I had a big shock last week on my way back from Tonga. Upon the recommendation of a client I called into see a dentist for a second opinion on my troublesome tooth. The dentist was Dr Loy at the Caring4smiles practice in Epsom. After one hour with him I had committed to spending the next two years and over $20,000 with him, travelling from Wellington to Auckland to do so. When all I had wanted was advice on one dodgy tooth.
How did this happen?
Quite simply, Dr Loy told me the truth. And was the first dentist in my nearly 50 years of life to do so. It wasn’t pleasant. In fact it was quite horrifying. The truth is a very powerful thing. There are lessons to be learnt here.
But first let me tell you more about Dr Loy. His story is worth telling.
Dr Loy graduated ‘cum laude’ in Dentistry in India in 1978 and started his own private practice in Bombay. He told me how he invested 250,00 rupees in this practice and his ‘uncles’ (indian term for all male relatives) told him he was crazy. The average start up cost for a business was 60,000 rupees. He went out on a limb from day one, believing that if he built it people would come. His commitment from the start was to tell people the truth about their teeth. Within a few years he had so many customers he could no longer drive his own car to work, because people would follow him trying to get an appointment. He was the dentist to the Bollywood stars and could command any price he wanted. It seems when it comes to their teeth, the truth is an important factor.
Dr Loy had a wake up call about the importance of family the day his young son asked him where the bed was at work, claiming his father must sleep at work because he’d never seen him sleeping at home. Soon after Dr Loy moved his practice and his family to Auckland where after some years working part time to spend time with his kids, he began to build his practice from scratch all over. Again, he spent a fortune on start up - renovating an old villa in Epson, believing that if he built it, the people would come. And once again, his commitment was to tell people the truth about their teeth.
Now people like me are travelling all over New Zealand to see Dr Loy, turning their backs on the dentist they’ve had for years in their home town. Why? Because he tells you the truth.
So why is the truth so powerful?
Let me ask you this. Have you ever seen a picture of your teeth? I mean all of your teeth, inside, close up with a powerful camera? Have you had someone sit with you for half an hour and tell you the history of your teeth and predict the future based on everything they see? I suspect not. I certainly had never experienced this.
It was not a pretty sight. My back teeth are a mess. A patchwork of fillings made by different dentists over the years, who have been chipping away at my teeth for decades. There is very little actual tooth left on my major molars, and what is left is a spiderweb of fine cracks spreading all over, just waiting for me to bite on a popcorn kernel and crack them wide open. This is why I was visiting Dr Loy in the first place. A big molar cracked when I bit on a chicken bone causing major pain right into my roots. There is now doubt as to whether this tooth can be saved.
Dr Loy showed me that all of my molars are the same. A timebomb of cracks waiting to explode. It’s a matter of when not if. Teeth should never be repaired in this manner he told me. There should be a building plan with long term sustainability in mind, not a lifetime of quick fixes with no care for the future. He likened dentistry to the building trade. If you keep patching up a house with no plan, eventually it will fall apart and need total gutting and re-building. But if you get a good engineer and architect in and build with the future in mind, you can keep a house in great shape forever.
In half an hour Dr Loy did two very important things. He firstly destroyed my faith in my current dentist, who has been patching up my teeth for the last fifteen years and has never once shown me what they look like. Not once. And secondly, Dr Loy gave me total faith in himself by showing me the history and future of my teeth and offering me a solution.
We need a plan, he said. We can re-build your teeth and give you a healthy mouth for the rest of your life. It will take time and money. He was completely upfront about the cost and the options. He didn’t charge me for the photos. He said he was happy for me to take them somewhere else and get another dentist to do the work if I wanted. But how could I? I left angry at all of the dentists who have been chipping away at my teeth for years without a care for the long term impact. I only trust one dentist now. And that’s the one who told me the truth.
There are lessons to be learned here for all of us in business. What is the truth your customers need to hear that your competitors are not willing to tell?
From the desk of Liber8me. Business mentors and experts in small business exit strategies. Based in Wellington, New Zealand.