What Your Dental Practice Can Learn from the Southwest Airlines Experience

Corey Johnson


Companies like Southwest Airlines are renowned for their exceptional customer experience. As a Southwest customer, you expect every team member assisting your travel and every flight attendant aboard your plane to provide you with friendly, helpful interactions and leave you with a positive impression of the organization.

The high expectations you have for Southwest Airlines extend to the experience you expect to have with its team over the phone. You anticipate that your call will be answered quickly by a friendly, qualified agent who will address your travel needs and leave you satisfied with the interaction and well-informed to travel with the airline. Compared to competing airlines, Southwest stands above the rest on the basis of overall customer experience.

Similarly, dental practices that provide an exceptional patient experience drive increased new patient appointments and see patients returning for their ongoing dental needs. Spodak Dental Group, a growing dental practice in Florida, prides itself on providing its patients with a top-notch experience at every point of contact. In a recent podcast episode of Call Box Dialed In, practice optimizer Erika Pusillo explains how crucial patient experience is to Spodak Dental Group’s overall strategy. 

“Patients don’t know how to judge great dentistry. They only know how to judge good experience,” explains Pusillo. “Your crown is only as good as the way [the patient] felt. There are tons of studies out there that say that what goes into the experience is the way your practice smells, the way it looks, the way teams interact with each other, the way they interact with patients. And we really considered all of those things and the design of our building too. We touch on all of those senses and really develop that comprehensive experience for the patient.”

Spodak Dental Group’s focus on experience extends to the interactions it has with patients over the phone. In fact, its leadership developed a full call center model to ensure patients receive undivided attention from agents when calling the practice. In doing so, the front desk staff has also been able to focus on patients in the office, rather than become distracted by a constantly ringing phone. Patients therefore have an improved interaction with Spodak Dental Group both in the office and over the phone.

Whether calling a dental practice or an airline, caller experience is key to providing an exceptional overall experience. Here are three tips to ensure patients receive an optimal caller experience with your practice:

  • Connect callers in a timely manner: On average, patients begin to hang up after only 30 seconds on hold. It’s critical to reduce the time it takes for patients to be connected to someone who can help them. Take a look at call volume trends throughout the day and throughout the week to uncover any areas of opportunity when call volume may exceed what your staff can handle. That may mean staggering lunch hours or even having a staff member come in 30 minutes early to handle high call volume that typically occurs first thing in the morning. Additionally, take a look at the types of call your front desk or call center team is handling. Are there a large number of calls for billing that could be directed to the back office? Are there a lot of patients calling with treatment questions that could be directed to the hygiene team? Technical routing adjustments such as a phone tree can help direct callers to their intended party and allow your front desk or call center team to focus on booking appointments.
  • Set expectations for each patient’s visit: Dental visits often cause anxiety for many patients, especially when extensive treatment may be needed. When booking an appointment, be sure to set clear expectations for a patient’s visit to help reduce anxiety and prepare him or her for the appointment. Explain where to park, when to arrive, what documents will be needed, how long the visit is expected to take, and any other pertinent information related to the appointment. Don’t forget to verify the patient’s best contact number so your team can confirm the appointment and answer any additional questions a few days before the visit.
  • Follow up with any patients who are not helped on the phone: No matter how great your team is on the phone, inevitably there will be patient calls that slip through the cracks. Calls will go to voicemail, or a staff member will fumble while attempting to book an appointment. It’s important to hold a manager accountable for following up with said patients and ensuring their needs are met. Outbound calling efforts help build patient relationships and provide an extra level of care that allows your practice to stand out from the competition.

As Southwest Airlines has discovered, customer experience is everything when it comes to building and retaining your customer base. In fact, 89% of organizations compete primarily on the basis of customer experience. Whether face to face or over the phone, experience stands out as one of the most crucial factors in whether customers choose to do business with your organization. Dental practices that take a note from Southwest Airlines and provide patients with a consistent, top-notch experience at every point of contact create a distinct advantage in an increasingly competitive market. 

Mr. Johnson is a top problem solver at Call Box. Doctors and owners call him to increase their bottom line through enhancing the patient experience over the phone and converting more opportunities. He earned his MBA from the University of Delaware and graduated from the University of North Carolina, where he studied how the power of data can affect organizational change. He can be reached at (833) 259-9484.

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