Implantology: dentists’ perceived quality and patients’ new needs

Several quantitative and qualitative surveys carried out internationally by Key-Stone to analyze the perceived image of the main implantology brands have highlighted how the quality perceived by dentists has undergone a real transformation: the dentists are showing new needs and a change in the value system driving their choice of the implant brand, as well as their purchasing behavior.

The shift in the implantologists’ expectations and in the selection process

Change in patients’ demand and stiffened competition among dental practices, well noted by many manufacturers and distributors in the sector: these are the main drivers that have strongly changed the market of implantology. The shift in the needs and expectations of implantologists has led to a change in the relationship between dentists and suppliers, thus impacting the entire process of implants selection. It is in this dynamic picture that in the last pre-pandemic years we have observed both an increase in the number of practices offering implantology treatments and a strong turnover of brands used (about 40% of dentists have changed brands in the last five years), a sign of some tacit dissatisfaction with the value proposition of the brands or the evidence of the not-always-met implantologists’ expectations.

Quality perceived by implantologists: from the technique to the sphere of relationship and customer care

Through various studies carried out at European level, we have analyzed the dentists’ perception about their own dental practice business development, as well as their purchasing activity, their satisfaction with the main brands and their choice behavior, not to forget the coverage and performance of the leading brands.

In the patterns of the perceived quality experienced by implantologists, we move from purely technical and functional considerations to opinions involving more the relationship and assistance given by the supplier, its services and its brand image.

The concept of “expected quality”

Through the analysis of the implantologist’s satisfaction with the manufacturer, Key-stone’s research shows how the concept of “expected quality” by dentists is based on four macro-areas:

  • Innovation and scientificity
  • Technical benefits
  • Training and customer care
  • Convenient price

Innovation and scientificity

The items concerning the first area of interest “innovation and scientificity” are related to the concept of reliability of the supplier. This is an area often associated with longstanding and highly prestigious international brands. The items are mainly related to the reputation of the manufacturer and the brand, than to the product.

Technical benefits

The items of the “technical benefits” area depend on the intrinsic characteristics of the products themselves rather than on the brand. In this area, the experience gained by the implantologist with that specific product is relevant. This is true in the relationship not only with well-known brands, but also with less prestigious suppliers the implantologist is already familiar with.

Training and customer care

The “training and support” area concerns items such as clinical and technical training, but also aspects relating to the personal relationship with brand representatives and suppliers, as well as to the customer support services provided by the manufacturer.

Convenient price

The “convenient price” resulted as an essential factor of implantologists satisfaction. However, the research also reported that dentists prefer a price aligned with the perceived benefits and not necessarily cheap. In general, an “excessively affordable” price positioning, even if judged positively by a large number of dentists, is nearly always associated with the concept of “necessary compromise”, rather than total quality.

The concept of “total quality” in implantology

As shown in the image, the items determining the dentists’ purchasing process (excluding price) fall under a concept of “total quality”, characterized both by technical and innovative aspects, and by elements more related to the technical-clinical support and to the personal relationship.

International players vs Local champions

If we observe the horizontal axis referring to the quality as proposed in the image, we see how if large companies (“international players”) are more often positioned in the area of innovation and of the scientific and technical aspects, local companies (defined ” local champions “) cover the area of training and customer care, which is closer to the personal relationship with dentists. Their positions are independent from the vertical axis, which indicates the perception of a more or less convenient price as offered by the manufacturer.

Changes in the needs of implantologists

Key-Stone’s recent international surveys show that frequently, the driving factor to evaluate implant solutions different from those currently adopted (when these choices are not dictated by purely economic reasons) comes more and more often in pursuit of greater ease of use, training, customer care and close relationship provided by the supplier. An improvement that is therefore needed no longer only from the point of view of technical performance, but through quality aspects relating to the simplification of procedures and company closeness to the dentist, in terms of support and training.

The new post-pandemic scenario

Patients’ needs

The outbreak of the pandemic has led to a change in the patients’ needs, with a focus on the demand of the low-middle class population. A quality treatment offered nonetheless at affordable prices involves the development of systems characterized by an excellent value for money. In this market segment, characterized by the so-called “value” brands, the local champions – if present – stand out, generally identified with competitive prices (although not cheap), perception of high quality and solid scientific literature.

Opportunities for producers

This results in a competitive scenario where international players, in order to maintain their position, will have to focus on a diversified portfolio. The mid-range brands or local champions, instead, will have the opportunity to seize this opportunity to their advantage, exploiting this increased need for quality systems at convenient prices.

 The dentist’s offer

From the dentist’s point of view, it will be increasingly frequent to diversify the offer by combining an innovative and “no compromise” implant with more affordable options with adequate quality, to meet the aforementioned greater demand for this type of implants.

In this scenario, technical support, training and close relationship with the clinicians will therefore play a key role.

The Dental Office Manager

More and more often we talk about the role of the office manager also in the dental field. But what kind of professional are we talking about? And in which context does the need to train and include in the dental practice a professional figure with such a unique background for the Italian dental business emerge?

The shift in dentistry

Even before the reorganization caused by the pandemic, dentistry presented a scenario characterized by strong dynamics of change. It deals with an evolving market, where offer must keep up with the frequent reorganization of demand and the creation of new standards. 

Dynamics of the dental offer: hypercompetition

The competition is increasingly intense and characterized by two elements:

  • the participation of competitors with a more marketing-oriented approach and organized to pursue profit and scalability goals.
  • foreign investors and funds joining the market.

Different patients and crisis of demand

The demand is also not immune to change and reveals a new patient profile:

  • increasingly solicited by marketing and communication activities
  • informed
  • demanding
  • attentive to the quality of dental services
  • more difficult to attract and, therefore, to build their customer loyalty.   

The dental office’s ability to react: planning and differentiating

From a strategic point of view, the dental practice wishing to react to the changes in market should apply a structured planning and control system: planning and differentiating are the key concepts of the growth process.

It is essential to know that planning does not mean having your own point of view on what will happen and, based on these hypotheses, making strategic decisions related to your business. Predicting is not enough! It is necessary to go further and, once the possible scenarios have been hypothesized, to choose a certain future to pursue and achieve. It is a path that must be built over the medium and long term, through the organization of resources and activities, according to the objectives to be achieved.

The dental offer as a “consumer experience”

In this climate of transformation and adaptation there are now many dentists who feel a certain discomfort, which we could consider as to be of attitudinal type. If the patient evaluates and chooses the practice by looking online or “coming across” the dental office by chance, or after having detected it through a sign or advertising, and not only through traditional word of mouth, the relationship that is being developed with it will be similar to the one with a company (albeit providing health services). In these cases, the dental offer is unfortunately felt according to a “consumer experience” model, typical of a purchase occurring in other sectors and the relationship of trust between patient and professional loses slightly its importance (in the selection phase) in favor of classic brand selection patterns.

Today many dentists therefore find themselves facing this new challenge because the competitiveness of the offer is also based on the patients’ perception (perceived quality), beyond the quality of care received (objective quality), with a greater weight given to interpersonal relationship, extra clinical services, etc.

The value proposition of the dental office

To ensure the social recognition of the practice, it is therefore necessary to define an effective and differentiating value proposition.

The value proposition:

  • is a promise of unique benefits (different from the competitors’ ones)
  • is related to the entire organization
  • can be addressed to the whole target audience or to groups of customers (segments) with similar needs for specific services.

It is a fundamental pillar in the business strategy because it answers the question: “Why should clients / patients choose our practice and its range of services?”.

How to define the value proposition of the dental practice

The steps necessary to define it are as follows:

  • Identify the primary target audienceof the clinic, or the groups of customers (segments) in the case of a specific services range. These target groups are generally characterized by similar clinical needs, but they also look for services in more general terms, positioning, style of perfornance of the treatment, etc. For differentiation purposes, it is essential to define what recipient the offer is addressed to.
  • In order to define a recognizable offer, it is necessary to know the competitors, their offer and the customers they address to, in order to evaluate how competitive the offer is.
  • After having analyzed target groups and competitors,  the overall offer of the clinic  (type and range of services, system of services, pricing policies, performing methods) should be developed with the aim of providing benefits that are an appreciable solution with respect to needs and potential wishes of the target audience and as an alternative to the competitors’ offer.
  • Finally, the value proposition must be formulated clearly, coherently, effectively then, the patients should be made aware of it. Patients must perceive the actual value proposed to them, identifying themselves with the recipient of the offer and recognizing its benefits. The effectiveness of the communication is, in fact, strictly correlated to its consistency with the value proposition and with the selected target.

The foundations for a solid and lasting future

Formulating the dental practice’s proposal in these terms is useful to:

  • obtain a competitive advantage,crucial for success and prosperity over time
  • gain useful data for the development of operational plans.

Within this context, strategic decisions and entrepreneurial activities range from the coordination of human resources and delegation processes, to the definition of the budget and constant monitoring of the performance, passing through the effective management of patients, collaborators and of the office in general, thanks to the most modern techniques.

Strategic analysis is necessary and based on adequate KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), with the aim of assessing strengths and weaknesses and considering environmental opportunities and threats. To lay the foundations for a solid and lasting future, after the strategic analysis, it is useful to implement an action plan.

The importance of business management, besides clinical quality

From the point of view of growth, the traditional practice should go from being only a place where the dentist provides high-level specialist healtcare, to be an organization where it is acknowledged the importance of the extra-clinical aspects of management, marketing and budget control of the clinic and of the resources.

Of course, except for cases where dentists are particularly interested and work almost “full time” on the subject, it is practically impossible for the dentist to personally handle all these aspects in a constant and structured manner, especially considering the increasingly high standards required by patients and by the organizational system (planning and control), which, as anticipated, are more and more often achieved thanks to two fundamental drivers: clinical quality and business management.

The dental office manager: a unique and complete profile within the dental context

And so here are the dynamics and the scenario in which the need to delegate pure management activities to a specific professional, the so-called “Dental Office Manager”, has developed. 

In fact, this managerial figure represents the operative maker of the strategic decisions in the hands of the dentist-entrepreneur, to whom he reports regularly and with whom he collaborates directly. He is responsible for coordinating the daily operations of the dental practice, focusing on the patients’ needs and company objectives, with the aim of making the business more profitable.

The profession of the dental office manager: duties

The dental office manager is an extra-clinical managerial figure specialized in the dental sector and covering different roles, including:

  • business development in general
  • specific marketing activities for customer retention and acquisition of new patients
  • strategic planning of the agenda
  • organization of human resources
  • planning and control of the dental office as a whole
  • cost and performance analysis of individual professionals
  • management of budget forecast and results.

Training and knowledge of the dental office manager

Generally, the dental office manager attended business schools, but it is not mandatory. The background of this figure must include:

  • a specific training, obtained by attending the numerous courses available, which must however be multidisciplinary (project planning, marketing, analytical accounting, management and HR organization, etc.)
  • a continuous professional updating
  • an in-depth knowledge of the main Office application packages, in particular Excel for all “off-system” processing activity.

This concept of out-of-the-system implies some essential aspects that should be present in every dental practice:

  • the use and familiarity with the management software
  • the quality and completeness of the data entered by the whole team
  • the presence of the data extraction function in the software used: nowadays it is not possible to have a software limited by pre-set statistics, without the possibility of conveniently extracting all the information, in order to re-elaborate it in a personalized way by the user’s analytical intelligence.
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