Legendary Customer Service at Northwest Dental Group
When Dr. Katie Post acquired Northwest Dental Group in Rochester, MN in 2008, the business was struggling. Overall profit and the number of patients were both declining every year. “When I joined the practice in 2003, I had one or two patients in the morning and one or two patients in the afternoon,” she says. “I only had 42 new patients that entire first year.”
At the time, the practice didn’t do any marketing. While many people believe that marketing is inappropriate for dental offices and the term marketing can be a dirty word, Katie innately understood that marketing was essential not only for the good of the practice, but the long-term satisfaction of patients. She realized that what the receptionist is doing when a patient walks in is marketing and what the office looks like inside and out is marketing too.
Northwest Dental was started in 1963 by Dr. Rossi, a dentist who practiced in a small town outside of Rochester, MN where his family dairy farm was located. “He actually installed a dairy pump in the office to use for suction and that was the first suction used in dentistry in Minnesota,” Katie says. “Using a pump designed for hooking up to a cow’s udder was an innovative concept at the time!”
Dr. Rossi got together with three other dentists and innovated again by teaming up and pooling resources. “The four of them came together in one building, sharing the cost of a support person and the cost of the building,” Katie says. “They were also the first practice in town to have a dental hygienist.”
Rochester, now with a population of about 100,000 people, changed a great deal between the installation of the dairy pump in the 1960s and the time Katie acquired Northwest Dental Group in the 2000s. The Mayo Clinic, located in the city, expanded greatly and Rochester became known as a center of excellence in healthcare. Manufacturing industries like Fastenal Company located there and technology companies like IBM created high-paying digital jobs in the city.
Openly talking about the numbers with her team
Katie began to implement strategic marketing plans in her practice as soon as she took over. “The first thing I did is get the team together and talk to them,” she says. “Prior to that we had been secretive about what the numbers were. We began openly talking about the financial situation. I said there were two options: One option was to let somebody go and the other option was to produce more money. The team chose to produce more money.”
Katie gave each staff member, no matter what their position, business cards. “I encourage my team members to give business cards to people they meet in town,” she says. “If that person books an appointment, the team member gets $25. It’s usually a random person they meet, like a server at a restaurant.”
Everyone on the dental team became focused on providing legendary customer service
Gradually, Katie noticed a transformation after she made her team emotional partners in the business. “Every time somebody sees a patient or logs into the computer, they are thinking legendary customer service,” Katie says. “Marketing is just treating others the way you want to be treated.”
An emergency early one morning directly led to a unique way to make patients feel special. “Somebody who was diabetic and hadn’t eaten that day lost control of their car and hit our building,” Katie says. “The patient took their pills but didn’t eat because they were going to come get their teeth cleaned. My hygienist thought the patient was drunk, but when I gave them a warm cookie, suddenly they felt better. Now we give away free, warm cookies for all patients all day long. The kids love it, and get their faces covered with chocolate. The moms love it because it’s easier to get the kids to come in. Occasionally somebody complains that a dentist shouldn’t be feeding patients sugar, but I joke with them that I’m just trying to drum up a little business for the marketing department. I ask them to help keep our business going by having a cookie!”
As a result of implementing these ideas and others, Northwest Dental now has 4 locations and averages 450 new patients a month. They’ve gone from $1.2 million in 2008 when Katie bought the practice to an expected $20 million this year.
Katie says another strategy for great customer service is to create an efficient office in a beautiful building. “Our original office was dark, and we struggled to get patients to want to go there because it was an old office,” Katie says. “I’m trying to make everyone feel special, so we needed a change.”
Katie worked with Design Ergonomics on two facilities, the first in 2011 soon after she took over the practice. “Design Ergonomics kept it really simple for me,” she says. “I didn’t want to get into the nitty gritty, because that’s not the best use of my time. I knew what I wanted and what I didn’t want. The Design Ergonomics team made valuable recommendations so that I could make decisions in just a few weeks.”
The second office, completed in early 2022, includes 15 operatories with equipment from Ergonomics Products, the sister company of Design Ergonomics. “I’ve gotten to know David [Dr. David Ahearn, founder, and CEO of Design Ergonomics],” Katie says. “I decided to do everything with Design Ergonomics this time, the entire system.”
Katie says because she trusted the professionals at Design Ergonomics, the creation of the new office was easy for her and her team. “We went back and forth with the blocking designs over several emails,” she says. “And we went through the details like color options. Once I picked an initial color, everything else fell into place, including the tile, the paint, the carpet, everything is right there. It’s that’s quick.”
The builder that Katie used had built 200 dental offices previously, but this had been their first build with Design Ergonomics. “Without question, I beat their speed record by four months, and they had never built this big,” she says. “That’s how fast working with Design Ergonomics was. I trusted Design Ergonomics to pay attention to the details because I know I would waste days looking at it. I know what I want but I don’t know what I’m talking about. That’s not my thing. I’m better at drilling teeth. It ended up looking beautiful because of Design Ergonomics.”
Benefits for Dr. Post, her team, and her dental patients
So far, the investment in the new building has paid off for Katie because patients love it. “We cold-started the new building on December 13, 2021, with two doctors,” she says. “They’re already both full, with six hygienists. It usually takes seven years to get to that stage and we did it in less than one year. We’ve had a 41% growth this year over last year, which is insane.”
With all the upgrades in the business over the past few years, some things at Northwest Dental have stayed the same.
The dairy pump is still in use in the original office building. “There’s one guy in town who knows how to clean and repair the dairy pump,” Katie says. “He’s been here longer than me! He knows how to use this soapy stuff that comes out the side of the building, just like they do the dairy farms. That’s weird, but it works. In fact, the dairy suction works better than the regular dental section system. For some reason we have more problems with the dental ones!”
What else hasn’t changed at Northwest Dental Group?
The offices still smell like warm cookies!
At Design Ergonomics, we offer a wide range of dental practice design, renovation, and remodeling services ranging from improved inventory and sterilization, to creating additional operatories within your existing footprint. From capacity, to aesthetics, to work-flow, we cover all aspects of the dental office improvement spectrum. Speak to a Design Ergonomics Practice Liaison to learn if we are the right fit to create the ideal dental practice for you.