Never Lose Sight of Who You Serve

Regan Robertson


When was the last time you answered the phone at the front desk of your dental office?

More importantly, what was your gut response to reading that question? Did you think: “Why would I answer the phone?I have people for that.” Or, “I don’t make money by answering the phone. I make money doing dentistry.” 

What if I told you there was immense value in participating in customer service as a practice owner or C-level executive? When I heard the CEO of FreshBooks talk about how he starts all of his employees out in customer service for their first month, it struck me that perhaps I’ve been thinking about the proverbial front desk phone call all wrong—and maybe you have too.

Starting at the Bottom?

Most of us think about customer service as an entry-level gig. It’s a position where a friendly person answers repetitive questions, talks about products, and (if we’re being honest) operates as a gate between customers and us, the “higher-ups.” After all, we don’t have the time to address small issues or complaints, right? 


To paraphrase the CEO of FreshBooks, Mike McDerment, the customer service role should be viewed as a revenue generator and an opportunity, not as a necessary evil. Vital information about future products as well as answers to current problems don’t come from the top down.They come from the customer. And as a C-level, you should be there to hear it.

As president and CMO of the Productive Dentist Academy, I spend most of my days focused on the market and where our opportunities are to innovate and keep growing. But since hearing McDerment place such high value on everyone participating in the customer service role (and knowing FreshBooks has 10 million customers and does $5 0million in revenue, according to Forbes) I had to give it a try. Over the past three years, I’ve carried various customer service roles and have learned so much. Here is just one instance to highlight the value I’ve found.

Over the recent Thanksgiving holiday, I was home baking and enjoying my family, when I got an email notification. One way I’ve been able to connect directly with customers is by having all our promotional emails come directly from me. So when I opened my email, I was slapped in the face with a response to one of these promotional emails:

Hey dumb-as*. You have the wrong name on this email you sent me. You really don’t care enough to pay attention.

Herein lies the gold. Dentists, business owners, people receiving our e-mails, don’t realize they are writing back to the president of the company. A previous boss of mine told me over a decade ago, “How someone shows up on day one is a key indicator ofhow the relationship will play out over time.”

Receiving this e-mail, on Thanksgiving Day no less, does two things. First, it lets me know the type of potential client we will be serving and, ultimately, what type of doctor my team will be interacting with. Second, it offers me a key insight into the victories, and failures, of email promotions.

Doctors, if you don’t experience feedback firsthand, you are less likely to be hit in the gut. It’s time to get hit in the gut if you expect yourself, your team, and your business to succeed.

This small interactionthat dayopened the door to big things.

An Opportunity to Lead by Example

Ihave the opportunity to personally reach out and show my team, and our subscribers, that we own our mistakes. No matter who put the name on the email, it’s my responsibility to own it and fix it. I get to feel what our customer service folks feel all the time, taking responsibility for mistakes they didn’t make.

This takes maturity and poise, and unless I am practicing this, I am apt to get defensive (toward the customer or the team member who manages the email list) instead of truly being a team player myself. If I’m preaching it as a leader, I better be modeling it. 

It Revealed a Blind Spot in Our System

This misstep tells me that we need to go through our list and double-check our information. Good. I wouldn’t have thought to do that. I can make a change to our process that I am 100% sure will have a positive impact. I can also investigate other systems that may have similar glitches. How does our direct mail list look? Do we need to update names?

An Opportunity to Humanize Our Company 

I responded to the email with this:

Oh man, I’m so sorry your name was incorrect on the email. That’s awful. We do care a great deal and it sucks when mistakes happen. We’ll update your contact. We can remove you also, so you’re not bothered. I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

A few moments after I sent this response my inbox chimed again. The customer had replied to my response with this:

Hi again. I don’t know why I made such a big deal out of that. Just a tough spot in my life right now. Please excuse my poor etiquette. Thank you and have a good Thanksgiving.

Now, this customer may never mention this incident to anyone. They may never tell anyone that when they lashed out at a company, the company replied apologetically and took responsibility. They may never tell anyone that the company practices what it tells others to do. They may never interact with us again. But, that’s not the point.

The point is, as a C-level in this business, with one customer experience I was able to lead by example, make a positive change in our business, and truly connect with a human on the other end of our email list. Breaking down that wall between “us” and “them” is imperative if we are going to continue to offer products our customers want and need and be proud of the work we do every day. 

I’d encourage you to adopt the practice of jumping into a customer service role now and then. I promise the experience will change the way you view your team, your customer, and the way you do business. 

Ms. Robertson is the president and CMO of the Productive Dentist Academy, a national consulting company that’s helped thousands of dentists increase productivity and decrease stress since 2004 through business development, team building, and marketing. A multi-year honoree on the Inc. 5000 list, Productive Dentist Academy is recognized as one of America’s Fastest Growing Private companies. You can reach Ms. Robertson at or (800) 757-6077.

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