined expertise of the entire ToPS Practice Advisor team and company Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Steven J. Anderson, who says of the Advisors, “They each have a whole career in real experience in dental practices.” A case in point would be Pam herself, who began her career chairside, as a dental assistant, some 30 years ago. She and two other core Advisors have been with ToPS for 15 years.
When facts are firmly in hand, the ToPS Advisor comes into the practice for on-the-job coaching, working right alongside team members. As Pam says, the Advisor must walk and talk, live and breathe, a commitment to the ToPS company tagline – Because people mean everything. That means everybody on the practice team, no matter what the job description, is crucially important to the passthrough to the patients. “We drive communication with the patient pretty hard. The patient is always part of the process, always has the say-so. We always listen to what they want before providing a solution.”
All the while the facts keep coming. As Steve says, “We’re very data driven.” And some of the most vital data is in the doing, real time and on the job – “We don’t have the right to tell anybody what to do, unless we can prove in their environment, with their patients that it works. If it doesn’t work, Game Over!”
Most of the time though, it’s more like “Game On!” as dentists and their teams find new opportunities in their midst, with new financial and personal/professional rewards. Steve points to a client practice where his team turned up $1 million in unscheduled treatment, piled up in only 12 months. “That’s almost as much as what they brought in! That one was all about communication and verbal skills. The patients had been told, but they hadn’t been listened-to and asked effectively, to accept treatment.” The ToPS Advisor showed how it’s done, in person – and got it done!
Some communications problems are one-offs, as in the case of a team member who flat-out refused to learn and utilize a key form that would take results to a new level. Pam Peterson happened to be the Practice Advisor. She respectfully heard out the team member, reading back the objections – which were adamant – all the while probing for the real problem. Says Pam, “She thought I was going to take her away from the work she already had, and she’d have to stay late or leave important things undone.” Once the underlying problem was identified, a successful outcome can be achieved. “People sometimes struggle to articulate what their real issues are. It’s our job to listen, understand, and then help them get results.”