Has your practice got the X Factor?

I was recently privileged to attend a team meeting at Elmsleigh House Dental Clinic in Farnham, Surrey – the principal is a good friend Dr Tim Thackrah. Tim and I have known each other for six years and, in that time, I have seen him grow the clinic into a £2.5 million specialist referral centre that ticks all the boxes as far as 21st century dental business is concerned. The quality of the dentistry that they deliver, the clients they attract (and the prices they charge!) are such that the clinic tagline of ‘experience excellence’ has to be manifested in every aspect of their operation – not the least of which is customer service. Which brings me to my point.

Their quarterly team meeting of 35 people wasn’t facilitated in the staffroom, the pub or the local Premier Lodge – it was at the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel in nearby Hook, Hampshire.
The venue, of course, was a metaphor for the subject of the meeting – how to maintain a world-class customer service experience.

But the afternoon commenced not with a lecture on dentistry or a review of what was happening at the practice (although that came later) – what we began with was a PowerPoint presentation by the HR manager at the hotel, who described the Four Seasons philosophy on recruitment, training and development, customer service and teamwork.

Here is a privately owned hotel chain with 81 locations and 34,000 employees worldwide – explaining to a 35-person dental clinic ‘how to do it’. That, plus the experience of visiting the hotel itself, was a real wake-up call to all concerned that ‘experiencing excellence’ might mean more then just a smile.

It’s not for me to plagiarise the material that Four Seasons have clearly invested many hours of time and enormous finance into – but what struck me the most was the simplicity of what they called their:
• Core standards – how they do the work they do
• Core values – the attitude with which they deliver the work.
And here is the Four Seasons Golden Rule – enshrined in their culture:
The Golden Rule – treating others as we would wish to be treated – has long been our guiding principle. Within Four Seasons, the Golden Rule has never been a paper strategy. It is a deeply felt ethical belief, shared by everyone in the corporation, from senior management through to the front line and around the world, regardless of nationality. It allows us to treat each other, as well as our guests, with an extra measure of caring and thoughtfulness.

Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself. It’s not complicated. I’ll also share with you a simple step-by-step (and easy to remember) guide to behaviour within the organisation:
Eye contact
And an equally simple three-step guide to performance and behaviour from the perspective of the guest:
• Step 1 – Get IT right – do the job properly
• Step 2 – Get ME right – understand the guest ands their requirements
• Step 3 – WOW me if you can – pleasantly surprise the guest in some way (what Michael Gerber would call the ‘chocolate on the pillow’.
With these simple steps – and a comprehensive training and development programme – they manage to provide possibly the best customer service experience in global hotels, and yet with people of the same skill set as their competitors. But their number one recruitment policy is to ‘recruit warm and confident people’ for every task in the organisation.

To become an Employer of Choice, they have made the following promises:
• Career development
• Competitive salary and benefits
• Best locations
• Prestige of brand
• Environmental awareness
• A happy, healthy work environment
• Compassionate employment

Again – common sense. But then I look at many of the dental practices I have visited over the years and ask myself how often I have seen these simple principles absent? The lesson for me was that one of the largest organisations in its niche is utilising some very simple strategies ands tactics to maintain a highly motivated workforce and customers (guests) who rave about their service. There must be much to learn here – and hats off to Tim for arranging the lecture. I’ve no doubt that the team at Elmsleigh House will return to work with a clearer vision of what ‘experiencing excellence’ is all about.

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