Monday, May 11th, 2009

A tale of two dentists

A tale of two dentists
Email to a friend Comments (16)

As of late, I’ve been doing a little work in social media. I’m not particularly proud of this, but the fact is, we’ve learned a fair bit about it, and some seem to value our input. With that in mind, I’d like to take the next ten minutes to give you some reasons to forget about social media.

My teeth

I had a pronounced overbite as a kid. As such, I spent a lot of time with dentists. For a few years my mouth played host to a handful of lovely devices ranging from retainers to braces to spacers. Additionally, my Mom’s deep desire to keep dentist drills out of her kids’ mouths ensured a diligent tooth-brushing schedule. (To this day, I still brush five or six times a day.)

I’ve had a few dentists over the years. Most have been pleasant: the sort that pop-in for a brief moment after the hygienist finishes to say “hi”, crack a few jokes, check things out and move on. While sitting in that chair with “Happy-berry” flavored fluoride in my mouth, I’ve often thought about the business these folks are in. It seems a little like an assembly-line, and clearly a profitable one. (Still though, it’s not a job I’d want to take on.)

“Mr. Shiny”

Upon moving to Vancouver, I was tasked with finding a new dentist. My wife, Amea, had been transferred to a new fellow and noted that perhaps I should try him out. (I’m learning that as part of a family, it’s often easier to just keep everyone using one “provider”, so I signed-up.)

Now, I have to stress that this dentist and his staff were incredibly friendly. They smiled a great deal, had a contemporary office space with a nice view, and called a few times to check-in with me. Nothing at all seemed wrong with the formula; in fact, they seemed to have streamlined it to being the perfect machine: state-of-the-art tools, ordered processes, congenial interaction methods.

Upon being seated, I completed a multi-page questionnaire about my dental and physical health. After doing so, I was free to browse the many brochures offering straighter or brighter teeth. Alternately, I could recline and enjoy the commercials promoting much the same. These played on a large flat-panel display, which gave me a mild sun-burn as a result of its proximity.

My young, impeccably well-groomed dentist (who I have since nicknamed “Mr. Shiny”) finally made his appearance. He greeted me warmly and asked, “What would you like to change about your smile?” By the end of my appointment, I had a work-order in hand for approximately $1,000 in services. They seemed to believe that these were quite pressing matters that should be addressed quickly.

Another approach

Something about all of that rubbed me wrong–almost as though I had been processed through a machine of sorts. I avoided their phone calls for a couple of years, after which I decided that I really needed to get the espresso stains scraped off my teeth. My wife and I called about looking for a more suitable dentist and were recommended to one by some good friends.

This office was a little different. The decor wasn’t perfect; in fact, it seemed to have last been updated in the early nineties. There were no televisions marketing tooth-alignment systems, nor were there any brochures offering “the perfect smile”. Nope, this was simply an office containing the necessary equipment. Everyone was pleasant, but perhaps more naturally so.

My new dentist spoke with me for a few moments, and then proceeded to clean my teeth. I’ve never had this happen before; in my experience dentists dart-in and do the “big stuff” leaving the cleaning to an army of bubbly twenty-year-old hygienists. I was rather dumbfounded.

She explained that although this may be a less profitable approach, it helped her better “know” her patients’ teeth. She told me a little about her kids and how proud of them she was; no big sale–just a friendly chat. Along the way she mentioned that although her practice is small, at the end of the day she always feels good about the work she does.

I noted that I likely had work that needed to be done, given the results of my check-up and the procedures that were suggested two years ago. She looked closely at the x-rays and explained that although she’d love to sell me something, I really didn’t need any of it.

My appointment concluded with no brochures or work-orders for expensive (and apparently unnecessary) procedures. I simply left with a clean set of teeth.

The next big social network

Although “Mr. Shiny” had seemingly perfected the dental-business process, it felt as though he had foregone the actual practice of dentistry in interests of running a bigger, better, faster machine. Thing is though, I don’t go to the dentist for a big-screen television, high-tech gizmos, or to get the “perfect smile”. In fact, my dental requirements are rather simple: I like my teeth to be clean, and I want to have situations addressed before they become problems. That’s all.

The dentist I finally ended-up with simply concentrated on doing her job well. While so many of us are overwhelmed by the many things we could do to market our companies, I believe hers is in fact a much better way to do so.

Within five-minutes of leaving my new dentist’s office I called my parents to talk about how great the experience was. Since then I have told no fewer than ten people the same story. I’ve even started conversations with friends noting, “Do you have a good dentist? If not, I just found an amazing one!”

Now, there are thousands of companies who are ready to “sell” you social media. In fact, many present it as a “do or die” necessity. Now, I think social media is great and I agree that it helps us do a lot of things that we couldn’t have before. Nevertheless, it’s not a magic bullet and the sky won’t fall if you don’t use it.

I can’t find a Facebook page, Twitter profile, RSS feed, or even a website for Dr. Kerstin Conn. Fact is, she doesn’t need any of that. By simply concentrating on what’s in her client’s best interests, she’ll have people (like me) singing her praises in that upcoming new social network called “the real world”.

On a somewhat unrelated note…

After years of promising, I’m actually getting pretty close to publishing my first book. If you want to buy a copy (and in-turn pay for my kids’ inevitable braces), just send me an email:, and I’ll notify you once it’s ready to go.

Follow @karj to hear about these posts first.

Comments & Trackbacks

  1. Pingback: Social Media has its place, just not everywhere — Shooting at Bubbles

  2. Pingback: Our Own System » Blog Archive » Part Deux: Marketing is everything, especially the “process” stuff

  3. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for ideasonideas - Eric Karjaluoto discusses design, brands and experience » Blog Archive » A tale of two [] on

  4. Pingback: Our Bookmarks: May 11 - May 17, 2009

  5. Pingback: Our Bookmarks: May 11 - May 17, 2009

Voice Your Opinion

Thoughtful and critical comments are welcomed, and we ask that you use your real name (just seems fair, doesn't it?). Offensive, derogatory, and dim-witted remarks will be removed or result in equally mean-spirited finger-pointing and mockery.


Not published