The machines will never do everything

I wrote recently about the expanding digital landscape, and today I’m going to tell you why I believe that, despite this trend, machines will never do everything.

The machines will never do everything diagram

This graphic is an evolving hand out from my presentation in the Practice Plan Business of Dentistry Theatre at The Dentistry Show.

In simple terms, I am suggesting that every process in a red box can be automated but that every process in a green box requires effort by people as well as their own “human touch”.

The machines will never do everything...

The people processes include:

• Networking – in your local B2B and B2C communities;
• Publishing – creating and collating excellent content for your social channels, white papers and newsletters;
• Speaking – wherever you can, to potential user groups;
• The Patient Experience – no machine can ever replace a smile and the words “how can I help you?” or “no problem, leave it with me, I’ll get it sorted.”
• The TCO Assessment;
• The Dental Consult;
• The Tx Plan Presentation and Options Meeting;
• Conversion – the final (and ethical) encouragement to answer any concerns or objections and help a prospective patient to say “YES”.

No matter how much more sophisticated The Digital Landscape becomes, The Human Touch will still be the factor that makes people buy as customers and become clients for life.

Paradoxically, no matter how emotional and passionate your people are, how good at The Human Touch, they and you will fall behind if you do not embrace The Digital Landscape.

What makes a good TCO?

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By Nikki Berryman

I have been training Treatment Coordinators for over 3 years now and I’m still blown away by the confidence that a structured training workshop gives our delegates. There is so much more to the TCO role than ‘selling’ treatment: for me it’s about outstanding customer service, great communication and listening to the patient’s needs.

I think most delegates are worried about the role being ‘hard sell’, when actually it’s about delivering a wonderful patient journey and essentially treating a patient like you would a member of your own family, simply by recommending the very best treatment options available.

For most TCO’s this is a bit of a light-bulb moment. They begin to truly understand the concept of the role and feel comfortable with it. From there on, their confidence and ability to communicate well seems to grow rapidly. Watching this happen is fantastic, very rewarding and delegate feedback tells me that this is easily the most positive aspect of the training.

So what makes a good TCO? Many different skills are required. Firstly, I usually find that Dental Nurses make really great Treatment Coordinators, this is because they have in-depth knowledge and understanding about treatment options, how treatment is carried out, lifespans and appointment scheduling.

If a patient comes to a practice for help or advice it’s important that a TCO is able to explain treatment options to patients in a manner that is easy to understand, using language that is positive and non-threatening. This shows professionalism, knowledge and a true understanding of the services you offer – after all, you wouldn’t choose to buy a car or a kitchen if the sales assistant wasn’t able to give you detailed product information and was lacking in basic customer service skills.

I think the second main skill required is the ability to communicate exceptionally well. And by communicate, I mean understanding that great communication is not always about talking; it’s about being able to listen, using body language to acknowledge that you are listening and showing empathy whilst ensuring your posture remains welcoming and warm. This also means maintaining eye contact and smiling when a patient is telling you their story.

It’s crucial that TCO’s are aware of their body language and the impact that negative body language has to a successful consultation. From clever questioning during the consultation, the TCO will become aware of the patient’s concerns and their desired outcome. The ability to communicate the treatment options well is essential.

Treatment Coordinators need to make a conscious effort to slow down the pace of delivery, ensure clear, jargon-free enunciation and describe the treatments in a positive manner. It takes practice to be able to do this well and I work closely with all delegates to ensure they understand the importance of great communication.

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The expanding digital landscape

Expanding digital landscape

Following my recent posts on the digital landscape in dentistry, many clients and friends have commented and suggested some additions – so a new graphic has emerged and I thought I would remind and update you as to what each circle represents.

My prediction is that one of the ways in which the independent practice of the future will differentiate will be in the use of The Digital Landscape to automate processes, both clinically and non-clinically, without losing the human touch.

So when I say “digital” what exactly do I mean?

• Dentistry – the use of digital equipment to manufacture dental products and deliver clinical outcomes;
• Tx Planning – a change here from the previous graphic that mentioned Digital Smile Design. The old title is becoming a product name, whereas the new title acknowledges the fact that new systems are (and will be) emerging in the market. So, the use of imaging technology to enhance the treatment planning experience for the patient;
• Care – some readers are encouraging me to make more reference to long-term care systems, in order to balance the “hype” around new business acquisition. My intention is to write more about this, from the perspective that your existing recall systems are often poor. I believe that recall and reactivation can be digitised in a way that will increase patient engagement;
• Scheduling – two market leaders have appeared in the delivery of independent online booking systems filling the gap created by the surprising lack of initiative from the existing practice management software providers. The technology exists now in abundance to facilitate booking and scheduling appointments via cloud-based systems, thus enhancing the user experience in a connected economy;
• Education – Dhru Shah wrote eloquently about this and we featured his comments as a guest post recently. I have nothing to add;
• Marketing – don’t get me started again! This blog is full of my thoughts on digital marketing – please refer back to everything I have said about automating your marketing systems and embracing the Lifecycle Marketing process;
• Management – metrics will allow you to pilot your business more accurately and efficiently towards your goals. The big software providers have cottoned on to the fact that users want more data that can be turned into profit. Independent organisations like Welltime have created packages that can measure KPI’s against benchmarks. As the business of dentistry moves inexorably towards MBA standards, then more metrics will be required.

As I write this I realise that the debate could go on:

• Digital recruitment – using the web to find new people;
• Digital HR – cloud-based appraisal systems such as 7geese
• Digital compliance

I am sure you can add to this list.

The dental business of the future is a digital business.

In 10 years from now we will hardly recognise the way that the top independent practices function.

Do you want to be one of them?

Letters from a perfect imperfectionist: Such sweet sorrow

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There comes a point in your career as a manager or an owner when you have to say “goodbye” to an employee, sub-contractor, supplier or client – simply because their core values and your core values don’t match.

Sometimes the money side of the relationship is good, the performance of the individual is acceptable but every time they call, email or walk in the room, your heart sinks a little because the way they behave rubs you up the wrong way.

The love has gone (and perhaps, on reflection, it wasn’t love at the outset, it was just a need or an addiction that had to be satisfied and you called it love to rationalise your decision – your intuition was over-ridden by circumstances).

There is no easy or good way to say “goodbye” because, no matter how you flower up the language, the listener feels rejected and they will immediately launch into that well-known 5-stage cycle of:


The challenge here is that “moment of truth” when you deliver the bad news and the supporting paperwork.

Sticky Note Message isolated on white

To describe this as an emotionally charged situation would be an understatement. In fact, some people will trigger the first 4 stages of the cycle simultaneously – so ‘EXPLAINING” the thinking behind your decision is akin to leaping out of your car and explaining to a pensioner you knocked down at a pedestrian crossing how late you were for pilates.

I am frequently asked how to handle such a meeting, whether it is with a practice manager, associate or team member who is about to walk the plank.

Answer – keep it short, deliver the news and request an early close to the meeting with the option of a return to discussion at a later date, when emotions have calmed.

At that later meeting, it is unlikely that any benefit will accrue from either party discussing how they feel about the situation, just deal with the situation.

As a friend once said about one of my social media stalkers “Chris, if you invented a cure for cancer, he would still call you a cock”.

Good, even though harsh, advice.

Once the grim deed is done – heed the experience of those who have gone before you.

Do you really want someone turning up in your business for a notice period whilst they work their way through the 5 stages?

Almost without exception, team members and patients will be infected with the negative virus that this person will carry. At best, comments in the staff room and, at worst, patient database downloads and headhunting (I’ve seen it all).

So, a payment in lieu of notice can often be a much better solution for your business.

A final point – none of this should ever be done without the advice of a good employment law or contract professional to make sure you have no Achilles heel.

And the good news is…

And the good news is

I sat down during a recent afternoon working at home, cuppa by my side, to read through my latest copy of Dentistry Magazine.

Always welcome as a source of news and views – my chance to stay connected to the pulse of the profession and the business of dentistry.

OK – the issue date was 2nd April 2015 – so a modicum of merriment was expected.

Sadly, the only spoof was the news that FMC were opening a dental school – I know Ken has tried his hand at most things and has more titles than Westeros has houses. Saw through that one though as soon as I read it.

I did, however, agree with the ever-informed Kevin Lewis when he suggested that some of the other stories in the news were of equally seasonally foolish quality:

A&E doctors taking leave at Christmas to go back in as locum workers on up to 300% higher pay
35% of children embarrassed to smile
29,000 UDA’s contracted to a 2-chair practice in 2014-15 (and we know what happened next)
an increase (over 5 years) from 81% to 91% in the number of dentists expecting to be sued
47% of surveyed dentists reporting to the BDA that they have low levels of life satisfaction
53% of patients wanting to talk to a real person before they buy (only 53%?)
a 1.34% pay rise for GDP’s
a 4% drop in smoking cessation (matched by an equal increase in vaping)

and perhaps the most ironic of all…..

The 100% disbelief in the utterances of the Chief Executive and Chair of the Ministry of Truth (sorry – the General Dental Council) at their recent Orwellian appearance before the Health Select Committee.

The interesting thing about Dentistry Magazine is that, once you have all the bad news out of the way at the front of the magazine, you can then get on to read the articles that have been submitted by those wishing to sell summat that is going to make you happier/richer/quicker/more modern/secure/professional/clever or tell a personal story of success in surgery or in practice – all of which is good news.

A paradox – why is what is happening next in dentistry so much more attractive than what is happening now?

Perhaps because any focus on the present can easily be depressing – whilst anyone prophesying doom in the future is unlikely to get many column inches – we just don’t want to know thank you.

A lesson that our party leaders could learn from?

I’ve been apolitical all of my life – apologies to those who have suffragettes in their ancestry and others who have been to war to “defend democracy”.

I am actually going to vote at the General Election for the first time since I was in my twenties, for no other reason than to see if there is a UKIP candidate on my ballot paper and then vote for anyone else in descending order of disdain from Conservative to Monster Raving Looney.

Sometimes I simply wish I could just see Sir Paul Beresford’s name as there would be some point in voting for him as a representative of a profession that has provided me with a job for the last 22 years.

I also really enjoy his compering at the FMC award dinners and he was once nice to me in a motorway service station when I approached him, star-struck, and told him as much – surely these are the qualities we need in our leaders?

Irrespective of the outcome of May’s election, dentistry will go on and I’ve no doubt the debates with which we are all tediously familiar will stagger forward like a soap that nobody watches any more except a stalwart troop of slightly nutty addicts (that’s you and me).

Dentistry has been hi-jacked in recent years by investors, fund managers, retailers, marketers and other short-term opportunists, looking to leverage and maximise their financial returns from this small but growing niche in healthcare and beauty.

When practice goodwill values hit 100% in the early 2000’s (from a start of 35% in 1997) I suspected (and possibly wrote) that a bubble was about to burst.

When the banks went bust in 2008, I thought it had.

Then goodwill values rose again – 125%, 150% and, now, 185% of gross for NHS contracts.

A land grab for market share.

Institutional owners chasing towards their next flip-flop or floatation.

Madness in the market.

What on earth will become of us all after the next “pop”?

Having finished my Dentistry magazine and my afternoon tea, I chose to pick up the latest issue of the excellent Business of Dentistry magazine, fascinated as I’m sure you were, to read the in-depth interview with Barry (aka Yosser) Cockcroft.

There has been much emotional speculation in other forums as to the strategy of Practice Plan and their editorial team in choosing to publish this interview – as if the former head of Burger King were interviewed by The Vegan Society and asked for his views on the future of nutrition?

I’ve never met Barry, never had the chance to listen to him and so I approached the BOD article fuelled by nothing other than the shouts of “burn the witch” from the dental proletariat.

I’ll grant him this – he did have the nerve to say that GDP associates have a limited future and that single-handed practices will become extinct in the next 10-15 years as the corporates take over.

A clue, perhaps, to where he sees his own future. His subsequent appearances in other interviews suggests the aforementioned alias.

Credit where it is due, I believe, to BOD for having the nerve and not being FOMM. There is so much criticism of corporates for not taking initiatives that to read the “outrage” at giving the former CDO a platform is a paradox, although I can appreciate the concern that this could be the thin end of a thicker wedge. Unlikely.

I say “well done Practice Plan”. It was an interview that gave valuable clues to the independent owner as to their future strategy, so less hysteria and more appreciation for the insight.

Am I right in thinking that we don’t have a CDO at the moment?

Let’s make this really entertaining and give the job to the person who comes last in FMC’s Dentistry Top 50 – that would create an election campaign far more interesting than the one we are currently enduring.

Ah well – that was a lovely tea-break.

Time to take the dogs for a walk.

Practice Management Conference 2015

I will be speaking about ‘the future of marketing your practice’ at this year’s Practice Management Conference (s) – I hope to see you there!

Practice Management Conferences 2015

Find out more (and book now!) by visiting:

Guest post: Digital education

Digital Education


Firstly, thank you for including digital education into your graphic. I promised you an essay…


Chris I saw your graphic and read your post. It showed how digital is taking the fore in many ways… digital marketing, digital dentistry and digital smile design. Of course, you pointed out the “Circus” coming to town and I felt I had to include digital education into this.

In fact, while I was posting that very item about digital education, this article also came to my mind:

The truth is using digital technology – information is now being disseminated far, wide and at a super pace.

Think about this – in historical terms, dentists went to conferences to go listen to speakers. However now the speaker’s time is limited, or some of them – the fees are so high that in economic terms (time or financially)  it becomes very very difficult to have one person flying to multiple locations. After all they are delivering a lecture, that can be done accessibly via other means. That is what the article I just linked you to above suggested. One teacher in one location – but educating the world.

Digital education is happening much more powerfully in many other fields. Dentistry is being slow to adapt to this but it is only a matter of time.

Allow me a little plug here – when we once did a tubuleslive from London, we had viewers from Costa Rica, South Africa, Germany, Malaysia, Ireland, UK and more countries all interacting together with the lecturer. Global education at its best. And that is how digital education will make education more accessible and also how it will create a huge ethos of learning together.

Another example is the Khan Academy that is using maths as their subject. It’s global growth has been such that even Bill Gates complimented the founder. Digital is taking education to new heights.

My experience has been in developing dentistry’s digital education resource and I can tell you, kicking or dragging the speakers, the educators and the delegates need to be involved fast.

In fact a recent world first international online endo congress organised by a colleague in Portugal, drew in 10,000 (yes ten thousand) registrants globally.

No congress in dentistry has achieved that yet.

At much less expense the information and knowledge was delivered to many many more people, and in a format that is accessible, reproducible and repeatable.

Which then takes me to your blog post. The circus in town. When digital education becomes powerful, when dental people stop messing about and learn to spend protected time learning about the information, the lectures in this highly accessible format of digital – they will understand more and digital will deliver the kind of knowledge that the circus will be unable to keep up.

Tubules is building that highway. Digital education is a highway that one will need to adopt sooner or later.

Like a famous coach once said, be there or be left out!

Dr Dhru Shah

Specialist in Periodontics BDS MClin Dent Perio M.Perio RCS Edin


My vision: Take education to the world. Watch my passion at

Letters from a perfect imperfectionist: Growing up the son of a ‘Mad Man’

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A guest post:


There are many memories of the so-called “golden era” of advertising that are conjured up expertly by Matthew Weiner’s TV show ‘Mad Men’ on AMC Networks. Largely, it is the effort to create a world that somehow captures the excitement of an era that stood for unyielding possibility. For someone like me, who was a small child during those years, with a father who may have been the model for someone like Don Draper, the show is an inescapable reflection of just how great that era really was. And this is why the end of ‘Mad Men,’ which airs its final episodes starting – ironically enough – on Easter Sunday, April 5th (in the ‘Mad Men’ era, clothiers such as Robert Hall would have flooded the airwaves with enticements for fathers to take their sons shopping for a new suit, or two) is an indelible reminder of what we have lost along the way.

My father, Warren Pfaff, was the creative director at J. Walter Thompson, the world’s largest ad agency at the time, for most of the 1960s. It was his work that yielded many iconic slogans, lyrics, and campaigns, from McDonald’s ‘You Deserve a Break Today’ to the Marines “We’re looking for a few good men” to Pan Am’s “Get out of this country…get out of this world. Pan Am makes the going great.”

Even as a small child, I was caught up in the excitement of the advertising revolution that was occurring. The sun-room study in the house where I grew up with my brother and sister was a mini-playback studio, with an Ampex quarter-track reel-to-reel deck, on which Dad’s demos and finished product were played. Dad’s return from Seattle in 1968, where he shot the original ads for the Boeing 747 that Pan Am debuted, was epic: Pan Am toy planes and other trinkets were major prizes for someone who would soon become obsessed with the Apollo missions to the moon (something captured beautifully in the previous season of ‘Mad Men’).

One of my first visits to New York City was to visit a cut-out of the 747 plane that was in the Pan Am building (now Met Life Building) just atop Grand Central Station (where we came into the city, from nearby Stamford, Connecticut), and adjacent to the Graybar Building, where my father’s office at J. Walter Thompson was located. The world of New York City, in 1968-1969, was as Olympian as it could get for a small child. We were all “going places” and it seemed that all that aggressively positive energy was somehow emanating from a place called home.

The Son Of A Mad Man

My father’s return from the Clio Award ceremony in 1970 woke me from my sleep. I went downstairs, heard the gleeful good news of his winning an award, and when he handed me the gilded trophy, I prompted dropped it on my big left toe. He spent the whole night with me, icing my toe and foot, and eating Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, while we listened to the radio. He had spent plenty of early mornings with me and my siblings having breakfast, after having spent the entire night working in a recording studio, or making a client deadline.

The Pan Am campaigns that epitomized the Madison Avenue 1960s era were a reflection of the creative power of the ad industry. Pan Am produced an album of Steve Allen’s arrangements of the ‘Pan Am Makes the Going Great’ theme; Steve and Edie did the song in their nightclub act, and even Sammy Davis, Jr. did his own hip version of the song. Advertising didn’t need to license music for ads back then. The music industry came to the ad world for its cool. Can ya dig?

Like many of his profession at the time, my father came to advertising as a way to make a living, when the theater and other creative arts proved far less lucrative (he acted with the likes of Zero Mostel and Burgess Meredith and was successful at greeting cards, but advertising was a noble creative endeavor with a steadier paycheck). And, in the ‘Mad Men’ era, advertising was a creative business, well captured in the TV show (although, no creative would be caught dead wearing a full suit at work. That tie was untied, if not taken off when at work, with shirtsleeves rolled up).

My father was as much of a restless creative maverick as anyone. He left J. Walter Thompson to start Warren G. Pfaff, Inc. in 1971, launching his concept of an advertising “cartel” with a 2-page ad in the New York Times on April 19, 1971, with $14,000 of his own money. He received 1,600 letters within two weeks (only one was negative). His friend and industry muse, the New York Times’ longtime ad columnist, Philip Dougherty, had given him major ink to help push that effort along.

Dad merged that firm with McCaffrey Ratner in 1990. His office at 505 Park Avenue – with a penthouse wrap-around terrace – had the largest round oak table in a conference room I have ever seen to this day, and standing ashtrays filled with butts, were a mainstay image. He and his small band of creative and account men even built out a screening room off the reception area that was state-of-the-art. It was the scene of a company family holiday party in 1972, where the Marx Brothers ‘Duck Soup’ was screened. My father’s last office was at 185 Madison Avenue, across from the old B. Altman department store. He had the last agency to have an actual Madison Avenue address, and he moved out just a few months after B. Altman had closed for good.

Dad passed away in 2004, a victim of lung cancer, but he was working on ads up until his death. I think that he would have loved the portrayal of the New York ad world that ‘Mad Men’ conjures so well (particularly the pre-1966 era). It would be almost like – going home.

Chris Pfaff
CEO, Chris Pfaff Tech/Media LLC
Business Development, Strategic Marketing & Public Relations
Member, Producers Guild of America New Media Council East
9 Valley Place
Upper Montclair, NJ 07043
973-509-6565 (office)
973-860-0734 (efax)
973-509-8087 (fax)
201-218-0262 (mobile)
cpfaffnj (Skype)
pfaffchris (Twitter)

Letters from a perfect imperfectionist: There’s no such thing as…

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There’s no such thing as…

Get results quick
The easy way
Done for you
Passive revenue
Secrets of success

“The sure-fire formula that has helped thousands of people just like you to escape from their day-to-day struggle, unleash their potential and enjoy a trouble-free life”

So why, I ask myself, is the internet and my local bookstore so full of this?

And why does it sell?

Is it because we are all really waiting for that magical moment when nobody else dumps their load on us, nothing else breaks and no more situations go wrong?

There's no such thing as

Live completely on your own and you will end up talking to a volleyball.

Live with other people and you will spend the rest of your life responding to the challenges they create for you.

Either way around, you will get irritated.

So here is my strategy for life – share this with your kids:

results worth having come slowly – learn patience
the hard way is usually the right way
deal with problems quickly – win or lose is better than procrastinate
delegate 80%, do 20% – figuring out your 20% is important
revenue requires effective effort
success is not a secret – it is contagious – hang out with successful people
when it comes to the self-help stuff, read about those who have genuinely overcome adversity and made a success of themselves in all walks of life

Perhaps most importantly of all – take the time to give back and pay forward.

“These “letters” are the personal observations of me, Chris Barrow and are not intended to reflect the views of 7connections and its team members, they just give me permission to publish here on the basis that they can keep an eye on me, a bit like a mad relative at a wedding reception. I’m likely to upset the sensitive and outrage the sensible – if you fall into either of those camps then read at your peril.”

On a Friday afternoon in April 2015

On a Friday afternoon in April 2015

On a Friday afternoon in April 2015, I reflect on the questions I have been asked this week in face to face, telephone and on-line conversations:

how do I handle the nervousness of a team who have just been told that we are selling the practice to a corporate?
how do I get the whole team on board with digital marketing, when many of them don’t think it is anything to do with them?
how do I respond to a micro-corporate who have offered to merge with my practice but don’t want to give me any cash?
what do I say in a letter to existing patients explaining that an existing associate is moving on but we don’t have a replacement yet?
how do we grow private sales when our associates are super-busy hitting UDA targets?
how do we facilitate the transition when we have historically referred implant work out to a very experienced clinician but now we want to bring it in-house and our dentist is just getting started?
how do we reduce a growing number of lengthy cancelled appointments?
how do we get our team on board with CRM systems when they have tried and failed with so many in the past and have become cynical?
how do I explain the difference between NHS and private treatment?
how do I get existing patients to join our new membership plan?
how do I tighten our financial monitoring systems?

That doesn’t include the daily emails and social media messages.

Welcome to my world.