Stepping Away from the Drill with Laura Hatch

We recently sat down with Laura Hatch, founder and CEO of Front Office Rocks, to discuss her new book Step Away from the Drill and understand everything it takes for dental team members to truly shine.

In her section of our 2018 guide to practice growth, Laura Hatch focused on two key aspects of the dental office: continuously training all team members and elevating patient experience.

"Give your dental office team what it needs to be successful," she wrote, "and it will take care of your patients."

This could have been the tagline for Laura's new book, Step Away from the Drill, as it's a perfect bridge between dentists and their teams.

In the book, Laura illustrates how proper leadership techniques can empower an already-amazing team to go above and beyond. All it takes is doctors running their practices like CEOs, not dentists.

We recently spoke with Laura about wide range of subject, including her reason for writing a book, and transferable leadership skills that extend beyond dentistry.

RevenueWell: Your book is titled Step Away from the Drill. How did you come up with that title and what does it mean to you?

Laura Hatch: I worked on the title for a while and every time I thought of this one, it made me giggle a little – which is why I selected it.

I have been working with dentists for a very long time and I know where dentists are most comfortable: in the operatory doing dentistry. That is how they are trained, and if they could do that all day, they would be happy.

However, most of them want to improve other things around their office but don’t know where to start.

The first step is to get out of the operatory and get involved with your practice. I thought this was a fitting title to preface what I needed the reader to do, if my book was going to help them.

dental team members step away from the drill

RW: What was the impetus for writing this book?

LH: I feel that the front office team has not been given much attention, training, or love in the dental offices. I believe that there is a lot of attention on clinical CE and focus on how to deliver better dentistry, faster in most offices.

However, the front office team plays a huge role in the entire patient experience. That is why I started Front Office Rocks and named it that.

I wanted the doctors to realize how important the front office team is to their overall success, and I wanted to have the front office team members to step up and recognize that they are rock stars.

I have online training to help the front office team members become rock stars, so Step Away from the Drill was written to help dentists understand the importance of their front office team members.

Not only so they understand team members’ value, but also support them in all they do in the front office.

RW: Writing a book certainly isn't easy. When did you decide it was time to write it?

LH: After establishing Front Office Rocks as a training platform for dental offices, I was still getting the same questions from doctors when I spoke about what they should expect from their team members.

I also had front office employees asking how to get their doctors to understand things they do and need, and how to get more support.

That is when I decided that, if I was going to help change the way front office is viewed, the book was necessary.

I knew that I needed to speak right to the dentist. To help set expectations in the front and understand how important those team members are.

I know dentists usually know what to expect in the clinical area, however most have very little knowledge about what should (or should not) be happening up front. Therefore, the book was a way to educate them and to help bridge the gap between them and their front office team.

RW: Many of the topics you address in Step Away from the Drill seem like they're applicable beyond the field of dentistry. Which do you feel are the most transferable?

LH: I did write the book with the dentist in mind, since that is where I have spent most of my training; however, a lot of these concepts are transferrable to other industries.

It really is all about the patient's or customer’s experience.

They don’t know how to judge you on the skill you provide. They don’t know if you are a good dentist or not. However, they know how they feel when they are in your office.

They judge your dentistry or skill based off their own experience. And your front office team members are the first and last touch point with the patient each and every time.

dental team members step away from the drill

RW: If every dentist in America dropped their drills right now, what is the first thing they could do to better their practices?

LH: First, I don’t want every dentist to drop their drills, as that sounds dangerous!

However, I do agree that if they want to see significant changes, they need to spend less time behind the drill and more time in their practice. The best thing they can do is see the value of their employees and invest in them more.

I think that dentists are not always great at communicating, therefore they don’t have two-way communication with their employees.

They don’t share their goals and what they want with their practices. They don’t give good or constructive feedback. Instead, they tend to assume that their employees can read their minds, which I hate to tell you, is not the case.

Also, they don’t invest in their team enough.

I suggest training every one of your employees on a regular basis and not only with clinical topics.

Your team should continuously train on customer service and always be working to sharpen their skills, because that is where the patients decide whether your office is awesome, average, or awful.

The best thing you can do is invest in communication and continual training.

RW: Your chapter on scheduling is incredibly interesting. What are the qualities of a great scheduler? Do you think there's an innate ability there?

LH: Out of every task performed in the dental front office, scheduling is my favorite. I love working on the schedule, always looking for ways to improve it or to put it back together when it falls apart.

That being said, I am also a game player. I love puzzles and am very competitive. I think that explains why I love the schedule so much and feel that your best schedulers should be similar.

The schedule is the most important system in your office, as it effects everyone on the team and your patients.

It can make or break your day, and no matter how much planning you do it will always change. Therefore, the person who is responsible for the schedule can’t let that get them down. They must take it on like a game.

RW: In the chapter on treatment coordinators, you discuss talking money with patients. What are the best ways to broach such a sensitive subject without coming off like you’re giving a sales pitch?

LH: [Jokingly] We are lucky enough to talk with patients about money and dentistry, two topics that invoke fear or stress in a lot of people.

However, in order to help our patients, discussing necessary treatment and how they plan to pay is necessary.

Therefore, it is important to be compassionate and understanding when discussing payments, but also confident in your dialogue.

dental team members step away from the drill patient experience

RW: How do you see the field of dentistry evolving over the next 5-10 years?

LH: Not to sound like everyone else who gets asked about this, but I do think that corporate dentistry will continue to grow and change the playing field quite a bit.

I think that because of their financial backing, their management capabilities, and their buying power, they will be able to offer decent dentistry in a less expensive, but more efficient, way than any small, privately owned dental office.

Does that mean corporate is going to take over completely? No, but the small, privately owned dental offices must find ways to stand apart.

That will require offering services that are superior, customer service that is exceptional, and continually looking for ways to improve and compete.

RW: When working with practices, what's the most common question you're asked and how do you respond?

LH: One of the most common questions I get from doctors is how to find good employees and/or how to motivate employees.

This is another reason I wrote Step Away from the Drill, and am currently working on my next book, which is specifically about hiring. I feel that hiring and motivating typically have more to do with the employer than the employee.

There are good people out there that want to work for you, but you have to know how to find them. And the majority of the ones that work for you want to do well for you. You just have to know how to train and motivate them.

A good leader knows what they are looking for on their team, and then communicates and manages team members in a way that you get desired results.

RW: As we wrap up here, let's do some word association.

LH: Let's do it.

RW: Patient Care

LH: Fully taking care of our patients to ensure they get dentistry done that will help them be healthy. To help patients keep their teeth for life, all while offering amazing customer service.

RW: Leadership

LH: Understanding your role as the captain of the ship. Knowing that your crew is looking for you to take the helm and lead them to where you are going.

RW: Accountability

LH: Saying what you mean, doing what you say, and taking responsibility when you don’t.

RW: Success

LH: Happiness in knowing you have given your all each and every day to those that rely on you, your loved ones, and, yourself.

RW: Thanks so much for doing this, Laura, this was fun!

LH: You bet!

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Laura Hatch is the founder and CEO of Front Office Rocks, the leader in on-demand front office training for dental practices. Her first book, Step Away from the Drill, is now available for purchase.

Learn more about how RevenueWell improves case acceptance and creates more close-knit relationships between dentists and their patients.