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More referrals, fewer no-shows and higher case acceptance? It’s not too good to be true. Dr. Chris Phelps, a best-selling author and the only dentist with Cialdini Method Certified Trainer credentials, is Reese’s special guest on this episode of Dentist Money™. In this show he and Reese explore six ways to positively persuade people when they’re making decisions. As a practice owner, knowing these techniques can help you create a more productive office environment—and build your practice as you get more patients to say “yes” to treatment.
Reese: Welcome to the Dentist Money™ Show, where we help dentists make smart financial decisions. I’m your host, Reese Harper, here in studio this morning with Dr. Chris Phelps. Dr. Chris Phelps, I have been thinking about you for about the last two or three months, man! And you were the person that really surprised me how much interest you had in psychology, and in human behavior, and I just thought, “man, this guy is going to be perfect for our show.” So, welcome to the show! Thank you so much for joining me.
Dr. Phelps: Hey, my pleasure! Thanks for having me on.
Reese: Yeah. I want maybe to have you give everyone just a little bit of background about how you got interested in—I mean, you’re a dentist in Charlotte, obviously, you have a book that is really popular, you speak all over, you just did a workshop in Scottsdale with our friend Mark Costas… you definitely have strong clinical ties, and I know that is still a big part of your life, but how did you get into psychology and human decisions? Why did that become interesting to you?
Dr. Phelps: Yeah, that’s a good question! I think from a personality standpoint, I’ve always been a people-watcher. You know, just content to sit there in a big public place and just watch people go by, you know. Just observing—
Reese: Not in a weird way (laughs).
Dr. Phelps: Not in a weird way, like, I’m going to be following you home later kind of thing. But, you know, just looking, and observing.
Reese: I’m the same way, man! Yeah.
Dr. Phelps: I think there is just this natural curiosity about, what are people doing, and why in the hell are they doing it? (laughs) you know, do they even know they’re doing it? And I think that is kind of where it started, and then it just kind of grew from there. What do they say, necessity is the mother of invention? So, when I sold my two best practices and took over the two worst one, well, I had a big motivational need then to figure out, why are people in my practice doing what they’re doing and not doing what they should be doing? Both from the patient side to associate side to my team side. So, it really lit a fire under me to dig into this more and figure out the why behind it.
Reese: Yeah, I think this is a subject that people don’t realize— like, at least for me, I was kind of ignorant to this early on in my career, and out of necessity, I became more aware of it. It was something where— whether you want to call it design, whether you want to call it behavioral psychology, there is this part of life that some people are really interested and aware and observant of the way people make decisions. Kind of the natural way people make decisions and trying to understand that process, and figure out how to optimize conditions around people so they can make the best choices, right? And then, some people just let life happen to them and don’t really— you want people to do what you want them to do, and sometimes, you will want your way or the highway kind of mentality, but people don’t respond well to that, and people don’t actually always do what you want them to do. Sometimes, they will just do what they are going to do. And knowing what they are going to do is sometimes as important as trying to force them to do something. I just think this area that you’re getting into has a huge effect on understanding patients, understanding how dentists work… and I just I just want to start talking about that, and ask you the question, how many people really know what influences them to make their decisions? What would you say if you asked them that question, “what influences you to make a decisions,” or “how do you make decisions?” How many people do you think would even understand that?
Dr. Phelps: Yeah. I’d say, if you asked them why did they just make the decision they made, 100% of the time, you’ll get an answer, right? It’s easy to rationalize and justify our behavior and our actions after the fact. And our brain intuitively wants to do that. And so, from a dental standpoint, we hear this from our patients. Like, “why didn’t you move forward with that treatment?” And the answer we get is, “because it was expensive.” But the truth of the matter is, was that really the reason why they made that decision? Do they really know what influenced them to make their decision? And the truth is, the majority of people don’t. They just give you the easiest rationalization that comes to them afterwards, which is, we’re too expensive. So the example I give in my workshops is, you know, they did a study out in California where they asked people, “which of these four causes would influence you to decrease your energy usage? Like, which of these causes would literally make you turn off the lights more and decrease your power outage?” And they said, “save the environment. Is that a cause that would influence you to decrease your energy?” You know, less energy saves the environment, yada yada. They did the “save the children,” right? Decreasing your energy usage to provide a better future for the children, and for future generations. “What about the self cause? Reducing energy saves you money, so it’s a benefit for you.” Or, the fourth one was, “reduce your energy usage because currently, the majority of your neighbors are doing so already.” So, kind of ease in the social proof of the consensus message. The evidence that others are doing it, so you should too. And lo and behold, it kind of went in that order. The people rated and said, “well definitely the social cause, if anything, is going to get me to move and take action and reduce my energy.” Like, the save the environment. Then came the save the kids, right? “It’s for the kids” was next, and then the save yourself, right? But the last one was, “well, I’m not gonna change my mind and change my behavior because everybody else is doing it. I’m not gonna do that. That would not influence me one bit.” So, in the second part of the study, they actually went to people’s homes and hung door hangers from their front doors with those specific messages, one per neighborhood. So you had a save the environment neighborhood message. A different neighborhood had an “it’s for the future kids,” and “it’s for you,” and then the fourth neighborhood of course had, “because all your other neighbors are doing it, maybe you should too.” And which of those four do you think— there was only one that had any significant change in people actually reducing their energy usage (laughs).
Reese: (laughs) dude, I don’t know this answer, but I’m doing a big software development project right called “Jobs To Be Done,” and they have these jobs called functional jobs, social jobs, and emotional jobs. So, knowing how powerful the social aspect is, I would have said the neighbors, just because I got done reading this book. Am I wrong, or right?
Dr. Phelps: That’s 100% right. The evidence of being told of what the others are doing was the only thing that influenced them to actually change and decrease their energy usage.
Reese: Oh, that’s funny. Because I think that has a powerful effect on people! In my case, telling people— I mean, a lot of the reason we have people come in and finally get their financial picture really organized and start making financial planning progress is because they feel like some of their friends are doing it, and they feel left out. That’s a big portion. Like, “I should be doing it if Dr. Jones is doing it, so…” you know? But it’s not always those other three motivations that you listed, which is— I mean, I’m not saying it’s always that. But that is a big percentage! I don’t know if— it’s not the majority, but it is a big cross section.
Dr. Phelps: Yeah. And that’s just one of the six principles that I talk about, right, is consensus of social group. It goes back to, ultimately, people really don’t know what influences them to make their decisions in that moment, and there are some pre-suasive persuasive things there and persuasive things that influence them to do so, but it’s easy to rationalize it after the fact.
Reese: You hear people talk a lot about mindsets when it comes to business, right? Your mindset in the practice, being in the right mindset… what does that mean?
Dr. Phelps: Well, it dovetails perfectly into this. Your mindset is all about where you are physically, geographically, emotionally, cognitively, in that moment. That’s what shapes and creates your mindset in that moment. And it’s that mindset that literally helps shape your decisions in that moment. Whatever you are focusing your attention on more, you’re going to give more value to it and more importance to it, simply because you’re focusing on it more in that moment. And, you know, we all have different mindsets, you know? We might have a mindset at work of success, or a collaboration, you know? And then when we leave work, your mindset changes. You may be driving home, and you have a mindset of relaxation, or relief, or maybe frustration, because you’re trying not to kill the person who keeps pumping their breaks in front of you (laughs). And then when you get home, you have a family mindset; you have a social mindset with your friends. So, mindsets are these fickle little things that are constantly changing depending on where we are physically, geographically, emotionally, cognitively, all of those things. But it’s key, and that mindset dictates and pre-suades us, if you will, to want to make a decision in a certain way, versus a different way.
Reese: I imagine that doesn’t always make for the most efficient way to develop personally, or to develop your practice most effectively if you’re just always in this responsive mode to your environment, or geography, or emotion, like you’re talking about.
Dr. Phelps: What you pay attention to is where your focus is, and that’s where your mindset is in that moment. But our brains aren’t built to multitask, right? I mean, they can do it, but that shift of focus multiple times like that has a price. That’s why we call it paying attention, right? There is a cost to that attention. And so, doing that— especially at the office, and we’re pulled in so many different directions and different mindsets are created— 8 to 5 and then go home, and then you just described a bunch more… it can be draining, right? It can be exhausting as a result. And here how mindset shapes your decisions. So, let’s say you came home, and you’re still in that work mindset, and you’re like, “I’ve gotta fix this problem that was created at work.” And then instinctively, you run into something at the house, like, a part in the dishwasher is broken, and you just realized it’s broken, and you have this mindset of, “I need to fix the problem,” and here, now, there’s another problem at home. While normally, you may be like, “you know what? I’m gonna call somebody. That’s not really worth my time to fix this thing. I don’t know what I’m doing.” Instead, what do you do? You’re like, “no, dammit! I’m taking control. I’m gonna fix this problem.” And then three hours later, you’re like, “why the hell am I still trying to fix this thing?” (laughs) right?
Reese: (laughs) yeah. I mean, how do people combat that?
Dr. Phelps: The best way I learned how to combat it is, you have to be strategic about it. So, you have to divvy up your days and try as hard as you can to not shift your focus on those days. So meaning, I like to divide the week into three types of days. You have your money days, like your productions days, days you’re at the office, and your mindset should be on your patients, and treatment planning, and building good relationships, decreasing their uncertainty about why they need this treatment, and helping them to motivate action. Those are the influential stuff to get them to move your direction. Not being distracted by emails, and staff issues, and so-and-so wants to talk about a raise out in the hall, right now in the middle of this patient, and all those kinds of things. So, we need more buffer days, or planning days as they call it, where you just spend a day a week, even, is what you could build towards, but at least pick two days a month to start with, and push all of those things that really aren’t production-relation or that don’t help grow your practice to those days. And you deal with all of the paperwork, all of the emails, any team meetings, all those things go on those days so your mindset is focused on them on that moment. And then, of course, you need free days where you need time just for yourself so your brain can literally relax and destress with those things. So, even just trying to segment activities for certain days will help keep your mindset focused. And then training your team on, “hey, we don’t talk about these kinds of things on these days. We do that on these days, and here’s why.” That’s a good first step to protecting your mindset and protecting that energy.
Reese: I think that’s really good insight. I’m going to share one thing that worked for me over the last few months that I had never really realized before, too. I think segmenting your days is critical. One of the reasons that that is useful is that it gives you sort of a concrete goal, or an outcome that you have defined as successful, in advanced. So, in your mind, you have kind of identified, “focusing on production and treatment planning and being the best dentist I can be on this day, that’s my goal.” And when you’re done with that, because you placed that limit or that boundary on what made that day successful, you’re able to walk away from it and feel good, right? However, alternatively, if you said, “well that’s just a part of my day, but there’s a lot of other little things that I might have to do,” meaning, I’m also going to address marketing, I’m also going to have a team meeting, I’m also going to do some networking, I’m also going to— you know, five other projects related to my project management, and I’ll just see how many of them I can get done, right? I’ll just see how many of those I can complete in a day. You have this kind of open loop of, we’ll call it like, ten things and you might get some of them done, but what that does— and a lot of times, that is how I used to operate, right? Like, come in to that day with kind of a really really big list, and just say, “how many of these can I finish?” And I learned pretty quickly that that was a really negative outcome for me, because I could never ever feel like my day was successful. Like, no matter how hard I worked, and no matter how many hours I put in, and no matter how much energy I put into this, I would end up feeling like I didn’t accomplish enough at the end of the day. Because I can’t finish an indefinitely large list of things ever, right? And so you’re just kind of setting yourself up for failure. When you put boxes around things and you say, “this is my tangible goal—” and it could be measurable, like, this much production, or it could be task-oriented, like “I’m gonna focus on production only and be the best dentist I can be today.” Like, if you can place limits on what you define success as on a daily or weekly basis, at least for me personally, that really changed feeling different about my life. I could finally feel like I was doing well. And I don’t know if anyone else can relate to that, but that was something I struggled with.
Dr. Phelps: Oh, it’s huge. What you are describing to me is that you’re telling yourself every day, “here’s my list, I’m gonna run this marathon today,” every day. And every day is a new marathon, right? And the race has to be completed 100%. The expectation versus what actually happens… there’s a shortage. Big time. And that’s what people fall into many times, which is troublesome. Instead of trying to eat the elephant all in one bite, you do exactly what you just said: break it into pieces, and just focus on, “alright. Today, I’m gonna run two miles at this thing, and I’m just gonna get these couple of things done. And then I’m gonna make progress towards some other things. And tomorrow, I’ll make progress on some other things.” And you just keep focusing on those little steps, and before you know it, you look up and you’re like, “crap, I ran a marathon! Wow, that’s kind of cool.”
Reese: Exactly. So, I’m going to ask you this question. And maybe this is me projecting somewhat, but I tend to have a lot of clients and friends who deal with this same thing, which is, they’ll push really hard, they’ll try to define their day, but they’re not able to really turn work off. Like, work is never really done throughout their day. There’s a little bit of time for family or friend interaction. So, they’re getting through that, but they’re going to get back to work as soon as— they don’t view work as kind of this smaller part of their life, it, like, is life, you know? Do you run into dentists that struggle with that? And if so, what advice do you give them? And have you ever been through that yourself?
Dr. Phelps: Oh, totally. I have kind of run into two different types of entrepreneurs, and that is the achieving type and the lifestyle type. Meaning, the lifestyle type will change, adapt, innovate, play the game to win, if you will, until they hit their lifestyle, whatever that means. Meaning, more income is coming in than expenses, they work the hours they want to work, et cetera. And then they change their game from winning to playing not to lose. And they don’t change, adapt, or innovate; they just try to maintain at that point. And they will only change or adapt if their lifestyle is threatened again. Those are the people I see that have an easy time playing golf, vacationing, resting, all those kinds of things. It’s easier for them to turn it off. Versus more of the achieving entrepreneurs— which, I kind of fall into myself, so I can empathize a little bit here— you know, it’s not about the money or the lifestyle, it’s about the next project. The next achievement. The next goal to hit. The next thing to scratch off the list, if you will. And that’s where it gets kind of daunting, because it’s hard to turn that off, so to speak. So, the only advice I can give you is understanding who you are first, and then, number two, trying to create some systems in spite of yourself (laughs). That’s what I have tried to do. So, make some rules and some commitments, more than anything. Because when you actually make a commitment, there is a lot of power in that for you to follow through and do it. But, just do something simple. They call that, “if, when, and then” statements. You know, if, when I walk through, or when I walk through the threshold of my door at home, then I’m going to turn my cell phone off, or put it in a drawer, and I’m not going to mess with it until the next day. And I’m here, focused on the family. Anybody that needs to reach you, they’re either going to figure it out, or they’ll have to call your house (laughs), you know? So just making some simple little commitment statements like that and some rules for yourself can help segment that off and protect that time.
Reese: So, I know Robert Cialdini had his book Persuasion, or Influence and Persuasion… what’s the name of the title of that book? I’m spacing it now.
Dr. Phelps: Yeah, his original one was Influence: The Science in Practice.
Reese: Okay. I got the audiobook a long time ago and listened to it, and it had a huge impact on me and the strategic direction I took with my business, and I know that you’re a Cialdini method certified trainer, which is a big deal! Tell us about Robert Cialdini, and what that means to the average dentist. Why should they care?
Dr. Phelps: Yeah, well first and foremost, he’s kind of the authority on this idea of influence and persuasion. And it goes back to something you mentioned earlier about having to force people to do stuff, and we want them to do things, and so we micromanage them, we tell them to do it as a result. And sometimes, people think that’s what influence or persuasion is, but it’s really not. When you have to tell someone to do something, when you force them to do it, or coerce them to do it, intimidate them, put a gun to their head, “do it or else,” or “do this or you’re going to get fired,” that’s really the other side. That intimidation, hierarchical authority, coercion. And the big difference there is, how do you know if you’ve really influenced or persuaded someone versus just told them to do it or made them do it? It’s what happens when you’re not around. And the old adage, right, “when the cat’s away the mice will play,” meaning, if you’re not around, and the people go back to doing the old behaviours, versus they act completely different when you’re around, well, you know what system you’re in. You just told them to do it, okay? You forced them to do it. So they didn’t feel like they had control of the situation. On the flipside, if you really truly influence and persuade someone, then when they receive that message from you, or they hear it, they see it, they read it, whatever, that message itself changes the way they think. It changes their whole perspective on the topic. And it’s that change in perspective that leads to the change in their behavior. Therefore, when you’re not around, they keep doing the behavior. It never reverts back to the way it was. So we can influence more people to do things instead of tell them to do it, and they’re going to be more productive, happier, and do it over the long run. And Cialdini was one of the first to really pick up on this idea of influence and persuasion, and did his research on, what are the best of the best out there? The big companies, the small companies, who are selling us their products and services, what are they using that really influences us to say yes? And he spent a lot of time taking their sales trainings and stuff and looking for patterns, and that’s when he found his six principles of influence and persuasion. It was what he discovered in his research that everybody was using universally. So, that’s what he did his research on, to prove these things exist and that there is science behind them, and that others can tap into them for the benefit of themselves, and the other people that they’re working with. And that was really the core foundation.
Reese: Do you mind going through some of those with us? Because I think everyone would be interested, like, what are these? And we’ll try to figure out how they might apply to your practice.
Dr. Phelps: Yeah, definitely. So the first one is fairly simple. It’s called the principle of reciprocity. It’s a principle that is biblical, right? It’s as old as time. The golden rule. The idea is, if you give someone a gift of value, there is some internal pressure on them, and they feel obligated to reciprocate it. To give back. You know, if somebody gave you a gift on your birthday, you’re very likely, then, on their birthday, to give them a gift as well in return. Or at least they think you know to acknowledge that give. Gifts, and it could be physical, tangible gifts, like gift cards, or whatever, or it could be intangible things like favors, right? I do a favor for you, so somewhere down the line, you’re probably going to want to do a favor for me to help me out. So there are all kinds of things we give people as gifts, but we don’t really realize it. And there is this moment there of significance where, if you have given someone a gift of value— that was unexpected, and had some meaning to them— and they genuinely thank you for it, if we ask for something in that moment in return, we’re likely to get a yes. And the key word there is, how do you know if you really give someone a gift of value? Whether it meant anything to you or not, and even if they paid you for it! How do you know if you gave them a gift? Because of those two words. When they say, “thank you,” right? Your ears should perks up and go, “hang on. Wait a minute. Thank you. Phelps said something about that.” So, if you actually have something that ethically you could ask for in that moment, that’s actually the time to do it as well. You know, quick example. A lady came in, she called my office, she was in a rush because she had chipped off her front tooth a little bit, but she was a real estate agent and had clients lined up the whole afternoon. She called lots of offices, couldn’t get in, but one of my marketing taglines is “call today, get in today,” so we got her in! And I fit her in at the first of my lunch. I didn’t have to numb her up, and it took me maybe 15-20 minutes to fix the problem. She paid cash for the exam, the x-ray, the filling that I did, and left, and she had a great experience! And on the way out, even though she had just paid me like 600 bucks for the whole thing, she stopped me and she said, “hey, just again, I just wanted to say, you saved my life today. Thank you so much! I can see my clients now. I didn’t feel a bit of pain. You guys are awesome.” And of course I said, “hey! My pleasure. Would you mind telling telling other people that story? Meaning, would you mind doing a Google review for me and just telling that story?” And she was like, “oh my God. I’d be happy to do that for you.” And literally, by the time she got to her car, I got a Google alert that said, “your new review is up!” (laughs) I was like, “oh! Well there you go.” So, again. It’s that key though, is listening for the thank you. Even if it didn’t mean anything to you, and even if they paid you for it, it’s still a gift. People want to reciprocate, and they want to reciprocate as fast as possible. So, that’s reciprocity. Liking is the next principle. We like to do business with people we like! And more importantly, we like to do business with those who are like us. Who have commonalities. Who have similarities. We like those who like us and tell us or show us, so we really like people who praise us or give us compliments. And of course, we like those who cooperate with us. One of the things I try to do from a dental standpoint it, before I get down to the business at hand, I always try to find at least one thing in common that I have with that person. Not just asking your standard dental questions on trying to find out about their family and whatever, but if there is a commonality, “oh, you have two kids? Hey, I have two kids! You have two boys? I have two boys!” Right? “You’re born in October? I’m born in October.” So, even if it’s just a simple little commonality or similarity, point it out! Bring it to the surface, and make sure the other side knows. It’s a small little thing you can do to start building that relationship with that person in that moment, and it has a lot of influence, whether you realize it or not. Consensus, we talked about that, with social proof, which is the evidence of what others are doing—
Reese: That’s the third one, right?
Dr. Phelps: That’s the third one, yeah. It’s going to influence what you’re going to do. The idea is, picture a fish in the ocean swimming at sea. Do fish tend to swim by themselves, or do they like to swim in a school? They like to swim in groups. And we know they like to swim in groups, and why don’t they swim by themselves, typically, for any extended period of time? Because they’re going to get eaten! Bad things happen when you stand out from the crowd. So, that’s what this consensus is feeding off of, right? This internal desire that we want to be individuals, but at the same time, we want to be a part of the crowd, and we don’t want to stand out too much from the crowd. So, if the crowd’s doing something, “wait, crap, maybe I should be doing that too. Maybe they know something I don’t.” And that’s what the social proof is. So the evidence of that, you know, I’ll say that I have over 700 reviews and testimonials, between patients that have filled out forms in my office, to Google, Facebook, all those other kind of things. So, I’ll put those in my advertisements! I’ll say, “hey, we think we’re great, but don’t take our word for it.” To read over 700 more positive reviews about our office, check out our website.” And I know that’s consensus information, sharing evidence of what others think, feel, or do. I know they’re not even going to go to the website to look, because they’re gonna think, “holy crap! They had 700 people say something nice about them? Versus this other add I’m looking at, nobody said anything nice about them!” Huh, which one am I going to choose? The one with the evidence of what others are doing. Authority is the fourth one. Many times, we look to credible experts to tell us what we should do, because we don’t have time to be an expert in everything. And the classic story there is, I thought one time in college I could fix my friend’s toilet. I was at a party, and definitely a few drinks in at this point (laughs), and feeling pretty confident, and his toilet was running after I had flushed it, and I thought, “oh, I could probably fix this. I’ve seen my dad do that a hundred times growing up.” I’m one of those where if I see it, then I think I can do it. So, I take the lid off, and I kind of pick the little balloon up in the reservoir there, and the water stops running, and I’m like, “okay.” It’s usually the chain, or the little rubber seal. And I’m looking around, and while I’m holding the freaking balloon, down underneath the toilet on both sides of it, there’s this little rubber gasket that looks like a door stopper. I don’t know if you ever noticed that thing. I always wondered what it did, but apparently, it does something important. Because the freaking water just went pshhhhhhhh, and it just starts filling up the entire floor. In 30 seconds, I got six inches of water on the floor, and I’m still holding the balloon (laughs), like, “uhhhh, what do I do?” And finally, after my friend yelled through the door to turn off the water valve— and I was like, “wait, what’s that?” (laughs)– I realized in that moment that I am no plumber. And so, if a plumber comes to my house and says that I need a new toilet, well that’s my expert. You’re my authority. Okay, I guess I’m buying a new toilet. Because, again, we don’t have time to be the expert in everything. So, from a dental standpoint, we are the authority, for no other reason than we have an authority trigger in our name called Doctor. So, the Doctor title alone endows some authority to it. The missing link in our practices are, I think, we need to empower our team to be the authorities that they are, at least as viewed by the patient. So, our patients view our team members as technicians, and not as real oral health experts. So, there are several things we can do, even as simple as introducing a teammate to a patient. That introduction act alone, in many studies, shows that the patient is going to value and say they are more confident in that team member and more satisfied with the care of that team member, and view them more as an authority now, and an expert. So now we have my hygienist being the expert telling them they need something, and then I’m going to come in as the second expert and authority, advising them that they need something as well. So, it kind of fits what I call the second opinion phenomenon, which is that whoever gets the second opinion usually gets the business, and that’s why, because it’s another authority telling me I need something done. So, “I guess while I’m here, you seem nice. I’ll do it with you.” So that’s kind of how we can empower our team members to have more authority in the patient’s’ eyes as well. Consistency is the fifth one. This is the one that really opened my eyes, and when I heard Cialdini speak, I was like, “ahh, this one. This is the root cause behind the majority of the problems with my practice right here. This guy right here. So if I can really learn that, and if I can build some strategies around this, I bet I’m gonna see a change in people’s behaviors.” This one is all about— when I say consistency, it’s really about commitments. So think commitments. If you can get a real commitment out of somebody, take a stand on an issue, or whatever, there is a lot of external and internal pressure on them to stay consistent and do what they said they were going to do and follow through. Otherwise, think of it like this: what do we call people who are inconsistent? Do we have any good words to describe people who don’t do what they said they were going to do? Not really, right?
Reese: Uh… lazy?
Dr. Phelps: Flip-floppers, flakes, lazy, liars (laughs), you know? We don’t want to be viewed that way by society, so that’s the external pressure. And then, we have internal pressure, because we want to be consistent with ourselves! So, the idea is, “well, if we can get commitments, and people do what they said they were going to do, then why don’t I see that behavior in our practice? Why don’t people call me back to schedule an appointment when they said they would? Why don’t they refer someone when they said they would? Why don’t they pay their bill on time like they said they would? Well, the truth of the matter is, when you dig into it, it’s because you didn’t get a real commitment out of them. That’s why they didn’t do it. If we can start changing that and get real commitments out of them, suddenly, watch the change in their behavior as a result.
Dr. Phelps: Yeah. And there are so many places to apply this principle with influencing our teams to get stuff done for us, and change for patient behavior, or for treatment planning, decreasing no-shows on the telephone, I mean, there are so many— I could spend a whole hour or two hours on that. But, the last one of course—
Reese: So you’re just saying, find opportunities to get commitments out of people in small, incremental ways at any interaction that you’re having.
Dr. Phelps: At any interaction. If you can get a commitment out of them— so, from a dental standpoint, what I try to do is get them to commit to me early on through my new patient form what their mindset is. What do they value about their dental health? Are they a proactive person, or are they a reactive person? And which would they prefer to be? And what is happening is, I want an 80% committing to being proactive. “Well great, now that you just told me you’re proactive and committed to that statement, I can tie the consequences of what’s going to happen if you don’t move forward with my treatment, that it is going to get worse,” which is what a proactive person wants to avoid, “that it is going to cost you more time, effort, visits, money,” whatever else they value, “by waiting!” And just by getting a simple proactive commitment, it sets the stage for more people to say yes as a result. So, hopefully that makes sense.
Reese: Yeah, it totally does. What’s the last one?
Dr. Phelps: That last one is scarcity. We hit on that earlier. It’s that fomo, the fear of missing out. Scarcity is all about loss. When resources are running out, and truly dwindling, suddenly we want it more now, and we’ll pay more for it as well. Even if we didn’t want it to start with. We care more about what we stand to lose than what we stand to gain. So, picture this right now. Let’s picture— you’re walking down the street, and you find 50 bucks on the side of the road. Pretty cool, right? It’s a pretty good feeling. Maybe you tell some people; maybe you don’t. But what do you think would happen if you had lost that 50 bucks on the way home? You found it, but then somewhere along the way, you lost it. So you still have the same amount of money you left the house with, but how many people do you think you would tell that story to? “Ahhh man, I lost 50 bucks. You’re not going to believe this.” Everybody, right? We care more and focus more on what we stand to lose or have lost than on what we stand to gain.
Reese: Yeah, in investment science, that’s a really important principle, and it portfolio management, that happens all the time. Like, the last seven years have been really above-normal, great equity return years, where people’s portfolios have grown substantially. But people don’t call in when they’re having above-average performance, right? They don’t call in and celebrate. But if there’s ever a decline— like, even if it’s a small decline, than a higher percentage of our clients will call in as opposed to calling in to discuss the above-average wins. I wouldn’t expect them to call in if it is meeting expectation, but it it’s better than expectation, you hope that we would celebrate that, right? But typically, what happens is we are much more concerned with losses than we are gains, and I think that that is definitely a principle that can apply in the practice. So, let’s go back and summarize all six of these really quickly just one more time so people can kind of wrap their heads around these principles, and maybe understand how they— you know, we won’t have time to go into detail about how they all apply, but let’s go through them one more time so we can get a refresher.
Dr. Phelps: Yeah! So, reciprocity, which is all about gifts, right?
Reese: And that was was the gifts, and if I do something for you that’s valuable, and you feel like I’ve done a nice job and done a good job, or provided you with a service that you value, then in that moment is the moment when I can ask for something in return.
Dr. Phelps: Exactly. And the key was— and this is how you know that they really appreciated it or that it meant something to them— if they genuinely thank you or say something positive about it. That’s when you know you’re in that moment, and that’s the time to ask for something, if you have something to ask for.
Reese: So, what’s the second one?
Dr. Phelps: Liking. Liking is all about how we like to do business with those we like. Who we are friends with, if you will, and who we are on the same team as. So, it’s about relationships and finding things in common with people, first and foremost. That I’m like you, right? That we’re like each other. Automatically, if you find some things in common, you build a relationship, you drop barriers, and more people will say yes a s a result. So…
Reese: Yeah. What’s the third one?
Dr. Phelps: Consensus, or social proof. So, what’s the majority doing? What’s the crowd doing? The evidence of what the majority are doing around me is more than likely going to influence me to do the same.
Reese: And that’s where some of the social media comes in, and where some of the— you know, the online review, and the social proof. Sometimes it’s a referral face-to-face after having a good relationship with the patient that results in a direct referral, but a lot of times, it’s a social proof, right?
Dr. Phelps: Yeah, it’s the evidence of what many others are doing. So, I do these wine and cheese events at retirement communities, and I kept getting some of my existing patients to show up for my seminars, thinking that they were getting bored. I’m like, “Mrs. Jones, you’ve heard this five times now. This has to be getting old, right?” And she’s knocking back the wine I brought (laughs), sipping on it and saying, “no, I love these talks!” And I realize that, “okay, I turned this into a social event for your community. That’s why you’re really here.” But I leveraged that, and I said— at the start of my meetings with this group where I have 40 people in the crowd that are potential new patients, I say, “hey, how many of you are patients at the practice? And here six or seven hands go up, and automatically, that starts the consensus ball rolling, just like a wave at a baseball or a football game. The wave doesn’t happen by itself, it starts with the evidence of what just a few others are doing. That influences more, which then influences more! So those people in that room are like, “wow! Look at how many people in my community who live here you there? Huh! Well if they go there, and they’re here supporting them, maybe I’ll be safe to go there to. Alright, I’ll try them out.”
Reese: Okay, number four again?
Dr. Phelps: Authority. We look to credible, trustworthy experts to tell us what we should do.
Reese: And so you’re saying within the practice, the doctor has some of that. But in order for the doctor to be as effective as possible, he needs a secondary reference, right? He needs another sign of authority there with him, which is his team, and you have to build up the team as an authority as well. Which, patients don’t perceive your team to always be an authority.
Dr. Phelps: Correct. They’re looking at them as technicians right now, not the authorities that they should be view as. So…
Reese: Yeah. And you can do a lot to elevate them. I mean, I have seen that really work against doctors when they are not elevating their team and putting them in a position to succeed. The patient can tell by the way you treat them, by the way you let them speak and engage and be a part of the interaction, and the way you talk about your team, so… it’s critical.
Dr. Phelps: Yeah, and think about this: the patients may ask our team members sometimes when we are not in the room, “hey, what would you do?” They’re asking their opinion, but it’s one friend asking another. It’s more the liking principle than anything. It’s even more powerful if this person who they are asking because they like them is viewed as an expert, too. So now, it’s a friend, but it’s a friend who really knows what they are talking about. So, okay. I’m probably more likely to say yes now as a result.
Reese: And no one knows about dentistry, and no one knows about the back end of financial planning that you can understand the quality of the team members at each position, I mean, you really feel like you’re getting three times the value. But if you don’t take the time to sort of express that and display that and show that, it could literally be as simple as everyone that is a new patient gets a simple handout that explains the team that is going to be servicing them, right? And that’s it. But I mean, it’s a big deal for them to just feel like, “it’s beyond Chris Phelps. It’s bigger than him.”
Dr. Phelps: Definitely. It’s like, do you want to be under the care of Reese and his group of people that do work with him, or do you want to be under the help of Reese and his panel of experts that are all working for you? “Ooh, I like the panel of experts. This is kind of cool.” But without knowing— they don’t know what they don’t know, in essence. So, we have to help educate them on that.
Reese: I like it. Number five?
Dr. Phelps: Consistency. If we can get a real commitment out of people, there is a lot of pressure on them to stay true to what they said they were going to do. But the key is, we are getting the wrong types of commitment or not even a commitment at all. So, a simple one is an active commitment. They have to speak it! They have to tell you they’re going to do it. Or write it down is the next level up. If people write things down, they tend to do what they write down and what they said they are going to do. Or, they put money into it! Those are all active commitments. And just by getting one or more of those, more people are going to say yes as a result.
Reese: This opportunity in dentistry, it’s all about communication. By far, the majority of people are capable clinically, but communication is our gap, right?
Dr. Phelps: Big time. And like I said, it’s so amazing when you start changing a few things in your communication style and tapping into some of these principles, and watching them start to turn people around, right? Turning their behavior around. Instead of watching the same pattern repeat over and over again. And it’s a good point about scarcity, because for some people, it’s probably the most abused principle against us, because people use it in an unethical way. But ethically, scarcity is genuine, and it has fear built into it for a reason! If the oxygen was running out of the room where you are right now, you probably want to know that before it runs out so you can be motivated to do something about it instead of just, “oh well, the air’s out! What am I gonna do?” So, fear is natural, and it’s healthy when it’s ethical, and just like I said, when it’s true. When it’s present in a situation, and those things are going to happen. Because ultimately, if people really knew what we knew was going to happen to them for waiting, that it was going to cost them more time, effort, visits, money, pain, the things that they value, most people would prefer to re-prioritize their dental work, and get their dental need, and make it now a dental want, and more forward with it today. They don’t want to let bad things happen to them. Nobody likes that. But all in all, we frame these things, and how we can change their perspective on it. Changing their perspective, changing their mindset, changes behaviors as a result.
Reese: Yeah. Well Chris, this has been great, man. We have outrun our time today, but I think it’s always easier for me, the person on the outside looking in, to make comments about what dentists should do differently to arrive at these commitments, but I do know how hard it is to sort of get to the point where you have mastered these things. And in my own practice in financial planning, I’m sure that all of you, if you got a look at the inside of our practice, could say, “man. You guys aren’t really doing a great job at getting people to make commitments! You’re not doing as great of a job at getting people to understand the consequences of their behavior.” You know, the scarcity idea. Like, you’d see a lot of flaws in my own business that for me are harder to identify, and they’re harder to fix, because I’m uncomfortable. Because now, the table is flipped, and I have to be the one getting a little uncomfortable to tell my patient, the dentist, that this is the consequence of your behavior, and this is the consequence of lacking the commitment you’re making. And I have these same challenges. And it’s easier for me to see what someone else should fix than it is to fix my own case, so… I just want to acknowledge that. Because it’s a challenge, and I think that all of us could do a better job at applying these six principles, man. So…
Dr. Phelps: Well and you’re right, because it is a challenge. And nobody can see their own gorilla, right? The gorilla in the room, standing in front of them sometimes. That’s why it takes getting out of your world, stepping out of your chaos, and coming to a workshop. Because I spend ultimately three whole days sometimes talking about these concepts and teaching these systems. So you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but it’s just understanding them, why they work, and what barriers we are getting around, and then just go put them into action, and watch them work, and start somewhere. So obviously, anybody that is interested in a workshop, come see me. I’ve got some systems, and we can help with that. We can shorten your curve, big time. And just start somewhere!
Reese: Well, we’ll put all your info in the bio. I mean, you have a ton of different businesses that you’re involved in, Chris, that I know are going to be really valuable to our listeners. So, we’ll get all that information in the bio, and we definitely look forward to having you back on, man! You have been a really great guest, and I appreciate all the time you spend it trying to make a difference in the industry. Thanks Chris!
Dr. Phelps: Hey, my pleasure! Thanks for having me on.Practice Management