Solve Practical Problems.

Solve Practical Problems.

There’s so much talk about algorithms, digital disruption, artificial intelligence and the future of everything, it’s hard to focus on anything, let alone what consumers really want. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t read an article about some group of people who might lose their jobs to robots.

Think tanks, policy pundits and regulators all agree that 40% of American workers will lose their jobs to machines over the next 15 years. Here’s a little bit of comfort to those who think they are going to be replaced by robots anytime soon: We’ve been told this before.

Grand Union was supposed to be the supermarket of the future with a “Quik-Pik” wall of machines capable of dispensing everything from milk to bread to coffee any time of the day or night with no pesky humans involved. The company called it “a mechanical meal for the whole family.” As is often the case, those who dream of automated futures fail to address practicality. Not only did people not want to buy fish from a machine, they certainly didn’t want to do it at three in the morning.

Certain things just don’t lend themselves to automation for many reasons. Consider social factors, like human touch, which is significant in the healthcare profession. Complexity, oversight, lack of scale and safety are big factors as well.

Booking a three-week trip throughout Europe, for example, to coincide with your company’s speaking schedule and client meetings is not something you want to attempt on Expedia or Hotels.com. The sheer complexity demands an experienced travel agent. * If you’re traveling to Italy, by the way, where I often speak and work with clients, I highly recommend Joyce Falcone, who is certified by Condé Nast and Travel + Leisure.

Ordering clear aligners from a mail-order firm is fine for simple tooth alignment or when consumers can’t afford or don’t want to pay for a doctor to oversee a complex case, but that doesn’t mean automation is going to replace every orthodontist. It will change how we do business, and I’ve long promoted this as a good thing for the profession, but please don’t think you’re going to be automated out of existence. It’s simply not practical for a complex industry of our size (i.e., small) that demands human touch.

Also, stop trying to be the “Uber of X.” If you haven’t been paying attention, Uber and Lyft are getting murdered in the stock market right now, following their IPOs, losing billions of dollars every year, have never made a penny of profit and lose money on nearly every ride. Driving around town in a mobile dental clinic or showing up at patients’ homes to deliver clear aligners makes sense in only the most select of markets and only with the most disciplined operators. If you don’t have an extremely rich aunt or group of investors willing to burn money on your behalf, don’t attempt to be the next Uber of anything.

Instead, you should pay close attention to what consumers really want and what never changes. In my market and in nearly every market on the planet, there are still troves of parents who want a trusted authority to treat their child. They want to see a real doctor and they want to receive care without defects, delivered on time by happy employees. They want all of the risk removed. They want to know you’ll do whatever it takes to make them happy and deliver exceptional results. They want to work with someone who truly cares.

Anyone telling you that the parents in your practice don’t pay attention to overjet, midlines or the second molars is lying to you, delusional, treating consumers that are happy with “good enough,” running a low-margin operation, or all of the above. This doesn’t mean their approach is wrong, by the way. It just means you shouldn’t apply it to your high-margin practice. That’s akin to Lebron James taking jump shot advice from a hockey player. The advice might not be that bad and might actually be accurate for someone else, but I wouldn’t build Lebron’s career on it.

Let your consumers be your guide. Know them. Serve them. Deliver more value than everyone else in your market. Anything else is not only inappropriate but also impractical.

Worked at Burleson Orthodontics. Attended University of Missouri–Kansas City. Lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

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